Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pineland Wild Indigo - Baptisia lecontei

The bean family contains a large number of wonderful wildflowers: lupines, daleas, leadplants, wisteria, and the like.  The genus Baptisia is no exception and the vast majority are extremely beautiful and highly sought-after by home gardeners.  Pineland wild indigo (B. lecontei) may be the least showy of the group. 
Pineland wild indigo occurs throughout the northern two-thirds of Florida in well-drained soils and full sun.  It also has been reported from Georgia. The plants above were photographed in a scrub located within Starkey Wilderness Preserve in Pasco County, but this species also is resident to sandhills and open dry upland woods.  Like all Baptisias, pineland wild indigo is deciduous and dies back to the ground each winter.  In early spring, it makes its appearance known and quickly grows to a mature height of about 3 feet in late spring/early summer.  This is a round semi-woody shrub and mature plants are at least as wide as they are tall.
Flowering occurs around April and May under normal years.  The entire crown is covered by 1-inch long canary yellow blooms, that are pretty, but not spectacular.  These are mostly of interest to small bees as butterflies have a difficult time bulldozing their way between the uppper and lower lips of these flowers to reach the nectar. Eventually, the pollinated flowers ripen into few-seeded "peas" and these seeds are of great value to seed-eating songbirds, mice, and other wildlife.
Pineland wild indigo has never, to my knowledge, been offered for sale by any of the commercial native plant nurseries affiliated with AFNN - the Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  I suspect it would be easy to grow from seed, but have never tried it.  As other, showier Baptisias are regularly offered in the trade, this is likely a species that will never be propagated for sale.  But, we can admire it for its own unique character if we are hiking nearly anywhere in the right habitats in the northern half of Florida during late spring.

2 comments:

  1. You are correct that my ID is incorrect on this one, but incorrect on the correction........ It is Baptisia lecontei - Pineland Wild Indigo. Thanks for pointing out my mistake. I have made the correction..

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  2. I'm a huge fan of our native Baptisias; such rich, blue-green leaves, and neat, compact, domed shape. They're a beautiful plant even before the lovely yellow bloom! Thank you so much for highlighting this under-appreciated nitrogen-fixing native!

    Did you see Margaret's recent blog (http://awaytogarden.com/growing-baptisia-george-coombs-mt-cuba-center/) regarding the efforts to breed or select the most garden-friendly Baptisias at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware?

    When I read the article, I could not help but think that our more petite Florida varieties of Baptisia might be appropriate breeding stock to potentially "shorten" the awkwardly shrub-like stature of the larger, showier flowered Baptisia cultivars (whose monstrous size might overwhelm the average cottage garden or postage-stamp urban lot).

    Perhaps Florida's knee-high Baptisias could contribute the genes for their attractive, neat and compact mound-like structure when crossed with another more northern or western American native that offers the showier, and more diversely colored flowers?

    I wonder if there are already some natural hybrids where the shorter and taller Baptisia ranges overlap?

    I love and appreciate our Florida Natives, but I'd also enjoy the opportunity to grow a blue, but short, Baptisia as well, and, I must admit, the more lupine-like cluster blooms of the Mt. Cuba cultivars certainly are attractive.

    I haven't yet had any success germinating seeds that I purchased for either of the North Florida showier and more lupine-like flowered Baptisias (B. alba, and the blue one...not sure of its specific epithet...nor if its range truly extends as far south as even North Florida).

    I like the concept of adding a diversity of attractive native nitrogen fixers to the urban landscape, and I hope that more adaptable and appropriate native nitrogen-fixers become available in the retail plant and seed markets.

    Chamaecrista fasciulata and Erythrina herbacia, so far, have been my most successful (self-reseeding) leguminous native wildflowers/groundcovers/shrub layers on my little "postage stamp" urban lot :) ....but I certainly hope to add more self-feeding, nitrogen-fixing, flowering natives in the near future!

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