Tag Archives: indigo

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.

IMG_5742

Lacy, delicate meadow rue.

IMG_5771

Humble bedstraw.

IMG_5772

Graceful anemone.

IMG_5756

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

IMG_5739

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

IMG_5734

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.

IMG_5762

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.

IMG_5759

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