A Whiter Shade of Pale

It’s a fleeting pleasure: white flowers on the prairie in early June.

Saucy, fringed daisy fleabane. A little weedy? Yes. But cheerful all the same.

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Lacy, delicate meadow rue.

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Humble bedstraw.

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Graceful anemone.

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But the real show-stopper on the Illinois prairie this week is white wild indigo.

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Although its new growth looks like asparagus; ironically, white wild indigo is in the legume family, Fabaceae, sometimes called the pea or bean family.

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Asparagus and bean allusions not withstanding, early settlers were wary of the indigo, as its foliage is toxic enough to kill grazing horses and cattle.

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White wild indigo’s scientific name is Baptisia leucantha or Baptisia alba. Baptisia’s name comes from the Greek, bapto, “to dye.”   But the source of the dye that colors your blue jeans once came mainly from tropical plants in the genus Indigofera, although other species of Baptisia were also once used to dye textiles. Today, indigo dye is almost always made synthetically. White wild indigo is also known as false white indigo. The word “false” indicates that it is not the “true” indigo of the tropics.

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False it may be. But it is truly this week’s extravagant offering of the Illinois tallgrass prairie. Next week, the spikes of white may be gone, their blooms finished for another season.

Why not see them while you can?

All photos by Cindy Crosby from the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: (from top to bottom) Daisy fleabane (Erigeron strigosus); purple meadow rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum) ; northern bedstraw, Galium boreale; meadow anemone, Anemone canadensis; white wild indigo (Baptisia leucantha or Baptisia alba macrophyllaor even Baptisia lacteal);white wild indigo; edge of Schulenberg Prairie and savanna; white wild indigo.

Information about indigo as a blue dye comes from http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/landscape/flowers/hgic1184.html and http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_baau.pdf

4 responses to “A Whiter Shade of Pale

  1. I think I saw some white spikes out amongst some purple flox in a field and wondered what it was. Perhaps False wild white Indigo. Is it poisonous to people? If I were to touch it (like poison ivy?). I’m thinking it was in an area where there is fishing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. No worries –It won’t hurt you if you touch it, Shalley — just don’t eat it! Instead, enjoy the beautiful flowering spikes and pretty foliage.

    Like

  3. Thanks! Hopefully I can take some pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve never seen the white indigo ever, in pictures or in real life. But I did notice that I misidentified the fringed daisy fleabane in several of my pictures. Your naturalist knowledge astounds me!

    Liked by 1 person

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