The location where this Wild White Indigo is thriving in River Park, Geneva, IL tells you a lot about the plant.

The location where this Wild White Indigo is thriving in River Park, Geneva, IL tells you a lot about the plant.

These tall floral racemes stand above the surrounding maturing foliage. From Dr. John Hilty's Illinois Wildflowers.

These tall floral racemes stand above the surrounding maturing foliage. From Dr. John Hilty's Illinois Wildflowers.

Late in the season for these pods. A good addition to dried flower arrangements. From Friends of the Wildflower Garden.

Late in the season for these pods. A good addition to dried flower arrangements. From Friends of the Wildflower Garden.

White Wild Indigo is pollinated by worker bumblebees and queens. This photo shows how the bee's weight opens the flower in order to access the nectar.

White Wild Indigo is pollinated by worker bumblebees and queens. This photo shows how the bee's weight opens the flower in order to access the nectar.

Male Clouded Sulphur Butterfly, by Meganmccarty - Own work, Public Domain

Male Clouded Sulphur Butterfly, by Meganmccarty - Own work, Public Domain

Genista Broom Moth by Marci Hess

Genista Broom Moth by Marci Hess

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

by Trish Beckjord, RLA

While the scientific nomenclature of this species may be conflicting, the stateliness of the upright floral racemes of this species is both clear and dramatic in the garden. Wilhelm and Rericha in their 2017 publication, Flora of the Chicago Region, call this plant Baptisia lactea, whereas Hilty of Illinois Wildflowers assigns it Baptisia alba macrophylla. Either way ask for it by its scientific name and you will get the proper plant.

In the wild, White Wild Indigo is found in prairies and oak savannas of varying soil moistures. Because Baptisias fix nitrogen they are not fussy about soil type. This species prefers soils moist to slightly dry and full sun. It may not bloom in shadier conditions. The plant forms a tap root. Once established, it grows quickly in the spring and stands out above other slower growing species while they work to catch up, almost like it is just so happy to feel the sun and heat after a long winter!

Use this Baptisia as a garden accent, singly or en masse. It typically grows to 3-4 feet tall, although it can get taller, and produces a clear, white, pea-like flower in late spring to early summer on up to 2’-tall racemes. The flowers have no fragrance. After blooming large seedpods develop that turn from green to black. These are also ornamental during the rest of the season.

Bumblebees are the primary pollinators of this plant but it is also visited by clouded sulphur butterflies for which it is a host plant, and silver spotted skippers.

White Wild Indigo is also a host plant to the Genista Broom and Black-spotted Prominent moths. Sweat bees will get to nectar through holes at the base of the flower created by other nectar thieves.

There are now a number of hybridized Baptisias on the market. I am not aware of studies that have looked at whether the hybridized species are as supportive of our native pollinators, however a number of the newer cultivars were developed by extensive cross-breeding genotypes of Texas and Oaklahoma species.

Enjoy this unique plant in your garden!