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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Baptisia alba (L.) Vent

Fabaceae (Pea Family)

Common Name:

wild white indigo

07/14/1999

Wild white indigo (formerly B. leucantha and B. lactea) is a native perennial herb found in dry to mesic prairies, dry open woods and along roadsides. Plants are bushy and grow up to 1 m tall and wide.

Showy white or cream pea-like flowers bloom in June in long racemes held upright above the leaves. Baptisia flowers have 10 stamens that are separate, rather than joined as in other genera in the pea family. Each flower forms seeds in a 2-3 cm inflated pod.

Plants are highly branched from the base with glaucous blue-green leaves.   Leaves are 3-parted with entire edges.  The leaves and pods turn black by late summer.

B. alba is similar to Blue False Indigo (B. australis), in the background of the photo, which has been introduced from its native area to the south and east, and to Prairie Indigo (B. leucophaea). Prairie Indigo also has cream colored flowers, but is easily distinguished by pubescent leaves and stems, large stipules and by slightly drooping racemes.

  • Origin of the Name: Baptisia, Gr. baptisis, a dipping; refers to dipping in a dye -- indigo -- made from another member of the pea family with deep blue flowers; alba:  L., milky, refers to the color of the flowers
  • Range:  S. Ont. and OH to MN, south to FL, TX
  • WI Range:  South and west WI, north to Chippewa and  Waupaca Co.
    Common associates: Indiangrass, Big bluestem, Spiderwort, Gray goldenrod
  • Wetland Indicator Status: FACU+
  • Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 8 (S&W), C = 10 (MI) State Threatened
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