A native bushy perennial with 3-parted compound leaves and showy, upright stalks of blue pea-flowers. Flowers showy, in the typical pea-family configuration, blue to violet, on upright racemes that can be 12 inches long. Blooms May-June. Leaves alternate, on short petioles, trifoliate (cloverlike), bluish green, green, or gray green, hairless, with margins entire (lacking teeth). The seedpods are inflated, lack hairs, are about 2½ inches long, and have a sharply pointed tip; they turn black upon maturity, and the seeds rattle around in the dry pods.
Height: to 3 feet; on glades usually much shorter.
Occurs naturally in the southern half of the state and in east-central Missouri, but cultivated in gardens statewide. Absent in most of the Ozarks; concentrated in the northeastern section of the Ozarks and unglaciated prairie region.
Habitat and Conservation
Occurs in limestone and dolomite glades, rocky prairies, and fields.
This is a popular garden plant for its flowers, interesting foliage, and ornamental seedpods. Kids (and adults) have fun rattling the dried pods (which are toxic to eat, however). The foliage of this and other Baptisia species has been used as a poor substitute for indigo in dyeing.
Mammals tend to avoid this plant’s rather toxic leaves, but many insects eat them: the wild indigo dusky wing (a type of skipper) and the dogbane borer moth eat this plant as caterpillars. The latter hollows out the stem and pupates in the cavity. Bumblebees and other bees pollinate this plant.