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Baptisia tinctoria

Yellow wild indigo

Plant Details

Common Name: Yellow wild indigo
Family: Fabaceae (legume family)
Mature Height: 2 - 5'
Sun Requirement: Sun, Sun to part shade
Moisture Requirement: Dry, Dry - medium
Flower Color: Yellow
Bloom Time: Early summer (June - July)

Baptisia tinctoria wild indigo
Baptisia tinctoria wild indigo
Baptisia tinctoria wild indigo
Baptisia tinctoria wild indigo
Baptisia tinctoria wild indigo

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Baptisia is Greek for the verb baptizein, meaning to dye; tinctoria is Latin for dye.

Native Habitat

Sunny grasslands, fields, and open woodlands.

Garden Uses

Great for cottage, meadow, or native gardens. Naturalizes well in dry areas, with showy blooms later than most Baptisias. Tolerates most medium-dry to dry soils, but in very poor soils may need bacterial inoculant to successfully fix nitrogen. Light trimming after blooms keeps a rounded shape, and obviates need for staking, but removes developing seed pods, which could add some visual interest themselves.


A perennial, deciduous, shrub-like herb, native to sunny grasslands, fields, and open woodlands. As with other legumes, the roots are nitrogen-fixing when combined with specific (usually naturally-occurring) bacteria and can improve the health of other native plants within the community in following seasons. Not currently prevalent in most of Maine and may have been purposefully extirpated, but is still wide-spread in Massachusetts and very southern Maine.

Leaves and Stems

Compound, smooth (entire), gray-green, stalkless, clover-like (trifoliate) leaves, about 1 inch long, are alternate, growing one per node along the stem. Stems grow 2 to 3 ft tall, with a similar spread, to appear densely shrub-like. After blooming, they loosen outward and may benefit from support.


Yellow, pea-like flowers, 1/2 inch long, grow in numerous, sparsely flowered, 4 - 5 inch long clusters at the ends of stems (terminal racemes), held above the foliage sphere. Each blossom is bilaterally symmetrical, with 10 stamen. Typical bloom time is in July.


Seed pods, less than 1/2 inch in diameter, mature to black, and contain just one or two seeds each. They split open when ripe.

Animal Associates

Attracts pollinators, but deer resistant. Host plant to butterfly larvae, including wild indigo duskywing, clouded sulphuric, and rare frosted elfin butterfly.


Establishes a deep and extensive root system and should not be disturbed once established. Stem cuttings may be rooted in early spring. Not as easy to propagate by seed as most Baptisias.

Ethnobotanical Uses

The plant is considered mildly poisonous if ingested, but in the past, it was used in a tea both to induce and stop vomiting. Also used as a rather weak blue dye.

Garden Location

Library Garden (see garden map)


Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Missouri Botanical Garden

Native Plant Trust

Prairie Moon Nursery

Plant Profile by Kate O’Dell