The 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year is one that I've been growing for several years now, and I highly recommend it! Baptisia australis, blue false indigo, is a native prairie plant that I added to my prairie garden for some height and structure. It's a tender shrub that dies back to the ground each winter but quickly grows back in spring. Racemes of dramatic blue-purple flowers emerge in early June and are as beautiful and interesting as any Fabaceous flowers, but honestly I grow it for the foliage. The bluish-green leaves look cool and refreshing on a hot summer day and I've never seen any sign of sunburn or wilt even though I grow it in full sun. The shrub then develops cool black seed pods (legumes) that rattle when you shake them; those persist until fall when they split open and drop seeds everywhere. Then the dried pods stay around all winter, looking like toothy shark mouths; seeing them in the garden this morning is the reason I felt compelled to talk about the species today!
Last year I started noticing seedlings in the garden and I hope to rescue some and give them away or plant them elsewhere. I don't know yet how sturdy those seedlings will be. Rumor has it the plants don't like to be moved because of the long taproot, so I hope to relocate them while they're young.
Baptisia gets large, up to 4 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide. Other Baptisia species come in white, cream, and yellow, and the fabulous Jim Ault has developed some very cool hybrids for the Chicagoland Grows plant introduction program. I am also growing Baptisia leucophaea, cream false indigo, for the Native Seed Gardeners project, or at least I am if the tiny plants survived the winter.
Baptisia, I think the hybrid 'Prairie Smoke', at the Lurie Garden