Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday

There are no natives blooming here in late January. It's the middle of winter and cold and dreary, so this is no surprise. A Witch Hazel is in full bloom, but that is a seedling of 'Jelena', herself Hamamelis x intermedia, a Chinese and and Japanese hybrid. So I went back into both the archives and future plans to look at Baptisia.

I love Baptisia. It's both a very beautiful plant and a survivor. Its only weakness is that voles love its thick roots. It's easy to get around the voles by planting Baptisia into 3 gallon pots sunk into the ground and mulching the surface with sharp gravel. The bottoms of the pots are cut out to allow the Baptisia roots to sink in deep. 3 gallon pots work because the roots go straight down. Voles won't dig very deep or in sharp gravel, and since voles will not chew through plastic and plastic buried in the earth lasts forever, this strategy has worked. If I didn't go to this trouble I don't think I'd have any Baptisia at all, and voles don't really trouble anything else besides this and Lespedeza.

The effect of Baptisia is ethereal in spite of its toughness. I have Baptisia alba and B. 'Purple Smoke' in the big perennial bed

as well as Baptisia australis, whose color ranges from purple

to blue.

So, I decided to try some other types. This past fall I extended the bed beside the paddock to almost full length. Here is part of the bed from last spring, with 'Twilight Prairie Blues', a hybrid of B. australis and B. sphaerocarpa.

I remember thinking it might look good with iris 'Beotie', if they would bloom together at the same time. Not sure they would, since Beotie is listing as an early bloomer.

I found this picture and realized I had completely forgotten that the flowers were originally a deep chocolatey purple with yellow edges, the typical advertisement color combination, before they faded to the smoky lavender pictured above. This will of course necessitate more iris and other companion plant research. :)

I also added 'Carolina Moonlight', a lovely hybrid of Baptisia alba and B. sphaerocarpa. Like 'Purple Smoke', this hybrid was selected by the late Rob Gardner of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

After reading in the Plant Delights catalog that 'Purple Smoke' is a hybrid of Baptisia minor and alba, not australis and alba, and seeing Baptisia minor in the catalog too, I was intrigued by this diminitive B. australis lookalike.

Enter Prairie Moon Nursery, which sells a spectacular variety of seeds. In their catalog I saw listed the seeds of Baptisia bracteata, minor, sphaerocarpa, and tinctoria, as well as B. alba and australis. So a couple of years ago I ordered the seeds, started them last year, and put them in the new bed beside the paddock last fall.

I don't have any pictures of the new Baptisia since they won't bloom for another 2-3 years. I have this picture from the Sandhills section of the NC Botanical Garden, which I think is B. sphaerocarpa.

Baptisia bracteata, commonly called Cream Wild Indigo, is a species of dry prairies and woodlands.
It's well-named, as the flowers are the color of blended butter and cream and nod gracefully.

Baptisia sphaerocarpa, one of the parents of both 'Carolina Moonlight'
and 'Twilight Prairie Blues', is another drought-tolerant species that
has round seed-pods, like cherries. Thus the scientific name sphaerocarpa.
image from Missouri Botanical Garden

Baptisia tinctoria looks like it has a somewhat softer yellow color than B. sphaerocarpa.

If I don't like these seed-grown Baptisias and selected cultivars are better, I'll just take them out and put australis and alba in and maybe try some of the cultivars. All were easy to grow from seed, perhaps because the seeds came from Prairie Moon with a species-specific inoculum.

Below is a picture of another Baptisia hybrid at the NC Botanical Garden.
I don't think it's 'Twilight Prairie Blues' ~ the color looks too orchid
purple. Since Baptisias hybridize freely, the possibilities are almost endless... :)

Thank you Gail for hosting Wildflower Wednesday!


  1. You always have such interesting and lovely flowers to share from your gardens. I'm never disappointed when I visit here.


  2. I love Baptisias and need to thank you for id-ing Baptisia spaerocarpa. The giveaway is the color and the round seed pods. LIke you, I want to add more of them to my garden~B australis wonderful winter stems are still standing and look great. Happy WW! gail

  3. My goodness, you have an impressive variety of baptisias - I have a couple that never seem to thrive as they do for you, perhaps because my soil is really heavy. That 'Twilight PB' is fabulous!

  4. I love the purple and the chocolate colored ones..They just look divine in your gardens.

  5. I love Baptistas and that one with the yellow and purple is super! I have wanted to put Baptistas in the garden for a long time...maybe this is the garden I put them in.

  6. You had me at "I love Baptisias". Your wide selection is impressive. I wish I had more room! 'Twilite Praireblues' for me is a very odd, indeterminate rust color, but I love the plant anyway. I'd really like a bluer baptisia, and your 'Carolina Moonlight' is calling to me too. I need more room!! Thanks for a wonderful post on beautiful baptisias on this snowy afternoon.

  7. Thank you for the lovely photos - I don't grow baptisias, but think they'd be a lovely addition to my perennial bed. Just might have to give them a try this year.

  8. Just last night I decided to pull out my turtleheads (Chelone) that aren't getting enough water and put in a baptisia!! Your wonderful post is perfectly timed! :o) Do you get a lot of butterflies on yours?

  9. Prairie Moon is one of my favorite online nurseries. They sell bare root baptisia for $7, including b. bracteata, which sounds too tough to pass up! Plus, it's beautiful!! THANKS A MILLION FOR THIS POST!! :o) It was really helpful!!

  10. I LOVE Baptisia. I was forced to transplant one of my favorites last summer and she didn't survive. I cried literal tears over her loss... Pretty pics!

  11. Beautiful plants, a bit like lupines. I liked the blue one, it goes so well with the rose in the background...

  12. Hi there...this is week #4 of Cottage Flora Thursday's on my blog....i'm looking for others that share a passion for gardening! hope to see you link this wildflower post! xoox

  13. What a lovely variety of baptisias you have, Sweetbay! I have only one, but I've been so happy with it. I'd love to add more--I didn't even know there were so many different cultivars!

  14. What a great idea about protecting the roots of the baptisia! I may try it on some of my plants here-mainly hostas. So far no issues with the baptisia and voles but I will be checking today-even in the snow. Yours are all so lovely! Mine are small but growing. I hope someday they get this big as it is a nice perennial. So glad you showed it, but I'd love to see Jelena too!

  15. very beautiful flowers! it would be great to have a bunch growing in the garden

  16. Sweetbay, I am very grateful for your sharing your method of protecting your baptisia from votes! I have those darn critters who love to dine on my iris. I could not understand what happened to a beautiful B. I had growing in a north garden. Now I think I do. What a gorgeous collection you share here today. I particularly love the feeling in your first photo. Lovely!

  17. I have no Baptisia in my garden and for the life of me I just do not know why. LOL! It is so pretty. I love the purples and whites. I may have to try one of those. Now see what you started. LOL!

  18. Thanks for the tip on avoiding vole damage. I have the hardest time with those little creatures. A couple of days ago one of the cats left a dead one on the front door mat. I hope that is a good sign that they are dealing with the population of those little rascals for me! Carla

  19. Your Baptisia photos are powerful ... I love them!

  20. Your baptisia is lovely! I planted baptisia once in my garden, and it perished during the summer. I don't know if it was the heat or poor soil or something else, but your photos make me want to try again!

  21. The Baptisia is beautiful. Interesting how you have figured out a way to keep the voles away from the roots. Very smart of you!

  22. In 2009, I planted 'Twilite Prairie Blues' and I was disappointed in the color of the blooms. The flowers are not a deep purple-violet as the tag stated they would be. On its behalf, it does seem to flourish in dry soil and doesn't need any special attention.



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