False blue indigo, a striking native plant, has been named the 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association.
This garden worthy plant has tall spikes of deep blue, lupine like flowers in late spring and early summer.
Baptisia grows wild in the Eastern United States and was used by Native Americans as a blue dye, which gives false indigo its common name. Natural indigo (Indigofera) comes primarily from Asia and other tropical regions.
Baptisia’s oval, blue-green leaves provide the perfect backdrop for later blooming perennials, such as coneflower (Echinacea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) and aster (Symphyotrichum). Its large charcoal-colored, pea like seed pods also add interest to the summer garden or they can be cut for indoor everlasting arrangements.
In the last few years, plant breeders have introduced several new baptisia hybrids, many of which are widely available in garden centers as well as online or mail order retailers.
Although it tolerates light shade, baptisia does best in full sun and average soil. It gets 3- to 4-feet tall and wide, so plant in the back or the middle of the border. Cutting the flowers for bouquets encourages secondary branching and more blooms. Cut back to the ground in fall or early spring.
Baptisia can be grown from seed or as young transplants. Once established, baptisia forms an extensive root system, which makes it very difficult to move.
The Prairieblues series developed by the Chicago Botanic Garden and Chicagoland Grows does well throughout most of North America. These include:
- ‘Twilite’ has burgundy flowers with lemon yellow highlights.
- ‘Starlite’ has pale blue flowers with a white base.
- ‘Solar Flare’ has yellow flowers that turn orange as they age.
- ‘Midnite’ has deep blue-violet flowers.
Two introduced by the North Carolina Botanical Garden are also quite nice:
‘Carolina Moonlight’ has creamy yellow flowers.
- ‘Purple Smoke’ has smoky lavender flowers.