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What is False Indigo?

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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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False indigo is the common name for about 20 different species of plants that fall under the genus, Baptisia. Most of the species are native to the eastern and southern sections of the United States, particularly in grasslands and dry woodlands. In general, these plants have tall stems that moderately branch outward and clusters of small flowers. Two of the most popular species include blue false indigo, or Baptisia australis, and white false indigo, or Baptisia lactea.

Typically, false indigo is easy to grow. It can survive in poor, gravel-filled soil as long as it receives full sun. Although it is a hardy plant, it is prone to leaf spot and mildew, and its seeds may attract weevils. These plants are often added to gardens or placed along informal borders to add a splash of color to the landscaping.

Baptisia australis or blue false indigo is a striking perennial. It will spread gently, yet it can grow to about 5 feet (1.5 m) in height. It has dark green leaves and is usually loaded with clusters of pea-like, dark blue flowers. After the flowers fall, black seed pods will appear. This species is quite popular in floral arrangements.

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Baptisia lactea, or white false indigo, has its own unique look. The stem is usually tinged purple and has lighter green leaves. It will typically only reach heights of about 3 feet (0.91 m). In the summer months, between May and July, it produces long clusters of tiny white flowers. After the flowers die, they are replaced by seed pods that eventually change from green to black in color.

Many of the species of false indigo are used in homeopathic medicine as well. The plant is considered toxic, but the roots and leaves may be used under the directive of a skilled homeopathic medicine practitioner. For example, it is believed to treat infections in the upper respiratory system, such as tonsillitis. Because it is an antimicrobial, it is also used to treat skin infections, sore throats, and infections along the gum line.

These plants can be purchased at most home garden stores, particularly through the Eastern, Southern, and Midwestern sections of the United States. For gardeners without access to a good home garden store, the plants can also be purchased through Internet garden stores. In addition, it is possible to grow false indigo from seed. The seeds can be sown in containers and then divided in early spring. After the last frost, the plants can be moved outside to any location that receives full sun.

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