Flower stalk of Baptisia australis

Baptisia, commonly referred to as wild indigo or false indigo, represents a diverse genus within the legume family, Fabaceae. These flowering herbaceous perennials exhibit an array of characteristics, including pea-like flowers, blooming in the spring that eventually mature into pods, occasionally displaying an inflated form. Renowned for their enduring presence and a spectrum of colours ranging from yellow, blue and white,[2] Baptisia's captivate gardeners with their colourful stems, unique foliage, and exquisite flowers.

Native to regions spanning from the East to the Midwest of North America, Baptisia species contribute to the natural beauty of various ecosystems. Their flowers, adorned with characteristic wing and keel petals, give rise to bean-like fruit. Typically, their leaves are trifoliate, divided into three segments, often accompanied by small stipules on the petiole, which aid in species identification.[3]

The name "Baptisia" finds its origins in the Greek word "bapto", meaning "to dye" alluding to certain species historically utilized for dye production. Similarly, the common name "False Indigo" highlights the plant's historical role as a substitute for true indigo (Indigofera) from the West Indies.[4]

The cultivation of Baptisia represents one of the earliest instances of agricultural subsidies in America, underscoring its historical significance in the agricultural landscape. The species most commonly found and used in cultivation is B. australis.[3]


Baptisia comprises the following species:[5][6][7][8]

Species names with uncertain taxonomic status

The status of the following species is unresolved:[7]

  • Baptisia auriculata Sweet
  • Baptisia lupinoides Burb.
  • Baptisia retusa Raf.


It isn't uncommon to see natural crossbreeding occur. In fact, interspecific hybrids are commonly found in nature. Over the past few decades, there has been a notable surge in interest regarding the collection of wild species and, more significantly, the breeding of hybrids.[4] Organizations such as Chicagoland Grows [10] and MT. Cuba Center'a Trial Garden[11] have directed their efforts towards introducing new varieties. The following hybrids have been described:[12]

  • Baptisia x bicolor
  • Baptisia × bushii Small
  • Baptisia x deamii
  • Baptisia x microphylla
  • Baptisia x serenae
  • Baptisia x sulphurae
  • Baptisia ×variicolor Kosnik, et al. (Baptisia australis × Baptisia sphaerocarpa)


Baptisia can be naturally found in forested habitats, particularly along woodland borders, where they can reach heights of 3 to 4 feet.[2] Renowned for their resilience, Baptisia species can endure high heats, drought periods, along with notable resistance to diseases. Optimal growth conditions include full sun exposure, though certain white-flowered varieties can endure partial shade. While they prefer deep, nutrient-rich soils, Baptisia varieties exhibit tolerance to poorer soil conditions.[4]

Baptisia's flowers are known to attract a diverse array of insects, including butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. Additionally this plant plays a crucial role as a larval host for several butterfly and moth species, such as the Orange Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur, Frosted Elfin, Eastern Tailed Blue, Hoary Edge, Wild Indigo Dusky Wing, and Jaguar Flower Moth. These relationships highlight the diverse ways in which Baptisia contributes to the broader ecological balance.[2]

Traditional uses

Baptisia bracteata var. leucophaea, commonly known as cream wild indigo, has historically served various medicinal purposes. An ointment comprising seed powder mixed with buffalo fat was applied to the stomach to alleviate colic. Additionally, root tea was previously administered for conditions such as typhoid and scarlet fever.[13] A tea, made from the leaves and stalks, was used to treat snake bites, as it has astringent and antiseptic properties, as well as to counteract mercurial salivation.[14]

Baptisia tinctoria, was commonly used by indigenous communities for its several medicinal purposes. A root tea was employed as both an emetic and purgative, while cold tea was utilized to alleviate vomiting.[13] The Mohegans of southern New England used a poultice made from the root was applied to relieve toothaches and inflammation, and the root wash was used for cuts, wounds, bruises, and sprains.[15] The tea was also applied topically to alleviate leg, arm, and stomach cramps and wounds, with additional claims of stimulating bile secretion. German studies have demonstrated that extracts from the plant stimulate the immune system, although caution is advised regarding large doses due to potential harm.[13] During the early 19th century, the U.S. Pharmacopeia included wild indigo, as doctors experimented with extracts derived from the plant to treat typhoid fever. Experimental use of root tinctures and powders resulted in symptoms resembling those of the onset of typhoid, leading practitioners of homeopathy to anticipate potential cures for the disease.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Baptisia Vent. Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 13 August 2023.
  2. ^ a b c "Baptisia australis (Blue False Indigo, Blue Wild Indigo, False Indigo, Wild Indigo) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox". plants.ces.ncsu.edu. Retrieved 2024-03-06.
  3. ^ a b Armitage, Allan M. (2006). Armitage's Native Plants for North American Gardens. Timber Press. ISBN 9780881927603.
  4. ^ a b c Armitage, Allan M. (2008). Herbaceous Perennial Plants: A Treatise on their Identification, Culture, and Garden Attributes. Champaigne, IL.: Stipes Pub Llc. pp. 188–193. ISBN 9781610583800.
  5. ^ "ILDIS LegumeWeb entry for Baptisia". International Legume Database & Information Service. Cardiff School of Computer Science & Informatics. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  6. ^ USDA; ARS; National Genetic Resources Program. "GRIN species records of Baptisia". Germplasm Resources Information Network—(GRIN) [Online Database]. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  7. ^ a b "The Plant List entry for Baptisia". The Plant List. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Missouri Botanical Garden. 2013. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  8. ^ "Baptisia". Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
  9. ^ a b Young AS, Chang SM, Sharitz RR (2007), "Reproductive ecology of a federally endangered legume, Baptisia arachnifera, and its more widespread congener, B. lanceolata (Fabaceae)", Am J Bot, 94 (2): 228–236, doi:10.3732/ajb.94.2.228, PMID 21642225
  10. ^ "Chicagoland Grows® Plant Introduction Program | Chicago Botanic Garden". www.chicagobotanic.org. Retrieved 2024-03-06.
  11. ^ "Baptisia". Mt. Cuba Center. Retrieved 2024-03-06.
  12. ^ "Baptisia Vent. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 2024-03-13.
  13. ^ a b c Foster, Steven (2000). A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America (2nd ed.). New York: Peterson Field Guides. pp. 131–132. ISBN 978-0-395-98814-5.
  14. ^ "Indigo / Baptisia". White Rabbit Institute of Healing. Retrieved 2024-03-13.
  15. ^ a b Magic and Medicine of Plants. United States of America: Reader's Digest Association. 1986. p. 336.