Bumble on Baptisia and other false indigos

Caught this bumblebee taking in the sights and nectar of  Baptisia sphaerocarpa in my garden. Nature never ceases to amaze me, but instead, wows me again and again.

Baptisia sphaerocarpa with bumblebee

I grow several baptisias after seeing them grown so well in Chicago when I went there for the Garden Bloggers’ Fling in 2009. In my garden, it’s taken three years for the false indigos to take off. I believe this is the fourth spring for this false indigo. Since then, I’ve added a blue one from Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery, B. Midnite Prairieblues™. It is a lovely shade of dark blue, but is taking a very long time to thrive here. I don’t know why.

After seeing a huge clump of ‘Purple Smoke’ in a friend’s garden, I planted a four inch pot two years ago. It is very pretty and beginning to bloom in earnest this spring.

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke' with bumble

It’s really much more purple than this photo shows, but it seems to be picking up the blue from the chairs. As you can see, bumblebees are particularly fond of baptisias. ‘Carolina Moonlight’ bloomed earlier, and if you don’t want to see your false indigo across the yard like the one above,’ it’s a calmer choice. I planted a one gallon pot, which I found at Marcum’s last spring, and it bloomed. There are so many choices in baptisias, and after seeing Fairegarden’s white one, I bought Baptisia alba var. macrophylla, white false indigo at Bustani Plant Farm last week. In a few years, on cloudy days, it will sparkle like hers I hope. With most perennials, it takes three years for them to hit their stride. With most native plants, I find this to be especially true. Yet, natives and their closely related cultivars lend a grace to the garden which more highly developed cultivars don’t seem to have. There’s a place for both in my garden. False indigos have simple flowers which pollinators love, and  that’s a good thing for them and the other creatures who visit and live in this space. I visit the garden, but they call it their home.

After false indigos bloom, they have black seed pods, and they retain their blue foliage. They look good with everything else, and stop you in your tracks when blooming. They are drought tolerant and extremely hardy. I think last summer’s heat from hell just made mine stronger as they have never looked better.

B. Midnight Prairie Blues

Later, I’ll tell you guy what not to miss at this very independent nursery just outside Stillwater.

If you’d like to read about the taxonomy of baptisias, read Tony Avent’s article. It’s a good one. A big thank you to Gail at Clay and Limestone who hosts the wonderful Wildflower Wednesday meme each month. Go on over and check out her blog for other wildflower posters.


  1. RobinL says:

    There are no baptistas in my garden, should I correct that? It’s one of those plants that gardeners are “supposed” to love, but they just don’t grab me much except when in bloom. I think it’s my neighbor’s fault. She has one that is quite overgrown and covering the sidewalk. It only looks good for a week, then gets on my nerves the rest of the year! LOL

  2. Rose says:

    I also fell in love with Baptisias after seeing them in the Lurie Garden during the Chicago Spring Fling. I only have one, but I do like all the different colored-cultivars. After wrestling with some amsonia, though, which also has a taproot like Baptisia, I’m not going to plant any more Baptisias until I have the perfect–and permanent–place for them!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I wrestled with amsonia myself this spring. It does have a taproot from here to China. I don’t plant to ever move any of these baptisias. T hey would be awful.

  3. Phillip says:

    I have “Purple Smoke” but not the yellow variety. They are such fantastic plants.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Phillip, they really are, and the bees love them.

  4. Dee, Those are just beautiful! I too love Baptisia. Your photo of the red dirt road at the top of your page is fabulous!!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Carol. I took that photo a long time ago, but it looks like most of the roads around here. Hope you’re having a beautiful spring.

  5. I have always liked baptistas and finally last fall got two of them to plant in my garden. ‘Solar Flare’ is blooming now and the Blue one (no name) is about to bloom. Can’t wait for them to be large and full of blooms. Might have to get ‘Carolina Moonlight’!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      ‘Carolina Moonlight’ is beautifully subtle. I think you’d like it Janet.

  6. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have had an older variety for years. After seeing yours it makes me want more colors. It is a great plant. Love seeing these bumbles too. Amazing how everythhing in my garden looks great this spring. I think the mild winter has had something to do with that.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, I’m always here for you as an enabler. I pledge to continue. 😛

  7. Greggo says:

    Nice capture on the bumble and the yellow bap. I just plant 3 native baptisas last fall. They are about 9-12″. Also some Dalea and one native white bap. However, alba didn’t show this spring so I’ll try and get another. Can’t wait to view your garden some day. I think I some some native baptisas’s blooming on the roadside this afternoon, I’ll have to investigate!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yes, Greggo, do investigate. I’ve never seen them blooming on the roadside, but I’m usually driving pretty fast. You can come visit my garden anytime. It was particularly beautiful this year.

  8. Frances says:

    Hi Dee, what wonderful images of bees and baps! I love Carolina Moonlight, too, very soothing color and a stand up plant. They do take a few years to get to full strength, and some years are better than others. This is a very good year for them, here, too. Thanks for the linkage, my dear friend. The white was the first one I ever grew, during my all white garden phase two houses ago. I still love it the best, but don’t tell the others, okay?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Frances, I’ll never tell . . . .

  9. keewee says:

    I am with you as I am always wowed by nature too.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Keewee, it’s nice to know nature still wows many of us.

  10. thanks. did not mean to (have too much to do and appointments on tap), but got hooked on the redneck lupine 🙂 the mark of a great blog. thanks. I needed that :- )

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Peggy, I’m glad you enjoyed Tony’s writing about baptisias. He’s an interesting guy.

  11. Randy says:

    Mine has never produced seed pods! I think I might like it a little better if it did. It’s so disappointing when the flowers leave.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Randy, as MMD noted below, some of the cultivars don’t have the seedpods. It can be disappointing so I have a mix of those which do and those which don’t. It’s still sad when the flowers leave. They are so luminous you can’t help but miss them when they’re gone.

  12. I hope you’re not disappointed with ‘Purple Smoke’, it’s sterile so no seedpods. Still it’s a lovely thing. I also really like ‘Midnight Prairieblues’ which fortunately is not sterile. It’s wonderful that you have enough room to grow so many varieties of Baptisia.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      MMD, nah, it won’t bother me. The color is so amazing I’m cool with it. I also have several which have the seeds pods so I don’t mind. I think I’d like to grow the chocolate one now too. Sheesh!

  13. jen says:

    I love this. On my way back from Stillwater the other day, I stopped by the road and took some pictures of wildflowers!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Jen. The wildflowers this year have been splendid with just the right amount of rain.

  14. Layanee says:

    Love them. I have several but they are weeks from blooming. This is a beautiful preview.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Layanee, I’m glad my previews aren’t boring when you have more to come. Happy Wildflower Wednesday.

  15. Linda says:

    I love the baptisias too! We had a few “Midnight Prairie Blues’ from a nursery, but they seemed to have been diseased from the start, struggled, and died after their second season. I started some whites and the native blues from seeds three years ago. They’re slow growers at first and I’m not sure they’ll even bloom yet this year.

    Three does seem to be the charm in terms of years for natives here to take off. Sometimes it takes even longer. It’s actually something I enjoy about them, and there’s nothing like the thrill of starting natives from seeds and seeing them bloom for the first time. Gardening with natives teaches patience even more than gardening in general!

    Your photos are beautiful, Dee, and I really love the yellow baptisia!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Linda, you are so right. I was thinking something similar today. When I was a new gardener, I wanted all the annuals I could squeeze in. Now, I find I’m wowed more by subtle things like the small changes in plants from year to year. I was thinking also about how much different the garden is this year from the last when we had no rain. Watering it myself wasn’t nearly as effective, and this spring made me realize it more than ever.

      I planted two white baptisias this spring. In three years, I’ll see them bloom. I’m sorry about your disease ‘Midnight Prairie Blues.’ That’s such a bummer.

  16. CurtissAnn says:

    I like the purple ones. You mention it takes perennials about three years to get going. I’ve seen that, and then suddenly I wonder– is their a limit to their life? I believe there is with lavender– something like 5 years for them. Is there a limit on the life of perennials in general? Oh, that idea distresses me. 🙂
    Sending hugs,

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Rosebud, it all depends on the perennial. Some have shorter lifespans than others. Gaillardia, our state flower, has about three years in my garden, but it blooms itself to death. Other perennials have graced my garden since its beginning all those years ago. Phlox paniculata is one of those. Baptisias live for a very long time I believe. Happy WW to you my friend.~~Dee

  17. Gail says:

    I love the baptisias~species and cultivars. The flower and leaf shape add a dimension to the garden bed that is beyond description, but, you have done that very well! Love the bumble shots; they make me happy. xoxogail

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Gail, as you know, we gotta help the sweet bumbles. They don’t get as much press as the honeybees, and they are also in decline. Thanks for hosting Wildflower Wednesday. It makes me think about what’s blooming in my garden.

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