One of the most common and visible flowers on the spring and early summer Flint Hills prairie are the Baptisia sp, otherwise known as the wild indigos. If you look at the picture of one of my hillsides at the bottom of this blog entry, taken just two days ago, you can get an idea how common they are. I watch for them every year, heralds of spring on the prairie and my own personal seasonal time-clock for the onset of warmer temperatures. I've noted the Blue Wild Indigo, Baptisia australis, as early as April 26 (in 2004) and as late as May 20 (2013) over the years. This year, I saw my first on 5/10/2020. As I've noted before, I'm not sure what all my "first sightings" mean in relationship to climate change.
True indigos, from which indigo dye is derived, are a different genus (Indigofera tinctoria) and are not native to the prairie, but the Blue Wild Indigo is so named because it's sap turns purple on exposure to air. Another very common false indigo is the Plains Wild Indigo, Baptisia bracteata, which is earlier to flower and lower to the ground than its blue cousin. Where B. australis stands tall and stiffly resistant to the prairie winds, B. bracteata is seen hugging the ground, creamy and bright against the ground.
Baptisia var ProfessorRoush
My real Baptisia interest this year was in the color variations that I happen across on my prairie walks, and in particular, the return of this pretty pink Baptisia, which I first noticed in the same spot last year. I marked the spot to see if it returned true to color this year and here it is again, pretty and pink on the prairie. This year, I'm going to try to collect seeds from it and hope that I can grow them and propagate this color. I doubt I can become rich off of introducing a pink Baptisia to the market, but B. australis var. ProfessorRoush doesn't sound half bad, does it?
Finding one unusual Baptisia, of course, initiated a quest for others. This beautiful white Baptisia alba grows not far from the pink one in my backyard and I've also marked its location for seed collection. There's just no substitute for pure white in the way it can stand out from the emerald green prairie, is there?
I thought I'd hit the Baptisia jackpot with this pink and yellow flowering plant on a neighbor's acreage and I got all excited about its subtle shadings, but on a second look, I don't think this is a Baptisia. A vetch, perhaps, or some other member of the Bean family, but there are so very many legumy-things on the prairie that I can't keep up. Alas, I'll have to count on B. australis var ProfessorRoush to lend my name to gardening prosperity. And I'll end here, wallowing in my delusions of Baptisia grandeur here in the Flint Hills on this blessed Memorial Day. Stay healthy, everyone!