How to Grow and Care for Blue False Indigo, Batptisia Australis

baptisia australis blue false indigo flower 2

Want a really show perennial that blooms late in the Spring?  Want one that doesn’t need fertilizer or watering?  Want one that has more interesting characteristics (non-bloom related) than probably any other flower you grow?  Well then, say hello to Blue False Indigo (Scientific Name, Baptisia Austalis).

Blue False Indigo Facts

  • The name of this plant comes from its use by the Cherokee Indians, who made a blue dye from the root. Early European settlers copied this practice, and gave it the common name.
  • Blue False Indigo is a member of the pea / legume family, which means that it has the ability to fix nitrogen to the soil. Aka – this plant fertilizes itself.
  • Native American children used the dried seed pods as rattles.
  • This plant has extremely deep taproots, making very drought tolerant.
  • Its native range goes from Southern Minnesota to New Hampshire, South to Texas and Florida.
  • Mature plants are generally deer resistant
  • Blue False Indigo is very pollinator friendly, as mine is always packed with bumble bees
  • This plant is one of our favorite Early Spring Bloomers

blue false indigo flower baptisia australis

General Description and growing conditions

Blue False Indigo is a very showy native perennial.    This is a member of the pea family, so will fertilize itself through nitrogen fixing.  Baptisias develop a taproot that will extend many feet deep, giving it extreme drought tolerance.  It grows perfectly fine in clay, as the taproot is quite strong.  This is as close to a maintenance free plant as you can get.

The foliage has 3-lobed leaves (trifoliate) that are very smooth to the touch, and a blue/green hue.  When emerging in the Spring the shoots will resemble asparagus stalks. From each stalk branches will emerge, eventually giving way to showy purple/blue flowers.  The flowering of this plant lasts about two weeks, but the foliage makes the plant attractive and interesting year round.

Shortly after blooming, large seed pods will form.  It will take 6-8 weeks for the pods to mature and dry.

blue false indigo seed pods 1
Seed pods of Blue False Indigo

Blue False Indigo Scientific Name

The Scientific Name of Blue False Indigo is Baptisia Australis.

Common Names

  • Blue False Indigo
  • Wild Blue Indigo
  • Blue Wild Indigo

Blue False Indigo Growing Conditions

This plant thrives in clay soil, loamy soil, as long as it is well drained.  It prefers full sun, but can tolerate partial shade.  If grown in shade though, it is possible for stalks to split under the weight of the seed pods. Because this is a nitrogen fixing plant, you shouldn’t need to fertilize it at all.

If growing this plant from seed, know that it will take 3 years to produce flowers.  The root system of Baptisia is deep and extensive, and it spends the first couple of years of its life only developing roots.

bumble bee pollen baptisia

How to Care for Blue False Indigo

This plant is very low maintenance.  Since it is a member of the legume family, it fixes nitrogen to the soil.  This means that the plant is self-fertilizing.  That’s right – you can put this plant in horrible, inhospitable clay soil and it will thrive.  Just make sure that it can drain.  But the roots on go sooooo deep that drought is not a concern.  I’ve never seen my Baptisia wilt even during the longest, hottest drought.

You can prune the plant a bit if you feel it is getting too large after several years, as that is an easy way to control the size.  But other than that, you can break off the stalks in the fall.  And that is about all of the maintenance you need consider for Baptisia!

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How to Grow Blue False Indigo

Typical Garden Uses of Blue False Indigo

This is a full season plant that only blooms for two weeks a year.  Why do I say full season if it only blooms 2 weeks?  Because the foliage is so interesting.  The smooth green/blue leaves are pretty in their own right, and are so soft to the touch.  There aren’t too many plants that look as good as Blue False Indigo when not in bloom.

blue false indigo leaves baptisia australis
The beautiful blue/green hued leaves are so soft.

This plant is very versatile, in that it can go in front flower beds, perennial gardens, border gardens, micro-prairies, wildflower gardens….the list goes on and on.

***Related – Learn to make your own Micro-prairie here – Click on the Image Below ==>>>

Bee Balm, early sunflower, tall sunflower
Second year plants in our micro prairie! Bee Balm, Early Sunflower, Tall Sunflower shown.

 

You need to be mindful of the size of a fully matured plant.  Blue False Indigo grows slowly.  If you grow from seed, it will take 3 years before flowering.  It may take 5 years to fully mature, growing upwards of 5’ by 4’.  So be mindful of that for where you place it.

Baptisia Australis 3rd year bloom
This is the 3rd year growth of this plant from seed, and the first time it bloomed. It made me very happy!

How to propagate Blue False Indigo from seed and cuttings

Growing Blue False Indigo from seed is pretty easy, as long as your seed is viable.  If purchased commercially, it likely is.

To grow Blue False Indigo from seed, begin by scarifying your seeds.  To do this, gently rub the seed between two sheets of sandpaper until a portion of the outer coating is removed, and the white interior is showing.  You can also do this with a pencil and a scalpel.  Use the pencil to hold the seed in place, while using your other hand to gently nick the edge of the seed.  Then, plant the seeds ½” (12 mm) deep and water.  Keep the seeds moist until germination.

Blue False Indigo Seedling 1
Blue False Indigo Seedling

Growing Blue False Indigo from Cuttings

To make cuttings of Blue False Indigo, cut a stalk at about 6” long, and cut it at an angle.  Dip it in a rooting compound, and place into a sand/compost mixture and keep moist.  After several weeks, check if roots have developed.  If so, you can plant into a pot to mature further, or out into the garden.  Just make sure you keep it moist.

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Fauna associations

Blue False Indigo is a host to many different species of pollinator caterpillars.  In no particular order, as there are other skippers and moths not listed;

Frosted Elfin, Eastern Tailed Blue, Wild Indigo Duskywing, Clouded Sulfur and Orange Sulfur Butterflies

This plant is also loved by bumble bees.  As you can see in the gallery, ours is heavily visited.  It is also a great food source to keep near your bee hotel!  Learn to build your own bee hotel here==>>>  https://growitbuildit.com/how-to-build-a-bee-hotel-guide-with-pictures-from-log/

Rabbit/Deer Problems with Blue False Indigo

Most references will tell you that deer and rabbits don’t like Blue False Indigo.  I’ve found this to be true for mature plants.  However, young tender seedlings and new growth can get damaged.  I’ve found rabbits in particular to enjoy eating young seedlings I’ve set out into the garden.  So, let your new plants mature in large pots and plant in fall, or use a rabbit/deer prevention method such as liquid fence to protect young seedlings.

Disease Problems with Blue False Indigo

If this plant is grown in high humid, shady, or compact area with poor airflow then fungus can develop.  Other than that, I’ve not seen or heard about disease problems.

Other Uses of Blue False Indigo

This plant was used as a dye by Native American tribes.  A brilliant blue dye could be obtained, and the white settlers learned from the natives and made dye for themselves.  This practice continued until the true indigo plant arrived in America from India.

Is Blue False Indigo edible?

Some Native American tribes used the plants medicinally.  One used the plant to make eyewash, while others made tea from it.  The tea could be used as a laxative, and to prevent vomiting.  Roots could be used to help tooth aches. [1]

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Blue False Indigo Reference Table

blue false indigo reference table baptisia australis

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References

[1] plants.usda.gov  –

Thanks for reading & be sure to check out these other articles that we think you will find useful:

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