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U.S. Forest Service

Plant of the Week

Baptisia leucophaea range map. Baptisia bracteata var. leucophaea range map. USDA PLANTS Database.

Baptisia leucophaea Cream Wild Indigo (Baptisia leucophaea) flowers. Photo by Christopher David Benda.

Baptisia leucophaea Cream Wild Indigo (Baptisia leucophaea) plant. Photo by Christopher David Benda.

Baptisia leucophaea Cream Wild Indigo (Baptisia leucophaea) foliage. Photo by Christopher David Benda.

Baptisia leucophaea habitat Cream Wild Indigo (Baptisia leucophaea) habitat. Photo by Christopher David Benda.

Cream Wild Indigo (Baptisia leucophaea)

By Christopher David Benda

Cream (or longbract) wild indigo is in the Pea family (Fabaceae). The name “Baptisia” means “to dye,” referring to some species with indigo flowers in this genus being used as a dye, and “leucophea” means “grayish white,” referring to the off-white, cream colored flowers. See synonyms for Baptisia leucophaea below…

The flowers bloom in the early spring and occur along long racemes. Unlike other wild indigo species, like white wild indigo, the flowering stems droop over and the hang to the ground. The individual flowers are on short pedicels to face upward toward the sun. The flowers are a dull yellow or cream color, about one inch in size, and exhibit the typical floral structure indicative of the Pea family: comprised of a banner that is one petal, and a keel and wing, each with two petals. The tubular calyx lobes are toothed and have ten stamens and a single style within them.

The showy flowers turn into large, fleshy seed pods that are mostly empty. The seed pods have an obvious beak at the tip and contain kidney-shaped seeds inside. Once dry, they turn black and crack open to release the seeds.

The leaves are palmately compound and trifoliate, meaning they are divided into three sections, and are arranged alternately on the stem. This herbaceous perennial plant is a sprawling plant that looks like a small bush. It produces a large taproot that makes it difficult to transplant.

This plant prefers open sun with little competition from larger perennial plants in habitats like prairies and savannas and occurs in abundance in areas that have not been grazed. Its range in centered in the central United States, from Wisconsin to Texas.

For More Information

Results for Scientific Name = Baptisia leucophaea on USDA PLANTS Database

Click on an accepted name below to view its PLANTS Profile with all synonyms, distribution map, more information, and Web links if available. Synonyms are indented beneath accepted counterparts.

Symbol Scientific Name Common Name
BABRL Baptisia bracteata Muhl. ex Elliott var. laevicaulis (A. Gray ex Canby) Isely longbract wild indigo
BALEL Baptisia leucophaea Nutt. var. laevicaulis A. Gray ex Canby
BABRL2 Baptisia bracteata Muhl. ex Elliott var. leucophaea (Nutt.) Kartesz & Gandhi longbract wild indigo
BALE3 Baptisia leucophaea Nutt.  
BALEG Baptisia leucophaea Nutt. var. glabrescens Larisey