University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
2010 PERENNIAL PLANT OF THE YEAR
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
The false indigo (Baptisia
australis) has been named as the perennial plant of the year for
the Perennial Plant Association. This
professional organization for growers and landscapers polls its members
nationwide each year on a perennial the majority feel is worthy of
and recognition. The false indigo is an
excellent choice for perennial of the year as it is quite hardy (USDA
to 9), has multiseason interest, is tough, and is low maintenance.
The false indigo is called this from
its past use as a substitute for indigo dye.
The genus name comes from the Greek "bapto" meaning to
dip. Leaves resemble those of clover.
The indigo-blue pea-like flowers on stalks arise above the gray-green
this species in June in the north, followed late in the season by
blackish seedpods that rattle in the wind.
This perennial is often called an
"instant shrub" as it emerges from the ground in spring to form a
rounded shrub-like habit by early summer, about 3 to 4 feet tall and to
wide. It increases in size slowly,
forming a large clump over several years. As
it may be difficult to transplant due to its deep roots, place where
it to remain and allow it plenty of space.
Plants may seldom, if ever, need dividing given good soil and space.
The false indigo prefers full sun
for best habit and flowering. It will
tolerate part shade, but will be leggy (may need staking) and with less
flowers. Other than a well-drained soil,
it will tolerate most. Once established
it will even tolerate poor, sandy, and drought conditions. Other than
voles (field mice) damage when young, this perennial has no significant
Don't cut back until late winter or
spring in order to enjoy the habit and attractive seed pods.
seldom self-sow. Although it takes several years, the species
can be grown from seeds sown fresh.
Otherwise, as with many in the pea family, you'll need to soak seeds
overnight or abrade the surface with sand paper to let water enter.
Use the false indigo as an
herbaceous shrub in borders towards the center or back in small
as a specimen. Being a native to the
eastern U.S. you can use it in native gardens, prairie gardens, and
gardens. It combines well with bluestars
(Amsonia), Carolina lupine (Thermopsis), the silver artemisias,
perennial geraniums and ornamental grasses.
In addition to this species, there
are several selections and hybrids that have been introduced recently
white and yellow flowers, some even two-tone.
All are attractive and
durable. One of the first cultivars
(cultivated varieties) of these was 'Purple Smoke' with dark stems and
flowers. 'Carolina Moonlight' has soft
yellow flowers, while 'Screaming Yellow' has bright yellow ones.
less common introduction you may have to
find online is the white 'Wayne's World'.
Several introductions have come
recently from the Chicago Botanic Garden.
'Solar Flare Prairieblues' has flowers that start bright yellow and
deep orange with age. The result, as new
flowers emerge, is all colors at the same time.
'Starlite Prairieblues' has soft blue flowers that are white at the
or "keel" of the petals.
'Twilite Prairieblues' was their first introduction and has
violet-purple flowers, almost burgundy in some locales, which have
keels. 'Midnight Prairieblues' is
attractive for both its violet-blue flowers and long bloom period.