Wild Indigo | Laurel Magazine – The Laurel Magazine of Highlands NC and Cashiers NC

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Written By: Marlene Osteen | Issue: 2021/07 – July
For ethereal beauty and mountain hardiness, the wise choice is the Wild Indigo Girls.
Folks on the Plateau take their gardens seriously.  
Gardening here is a way of life, a pastime, a passion, a source of pride, and most certainly a topic of conversation.  At many homes, the outdoor spaces flow so effortlessly into the indoor; the first “room” we enter is actually outside.  I guess it’s why we are endlessly looking to enlarge our gardens and seeking new plants to fill them. 
It’s for that reason that I asked Rachel Martin, Horticulture specialist at the Highlands Biological Station, for suggestions on native plants that may be less familiar.  
Martin was happy to suggest two plants from the native Baptisia species – the Baptisia australis (Blue Wild Indigo) and Baptisia alba White Wild Indigo).  
If you’re on a holy quest for beautiful, rock-solid garden performers that are easy to grow and also feed pollinators, Baptisia is all you could hope for from any perennial.  The indigenous species are well adapted to local climates and also support native wildlife and ecosystems.  
And as Mark Weathington, Director of JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University, said in his video on the subject,  “They are tough, reliable plants.”  
Drought resistant, virtually pest- and disease-free, once in the ground they’ll last forever.   More importantly for Highlanders, they grow in the open woodlands, and the Blue Wild Indigo will thrive in partial shade.   
It’s recommended to plant in the fall and make sure that the soil has lots of fertile organic matter.  Though it’s a tough species, it will establish better when there’s better soil richness. Homeowners should be advised that wild indigos do get large – a consideration when deciding where to plant in the landscape.  A mature specimen might grow to 2 to 3 feet wide, presenting like an appealing and rounded shrub.  
The White Wild Indigo is the first to bloom, and with its dark blue stems contrasting with its pure white flowers atop a 2 to 3-foot spire, it’s a real dazzler.  Perennial gardeners have long appreciated the Blue Wild Indigo (the 1992 North Carolina Wildflower of the Year) for its beautiful flower clusters of violet-blue blooms that sit above densely leaved plants that often grow to 4 feet. 
Both plants are of particular interest for their seed pods, which develop fully in September and turn a shiny metallic color.  When left alone and not deadheaded, they provide a unique auditory experience throughout fall and winter as well as a nesting habitat for native insects.  
Visitors to the Highlands Biological Center can view both plants growing together by the Coker Laboratory Building.  For more information about the center and to learn about this and other offerings, visit highlandsbiological.org.

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