Prairie and native plants are now emerging for the season at Nature Boardwalk. One of these, false indigo (Babtisia australis), looks to be even more robust this year.
Like most of the prairie plants with more of their biomass below ground, false indigo spends its first few years developing a substantial root system before showing off significant above-ground growth. You would have needed to look very closely to see the few typical, gray-green tri-foliate leaves close to the ground in 2010 or 2011. However, just two weeks ago, new spikes were seen shooting up several inches, beating previous height records and confirming this species is establishing well.
Once it matures at 3- to 4-feet-tall, false indigo will show off those qualities that make it a garden and natural landscape favorite. It's a vigorous and upright grower with blue/purple lupine-like flower spikes in May–June that are held high above the foliage. As a useful border plant in your garden, established clumps will spread slowly and have no serious pest or disease problems. You should be aware that false indigo does not successfully transplant, except when young, so make your final placement choices at the start. Attractive, inflated, gray-dusted black seed pods will form in the fall, and you may discover a limited amount of seedlings next spring.
False indigo has a rich history of use by American Indians and, in recent years, new hybrid choices offer spectacular colors with varied heights. At Nature Boardwalk, the original species has been planted and we expect Miner bees to visit the flowers and leaves to support the caterpillars and a few native butterflies.