This rounded, multi-stemmed herbaceous perennial is immensely appealing, with substantial spikes of white flowers and velvety, blue-gray stems and leaves. It grows quickly in spring, often towering over other plants as it begins to bloom. The slender branches grow in an open, spreading manner, typically reaching three feet in heighth and width. In the fall, the showy flowers give way to puffy, black bean pods that remain on the stems throughout winter unless appreciative foragers gather the stems for dried flower arrangements . The plant does best in full sun, although it will grow in part shade, and it appreciates dry to well-drained, moist soils that aren’t overly rich. It has a long tap root that enables it to tolerate drought, and it also withstands occasional flooding. The stiff clusters of large, pea-like flowers hint at the plant’s membership in the Fabaceae family, and the rhizobia-infected roots are adept at fixing nitrogen.
This is the only Ohio Baptisia with white flowers, and it is threatened in our state due to overshading by woody species. It’s easy to establish due to its tolerance of disturbance and a variety of soil conditions. It may take a few years to reach blooming size, but it’s a long-lived plant that is resistant to drought, erosion, and major diseases and insect pests. It has extensive, deep roots that make it difficult to transplant but ideal for erosion control and prairie restorations.
Native habitats include prairies (aka prairie false indigo), barrens, edges of lakes and marshes, and open habitats. Use in borders, native plant gardens, meadows, and naturalized areas. Useful for fresh or dried flower arrangements.
Grows 2-4’ (up to 6’) tall and 2-3’ wide.
Prefers full sun and tolerates part shade with fewer blooms.
Grows in slightly dry to moist rocky or sandy soils. Tolerates clay, poor soil, drought, and seasonal flooding.
Blooms May-July with 1” white, unscented flowers in racemes up to 2’ long. Oblong seed pods narrow to a short beak.
Compound leaves are trifoliate; leaflets are 2” long, ovate and pointed at both ends, and smooth edged.
Host to hoary edge, frosted elfin, and wild indigo duskywing and zarucco duskywing butterflies. Pollinated by native and bumble bees. Deer avoid browsing the plant.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Native Americans used the plant to treat many issues, including infections, ear and throat problems, nausea, and toothaches.
Caution: the plant is mildly toxic if consumed.
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