Tuesday, March 09, 2010

March: Baptisia australis


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


garden girl said...

Definitely one of my favorite plants - I've had a hard time getting them established here, although they've done well for me in previous gardens in part sun. (I think it might be all the tree roots.) I started some from seed last year, and am hoping they'll be back this spring. I have better luck with some natives from seed than I do with nursery specimens. If not, I have more seeds and I'll keep trying.

I have the cream baptisia from Native Seed Gardeners too - hope it comes back - it sure was tiny!

garden girl said...

p.s. very nice photos!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I love Baptisia's foliage too. I think it looks particularly good with Little Bluestem for a mini blue festival of foliage.
I have 'Purple Smoke,' which I just discovered last summer is sterile. I was wondering about the seedpods, so it was a big disappointment. I planted a different Baptisia last fall, so I'm looking forward to seedpods and hopefully seedlings.

Rose said...

After seeing this baptisia at the Lurie Gardens during Spring Fling, I fell in love with it, too, Diane. I planted one last summer, so I'm hoping to see it bloom this year. I read in one article that the taproot can grow as deep as 12 feet! No wonder it doesn't like to be moved. I would think little seedlings could survive transplanting, though. I just read Barb's comment about "Prairie Smoke" being sterile--darn! I was hoping for some babies, too.

Looking forward to seeing your post on the Flower Show! Beckie and I went on Monday and enjoyed ourselves immensely. I think this might become an annual expedition for us:)

Diane said...

Linda - thanks! It will be interesting to see what our seedlings do this year.

Barbara - That's sad about the sterile hybrids because the pods are so cool. Sometimes hybrids make the seeds but they're not viable; you just never know.

Rose - 12 feet? Holy cow! I'm writing the garden show post... it's getting really long so I think I'd better stick to just the highlights or I'll bore everyone to tears!

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

I also love Baptisia australis... mine's about 7 years old, and even though it doesn't get optimum sun, it does well. I do love the seed pods, but have never noticed them having "teeth" before. I love that shot!