Description & Overview

White Wild Indigo is a long-lived Wisconsin native perennial that is easy to grow, beautiful, and pollinator friendly. In Spring, smoky purple stems, that look like asparagus stalks, emerge from the ground. These quickly grow into shrub-sized perennials with green racemes that age to black and white flowers that tower over the foliage.

After two to three weeks of flowering, blooms are replaced with 2 to 3″ inflated, green seed pods that will mature to black as the season progresses. At season’s end, the stalk of the seed pods rattles as the seeds bounce around inside their pods. Note: they look great in floral arrangements!

You may also know this plant as False Indigo or Thin-pod White Wild Indigo.

The botanical name is synonymous with Baptisia leucantha.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 2-5 feet

Mature Spread: 3-4 feet

Growth Rate: Slow

Growth Form: Upright, bush - like, herbaceous perennial

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Slightly acidic, tolerates clay, moist to dry, well - drained

Flower: White, pea - like, raceme up to 24", showy, not fragrant

Bloom Period: Early – to Mid-summer (June, July)

Foliage: Green - pale blue, trifoliate

Fall Color: None, blackish

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Green seed pod 1" to 2" in length that resembles a pea pod but chunkier. Ages to black/brown, rattles with seeds inside as it dries out. Persists into winter.

Suggested Uses

White Wild Indigo does best when planted in open, sunny sites where the soil is loamy, clay, or gravelly. It’s found throughout Wisconsin but seems to be more concentrated in the southwest-central areas of the state. They are typically found on less disturbed sites, in moist to dry black prairies (areas with dark, fertile soil), thickets, glades, and edges of marshes.

Naturally attracting bees and serving as a larval host plant for several butterflies and moths, White Wild Indigo is a perfect addition to a native or pollinator garden.

Restoration projects: this plant is too cool to pass up. Add a few to your next project and you’ll see! They are resistant to deer, drought, fire, erosion, and diseases making this plant a carefree decision. The sheer size of this prairie forb is appreciated from both near and afar. Once established, they are very long-lived and look good with almost anything. Planted amongst tall prairie grasses such as Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) can make a visual impact on the viewer, whether it be from the highway or walking by.

White Wild Blue Indigo, like others in the Fabaceae family, fixes nitrogen in the soil, giving back more than it takes. Working alongside a beneficial bacteria called Rhizobium, nitrogen is drawn from the air and converted into nitrogen gas which is stored in the roots of the plant. A nitrogen nodule forms on the roots and when the plant dies, decomposition releases the stored nitrogen back into the soil, naturally fertilizing the next round of plants.

Mass plantings of White Wild Indigo are a showstopper. Not only is the flower showy as heck, but the foliage holds up throughout the season and is a great backdrop for those shorter perennials.

Cut stems and seed pods look great in floral arrangements.

A nice difference between White Wild Indigo and the more common False Blue Indigo (Baptisia australis), is the light and airy way the stems rise up and over shorter perennials. It’s almost like a small tree and great for planting prairie ephemerals or bulbs underneath to get some early spring action. Eventually, White Wild Indigo will grow up and over the ephemerals and bulbs as they begin to fade. You cannot do this with False Blue Indigo as it is typically much more ball-shaped, preventing the sun from penetrating through to those lower flowering plants.

White Wild Indigo is a long-lived Wisconsin native perennial that is easy to grow, beautiful, and pollinator friendly. In Spring, smoky purple stems, …

Wildlife Value

White Wild Indigo is a larval host plant for the Frosted Elfin (Callophrys irus). Eggs are laid in the flower buds, which then provide the caterpillars with food as the flowers are pollinated and seeds develop. Chrysalids hibernate in loose leaf litter below the plant, so don’t clean up that “mess” until the weather starts to warm up in Spring!

This beauty is also the larval host plant for the Wild Indigo Duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae), Clouded Sulphur butterflies (Colias philodice), and Genista Broom Moths (Uresiphita reversalis).

Other butterfly visitors include Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme) and Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia).

An insect, Wild Indigo Weevil (Apion rostrum), feeds on the leaves and flowers, while their grubs stay in the pods to eat the seeds, sometimes ravenously.

Queen and worker bumblebees are the primary pollinators of White Wild Indigo, with queens visiting early in the season and workers toward the end of the flowering period. With their large size, they’re much more equipped to muscle open the flowers to access the delicious nectar inside. Leafcutters and small Sweat Bees will often forage throughout the flowering season, obtaining nectar through tiny perforations at the base of the flower left by other nectar-seeking visitors.

Maintenance Tips

White Wild Indigo takes a few years to establish, but your patience will be rewarded with beautiful blooms! White Wild Indigo develops a deep taproot; make sure you site your planting correctly as transplanting is difficult and often unsuccessful.

As mentioned above, leave all plant debris until Spring when the temps are up into the 50s when insect activity starts to appear above ground.

In Southeast Wisconsin, amending the soil with a little compost will keep the plant from showing signs of chlorosis (yellowing leaves).

It’s not a rebloomer, so deadheading isn’t necessary.

If you notice flopping stems, the plant is likely in too much shade or over-fertilized. A circular ring around the stems can provide support.

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: No
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes

No serious pests or disease issues.

There is conflicting information as to whether our rabbit friends enjoy noshing on White Wild Indigo-some say “yes” while others say “no.” Perhaps it’s a case of if there’s nothing else that hits the spot, they may be nibbled on so plant with this in mind.

Leaf Lore

Previously known as Baptisia leucantha. The genus name Baptisia is from the Greek “bapto” which means “to dip” referring to the extract at one time used as a substitute for indigo. The specific epithet alba means “white.”

Don’t eat this plant, even if those seed pods look tempting! While considered low in toxicity if ingested, the toxins baptisin and cytisine can cause gastrointestinal distress, generalized muscle weakness, dizziness, and vomiting.

Meskwaki people used a decoction of White Wild Indigo as an expectorant. They also used a compound infusion for edema, hemorrhoids, snake bites, and axe or knife wounds.

The Ho-Chunk used White Wild Indigo as a remedy for injured wombs.

Threats to White Wild Indigo include fire suppression, overshading by woody species as a result of succession, hybridization with other Baptisia species, and habitat destruction/development.

Companion Plants

The full foliage of White Wild Indigo can be a great support system for those taller prairie plants, such as Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum), Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), and Stiff Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata).

Intermingled with earlier blooming plants, like Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia), Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba), or Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) provides pollinators a buffet right when they need it most.

White Wild Indigo is a long-lived Wisconsin native perennial that is easy to grow, beautiful, and pollinator friendly. In Spring, smoky purple stems, …
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Written by Beth DeLain