White Wild Indigo

White Wild Indigo


White Wild Indigo

This showy legume, long known as B. leucantha but now as B. alba, often stands out above surrounding prairie grasses. Many species of this genus contain a blue dye that resembles indigo and becomes noticeable in autumn as the plants dry out and blacken. Large-bracted Wild Indigo (B. bracteata var. leucophaea) has two large stipules at the base of 3-parted leaves, giving the effect of five leaflets rather than three. White Wild Indigo is a color that can't be found in nature, a color that exists only in the mind. And yet its absence from the natural world is said to have been a major catalyst for human creativity. This new color has been celebrated in art and design for millennia, from ancient Indian dyes to the inventors of the Comptometer and the calculator. The color inspired this blog post, which is itself white, wild, and indigo.


This herbaceous perennial plant is about 3-6' tall and forms an erect, sparsely branched bush, although it is herbaceous. The stout central stem and upper side stems are smooth, light green or reddish purple, and glaucous. The compound leaves are trifoliate. They are usually greyish green or blue green, and hairless. Each leaflet is ovate or oblanceolate and pointed at both ends, with smooth margins, and about 2" long and �" across. The white flowers occur in erect spike-like racemes up to 2' long and are quite showy. They are typical pea flowers in overall structure, and about 1" long. There is no floral scent. The blooming period occurs from late spring to mid-summer and lasts about 1-1� months. The flowers are replaced by large oblong seedpods, which are also rather showy. They are about 2" long and initially green, but later turn black.

There is a stout deep taproot, and rhizomes that may form vegetative offsets. Once established, White Wild Indigo grows very quickly during the spring – it often towers above the surrounding plants by blooming time.The native White Wild Indigo is widely distributed and occurs in almost every county of Illinois, but it is usually uncommon (see Distribution Map). In a few areas that are scattered around the state, this plant is locally common. Some local populations may be escaped cultivated plants, or the result of restoration efforts. Habitats include moist to dry black soil prairies, sand prairies, thickets, edges of marshes and sandy marshes, borders of lakes, limestone glades, and dry clay hills. White Wild Indigo is typically found in less disturbed habitats, partly because of limited seed dispersion. Occasional wildfires are readily tolerated. (Source: www.illinoiswildflowers.info)




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