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White Wild Indigo Baptisia alba (Baptisia lactea, Baptisia leucantha)


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White Wild Indigo - habit
credit: BlueCanoe/CCSA

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Alternate name: Prairie False Indigo

Family: Fabaceae, Pea view all from this family

Description A bushy perennial with smooth leaves and white or cream-colored pea flowers in stiffly erect clusters; stem covered with whitish bloom.
Habit: native perennial herb; shrubby, sparsely branched, stems often red-purple; winter dormant.
Height: 2-6 ft (0.6-1.8 m), almost as wide.
Leaf: alternate, trifoliate, gray-green or bluish-green; 3 ovate leaflets, overlapping, pointed both ends, 1-2.5 in (25-635 mm) long, to 0.75 in (19 mm) wide.
Flower: white, sweet pea-like, 0.5-1 in (12-25 mm) long, held sideways from stem; in sparse terminal spike, to 12 in (30 cm) tall.
Fruit: inflated pod, oblong, green becoming brown to black, 2 in (5 cm) long.

Warning This plant has been fatal to cows and can be irritating to humans if ingested. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

Flower April to July.

Flower June - July

Habitat Open, sandy, dry sites; dry woods, sandhills, old fields, disturbed sites; also cultivated as an ornamental.

Range Native to eastern and central U.S., from Virginia south to Florida, west to Texas, north to Nebraska and Minnesota, east to Michigan and Ohio; also in New York.

Discussion Two varieties are recognized. This showy legume, long known as B. leucantha but now as B. alba, often stands out above surrounding prairie grasses.

Many species of this genus contain a blue dye that resembles indigo and becomes noticeable in autumn as the plants dry out and blacken. Large-bracted Wild Indigo (B. bracteata var. leucophaea) has two large stipules at the base of 3-parted leaves, giving the effect of five leaflets rather than three.

Comments White false indigo makes a better display if surrounded by smaller species. Like other members of the pea family, this plant requires the presense of microorganisms which inhabit nodules on the plant's root system and produce nitrogen compounds necessary for the plant's survival. Soil/seed inoculum is available at most native plant nurseries.

Exposure Preference Sun to partial sun.

Native Distribution Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota & s.e. Nebraska, s. to w. Florida & e.Texas

Site Preference Prairies; open woods; ravines

Soil Preference Rocky or sandy soils.