Baptisia: How to Grow Baptisia
Are you planning to take on gardening as a personal project?
When I was a beginner myself, I wanted to start with something that’s beautiful and interesting. Wouldn’t it also be great if it’s sunshine-loving, drought-tolerant, and pest-resistant?
However, I wasn’t sure if such a plant exists. Surely, there are some that meet at least half of what I wished for, right?
After careful research, I have discovered the ideal plant for that project: Baptisia!
A tough, wild, and impressive perennial plant—that’s how many gardening enthusiasts describe Baptisia. This plant belongs to the Fabaceae family, but it has several types and hybrids.
As a perennial plant, baptisia may live for a long time in the wild or within your care. However, do note that it takes about 1 year to reach its flowering state. Your patience would pay off well though, especially since its blooms are colorful and striking.
Facts About Baptisia
Because early American colonists had used Baptisia in making dyes, they derived its name from the Greek word “bapto”, which means “to dye”.
Many people, however, also refer to this plant as “false indigo” because dye makers consider it a cheaper substitute for the true indigo plant.
Experts consider baptisias to be tough plants that can survive and thrive even with just minimal attention.
In fact, it can grow in Zones 3 to 9 of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Map, a characteristic that is not common among many other ornamental plants. This means that baptisias have the ability to adapt to environmental temperatures that could be as low as -40 to -30 OF (-40 to -34.4 OC).
Though it may take some time for them to reach maturity—some even take up to 3 years—baptisias could continue to live and bloom for several decades.
Since baptisia belongs to the same family as peas, beans, and legumes, this plant has certain characteristics that you might already be familiar with. To help you better identify baptisias, I have described below its key traits:
At its full bloom, baptisia’s height ranges from 3 to 4 feet (0.91 to 1.21 meters), depending on its type.
Baptisia leaves grow in dense groups of three leaflets—a plant characteristic that is referred to as trifoliate.
Baptisia flowers grow in a spike-like arrangement known as racemes. Its pea-shaped petals bloom during the months of March, April or May, and last for about 3 to 6 weeks before wilting and turning into black seedpods.
When the flowers of baptisias bloom, they can either be purple, blue, yellow, or white in color.
On the other hand, its oblong-shaped leaves come in different colors too, such as yellow-green, grayish green, and blue-green. However, during autumn, the leaf colors turn to black.
Types of Baptisia
About twenty species of this plant may be found in North America, particularly in the Midwestern and Eastern areas. Check out the most notable types of baptisias and how they differ from one another:
Blue False Indigo
Baptisia australis — also known as blue false indigo or indigo weed—can be a great addition to gardens because of its vibrant indigo blue flowers and blue-green leaves.
Because they are native plants that grow like weeds, early Americans use this type of baptisia to produce dyes that are comparable with true indigo dyes.
Many people recognize Baptisia tinctoria for its blooms that range from bright yellow to creamy yellow. As such, this type of baptisia also bears the name “yellow wild indigo” among gardening enthusiasts.
Other than gardens and landscape works, you may see also Baptisia tinctoria out in the open fields, particularly in Maine, Minnesota, and even Florida.
White Wild Indigo
This type belongs to the group of newer Baptisia hybrids. Known also as Baptisia alba, its white petals look quite striking against its dark-colored stems.
Experts have observed that white wild indigo could be toxic for cows. On the other hand, it may cause irritation among humans when it is consumed. Therefore, be mindful of this type of baptisia if you plan to use the plant for health purposes.
Cream False Indigo
Formally known as Baptisia leucophaea, this type of baptisia got its name from its dull yellow or off-white flowers. It can be primarily found in the central and southern US states, such as Kansas, Texas, and Louisiana.
Because of the web-like hair along its stem, many call this type of baptisia as the “Hairy Rattleweed”. Unlike common weeds, however, botanists have declared Baptisia arachnifera as an endangered species.
Experts have pointed out that its natural habitat have been mostly turned into pine plantations. When the foliage of the pine trees mature, they prevent sunlight from reaching the hairy rattleweed down on the ground. As you will learn later on, baptisias thrive better when they are under the sun, so this type of environment hinders the growth and reproduction of the plant.
How to Grow Baptisia
Planting and taking care of baptisias can be rather simple and straightforward, even for beginners. To help you get started on this, I have highlighted in this section the most important things to keep in mind about how to grow this plant:
Baptisias thrive in moist but well-drained soil. The soil bed should also be deep enough for optimal root growth. Its deep roots allow the plant to survive through dry spells.
In terms of pH level, baptisias and soils with mild acidity levels go well together.
Since baptisias belong to the Fabaceae family, it does not require to fertile soil in order to survive. Through its root nodules, this plant could improve the quality of the soil over time.
While baptisia can be grown in conditions with partial shade from the light, they grow best when planted in places that get lots of sunshine.
Baptisia can survive through droughts. However, for optimal growth, lightly water the plant in a regular frequency to keep the soil moist.
In case of flooding, baptisia could survive through short-term floods—provided that it has been planted in area that is normally open to sunlight. With such conditions, it can tolerate brief flooding with little to no damage at all.
Temperature & Humidity
Baptisia prefer mild to cooler temperatures, but it loses its structure and vibrancy by wintertime. As such, some gardeners opt to cut baptisias during autumn, and wait until they bloom again during the late parts of spring or early days of summer.
The baptisia plant can also tolerate a humid environment unlike lupines—another type of perennial plant that bears strikingly similar characteristics with baptisias.
This plant can grow well even in low-fertility soil. As such, the frequency of fertilizer application need not to be as frequent as other more sensitive plants.
Experts suggest fertilizing baptisias during early spring using a balanced formula. During summertime, you may consider adding doing more applications if needed.
According to plant experts, baptisias do not need to be pruned. You may still consider pruning the plant if you prefer your plants to be in uniform color. Others, however, like their baptisias with contrasting colors so they leave the darker-colored pods as they are.
Pruning may also be done if its height becomes unmanageable or unsightly. However, take note that cutting the plant too frequently—especially during its growing period—could be detrimental to its robustness.
Baptisias may be propagated in three different ways:
Experts suggest—especially for novice gardeners—to grow baptisias through its seeds. Higher chances of success could be attained if the seeds are freshly out of the pod and free from pest damage. They can usually be harvested from the plant during early summer, once the seed pods have matured and turned black.
The seeds must be planted at around ¾-inch deep into the soil. With the right conditions, they will begin to germinate within 1 to 4 weeks.
If you are going to use old seeds, however, you must soak them first in hot water in order to increase their chances of germination.
Propagating through stem cuttings require the right timing because you need to do this during early spring. At this point, the new shoots have not yet become woody, thereby making them more suitable for this method.
Stem cuttings should include at least a set of leaf buds. They must also be long enough so that those leaf buds could be under the soil.
To promote growth, dip the stem cuttings in rooting hormones before placing them in a highly humid container that has loose soil in it. Expect the roots to start growing after 2 months.
Much like stem cuttings, plant division should be done in early spring. The new shoots would be more suitable for plant division, though they still do not guarantee success.
To perform this, you must dig out the root of the baptisia as much as possible. Using a sharp saw, divide the plant and then replant each part as fast as you can to prevent the roots from drying out. Afterwards, keep the baptisias well hydrated to increase their chances of survival.
Take note that this method is widely considered as the least ineffective of the three. As such, consider this only if either seeds or stem cuttings are not an option for you.
Because of its size, transplanting baptisia involves multiple steps to avoid causing damage to its sensitive parts like the stem or roots. Here’s how:
1. Cut off some stems and leaves, especially the dead ones.
Doing so would make it easier for you to move the plant to another location. Remember to steer clear from the new shoots to avoid stunting its growth.
2. Prepare the location where you intend to transfer the baptisia.
Till the soil before adding nourishment into it, such as organic plant materials. Some examples of good materials to add into the soil include dead leaves and compost.
Though baptisia does not necessarily require well-fertilized soil, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a head start now since transplanting could be quite traumatic for the plant.
3. Carefully dig out the roots of the baptisia.
Aim to dig deep enough for the root ball to be unearthed completely without being damaged. If there were any broken or rotten parts of the root, they must be removed from the plant with the use of root pruning shears.
4. Replant the baptisia into its new location as soon as possible.
In case you could not do this right away for some reason, keep the root ball of the baptisia from drying out by wrapping it with a moistened burlap cloth.
5. Observe the newly transplanted baptisia until it has fully adapted to its new environment.
This could take months to achieve, but the amount of attention it would require from you would lessen over time. To help the plant reach this state faster, maintain its soil bed moist by watering the plant lightly every now and then.
Expect the blooms to be minimal during its first year after being transplanted. By the second year, however, your baptisias usually would be in full bloom again.
Baptisia Health Benefits
For hundreds of years, natives have tapped into the potential of baptisias beyond dye-making. Herbalists nowadays also continue to recognize the plant for its ability to improve the health condition of the body in various ways:
Strengthen the Immune System
Researchers have observed that baptisias have a modulating effect on the production of white blood cells. This property could be quite helpful in fighting off infections caused by bacteria or pathogens that enter the body.
Clear Away Skin Damage or Impurities
When applied to the skin, baptisias may reduce certain signs of ageing like wrinkles and blemishes. Skin blemishes caused by inflammations could also be eliminated with the help of baptisias.
Take note that moderation and care must be exercised when using baptisias to improve your health. Ingesting too much of this plant could lead to the following side-effects:
- Difficulty in breathing
Furthermore, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid using baptisias for health purposes. Up to this day, there have been no definitive study about its probable effects on the health of the mother or the baby.
Still, whether or not you are a healthy individual who has no special conditions, remember to consult first with a trained medical professional before adding baptisias into your health routine.
Uses of Baptisia
Many gardeners grow baptisias for their high aesthetic value. When planted with other ornamental plants, the baptisia flowers and foliage add diversity and enhance contrast among the different landscape elements, especially in terms of color and density.
However, planting and tending to baptisias can not only liven up a landscape or floral arrangement. It may also serve other purposes that you are not expecting from a seemingly wild plant. Check out the many ways people have used baptisias in different aspects of life.
Baptisias may be used as a form of alternative medicine for various types of ailments and diseases. For example:
Common Cold and Flu
Those who usually become ill during the seasons of common cold or flu would likely benefit from taking baptisia supplements. Because of the plant’s ability to boost the immune system, it can provide another layer of protection for you from viruses present in your environment.
Oral Conditions, such as Gingivitis or Halitosis
If you are suffering from bleeding gums or bad breath, then you might want to consider using baptisia to alleviate those symptoms. It helps by reducing the inflammations in the oral region, and soothing away the pain.
Respiratory Conditions, such as Bronchitis or Sore Throat
Baptisia may help in keeping your respiratory system clear and healthy. This would reduce your chances of contracting diseases caused by the bacteria and pathogens that normally get trapped by the build-up in your respiratory tract.
Furthermore, the anti-inflammatory properties of the baptisia could minimize the swelling in the lungs or respiratory tracts. As a result, you may expect an increase in your recovery rate from various types of respiratory illnesses.
Again, the ability of baptisia to reduce inflammations can be of great help in treating and gastric ulcers. Researchers have demonstrated that the plant could reduce the size of the ulcers in the stomach, and even hamper its development.
Pain caused by wound, muscle strain, or arthritis may be relieved by applying baptisia on the affected areas. Besides being anti-inflammatory, this plant has also exhibited analgesic properties when used for topical applications.
Natives have also traditionally used baptisia to relieve the pain from sensitive nipples of women, especially when breast-feeding. However, as mentioned earlier, be cautious when using this plant if you are pregnant or lactating due to the inconclusive evidence that it is completely safe for you or your child.
Baptisias—particularly Baptisia australis—had been processed to make cheap blue dyes by the early European settlers in North America. This demand arose when the demand for indigo dyes far exceeded the supply at the time. Because of its relatively low cost, it became a popular export back then—up to the point wherein tons of baptisia dyes were being shipped to Europe every year.
Historically speaking however, Native Americans valued baptisias long before the settlers had arrived in their shores. They would brew it into a medicinal tea that could be drank or applied directly on the skin. In case of snake bites, Natives would add also add the root of baptisia into the poultice, and wrap it around the wounded area to reduce the inflammation.
Other than dyes and medicine, some farmers also strap baptisias on the harnesses attached to their horses. According to experts, the smell of this plant has a repellant effect against flies.
So, do you agree that baptisia would be the ideal plant to start your gardening project?
Aside from its amazing visuals, this plant has a long and rich history, as well diverse uses that could be good conversation material.
While planting and tending to baptisia may not pose a lot of challenges, even for novice gardeners, it might test your patience during the first year. After all, it blooms only once it has established itself.
Now that you know the most important things about baptisia, your next step involves researching more about where to get your supplies to start propagating this plant. The local gardening stores usually offer the basics that you would be needing. Remember to explore the options offered in gardening-niche websites and online shops, too.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Baptisia poisonous?
According to early knowledge about the plant, some species can be poisonous for horses and cattle.
Among humans, consumption of too much baptisia may cause various unpleasant symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Fortunately, there has not been any reported deaths due to the ingestion of this plant.
Will Baptisia rebloom?
Baptisia blooms every late spring or early summer, depending on the type of baptisia you have as well as its environment. It will lose its flowers after 3 to 6 weeks during autumn.
During winter, the plant would become dormant. Expect the baptisia flowers to bloom again at around the same period.
Can you propagate Baptisia by cutting?
Stem cuttings of baptisia may be used to propagate the plant. Just remember to include at least 1 new shoot in the cutting, and follow the advice about how to handle it properly given in an earlier section of this article.
To avoid inadvertently harming the plant, time your cutting right after the baptisia has started flowering. By doing so, the plant would have enough time to develop its root system.