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Long-bracted Wild Indigo
Long-bracted Wild Indigo - All photos by Jim Mason

Common Name:
Plains Wild Indigo

Scientific Name:
Baptisia bracteata

Long-bracted Wild Indigo

The wildflower display on the prairie begins in earnest in late April and early May.  One of the more noticeable early bloomers is Plains Wild Indigo.  It is particularly easy to spot in prairies that were burned off early in the season.  The plant appears from a distance as a dark-green "pillow" about a foot high with pale yellow flower spikes drooping sideways from it.

Baptisia bracteata

Long-bracted Wild Indigo is a member of the Bean family, which may be easily seen by its pea-like flowers.  It has a trifoliate leaf arrangement.

The wild indigo clan also includes Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis), which blooms in May-June and White Wild Indigo (Baptisia alba), which blooms later in the season.   Blue Wild Indigo and White Wild Indigo hold their flower spikes vertically and each species is taller than the one which blooms before it, so its blossoms can be readily seen by pollinating insects in the ever-taller grasses as the season progresses.  Outside the flowering season, the foliage of the three is somewhat similar, but only Long-bracted Wild Indigo has fuzzy foliage - the botanical term for this is pubescent.   The other two have no fuzziness and are thus considered glabrous.

All the wild indigos are bumblebee flowers.  The bumblebees that visit Plains Wild Indigo in the spring are the founder queens that overwintered in their underground nests.   They won't have raised any helpers until later in the season.

Another insect that visits wild indigos is the Wild Indigo Duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae), a type of butterfly which lays its eggs on the plant for its caterpillars to eat.  These caterpillars are pale green with many fine hairs.  Wild indigos have a mild toxin in them which makes them unpalatable to cattle, so  the Wild Indigo Duskywing caterpillars may make use of this chemical to protect themselves from predators.

Wild indigo flowers produce clusters of distinctive black, hard, inflated seed pods which are much larger than the dozen or so small, yellowish-brown, hard, waxy-looking seeds they contain.  The stems with these pods on them may break off in the winds of autumn and go tumbling across the landscape, scattering any leftover seeds as they go.

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- This page was spun by Jim Mason -

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