Thursday, July 27, 2017

Baptisia - False Indigo

Baptisia is a genus in Fabaceae, which is the same family as peas and peanuts, making it a legume. There are around 30 species and subspecies found throughout North America. Most are found in grasslands, savannahs, and woodland edges. Many species are interfertile and natural hybrids have been found in the wild.

One of the reasons false indigo has become so popular is that they tend to be easy to grow and adaptable. As long as they aren't too wet, most will grow fine in heavy soil. They are also very drought tolerant and perform great in sandy soils. Full sun is best, but most will tolerate light shade.

I've been growing different forms of Baptisia almost as long as I've worked in the horticulture industry, and I've watched their popularity grow over time. That popularity really started to take off in 2010 when B. australis was selected as the PPA Plant of the Year.

Now there are A LOT of Baptisia varieties on the market. None of them are bad, though certainly some are better than others. I'll go through all of the ones I've managed to get pictures of over the years.

Baptisia alba
Baptisia alba
This has long been my favorite species in the genus. It tends to be sturdy, the clean white flowers are held above the foliage on long spikes, and its long stems form a vase-shaped habit. The habit of it being bare at the base allows for good air circulation to lower plants around it. This species has been used in some of the hybrids, passing on traits like long flower spikes and vase-shaped habit.
Baptisia alba

A form of Baptisia alba with shorter flowers and tall habit. This was actually purchased as B. sphaerocarpa, but when it flowered a few years later with white flowers, I knew the real identity. 
Baptisia australis
This is by far the most widely planted species. It has great bluish purple flowers on spikes held just above the foliage. My only complaint about this one is that it is widely seed grown, resulting in inconsistent performance. Plants may be dense and sturdy or they may be loose and floppy. Sadly, there's no good way to know for sure when selecting young plants.
B. australis

Baptisia australis 'Big Ben'
'Big Ben' was selected for its larger flowers and larger habit. I really like this one, but unfortunately it has always been a little lax in my garden, require staking later in the season.
'Big Ben'
'Big Ben'
'Big Ben'

'Big Ben'

A form of B. australis w/ gold foliage. 

Hybrid false indigo started entering the market in the late 1990's with the introduction of 'Purple Smoke' from NC Botanic Garden. It was followed by 'Carolina Moonlight' in 2002, a hybrid of B. sphaerocarpa  and B. alba also from NCBG. These were breakthrough plants as they showed much more vigor and better habit than B. australis. 

 Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'
A classic and vigorous hybrid between B. australis and B. alba discovered in fields of seed stock of B. australis. Smoky purple blooms on long spikes held above the foliage and an upright habit.
'Purple Smoke'

'Purple Smoke'

Jim Ault from Chicago Botanic Garden started hybridizing Baptisia in the late '90s. Jim has used a good range of species in his program, including B. alba, B. australis, B. australis var. minor, B. bracteata, B. bracteata var. leucophea, B. Sphaerocarpa, and B. tinctoria. What I've noticed is that he tends to select full bushy plants with not much open space at the base. Though some are certainly more upright than others. 'Twilite', 'Starlite', 'Solar Flare', 'Midnight', and 'Lunar Eclipse' are available. 'Royal Purple' will be available in 2018. Several others haven't hit the market yet. 

Baptisia 'Twilite'
This hybrid of B. australis and B. sphaerocarpa was the first plant selected for marketing out of Jim's program. It's a monster at nearly 5' tall x 6'+ wide. Flowers are a dark dusky purple on long stems at the top of the foliage. This one is vigorous. Mine was 4'x4' by the third year. 



Baptisia 'Starlite'
The second plant out of the program at Chicago Botanic Garden, a hybrid of B. australis x B. bracteata. This one is also fairly large and vigorous, but slower than 'Twilite'. Expect it to reach 3'x5' with a somewhat arching, but not lax, habit. Flowers are lavender with buttercream keels.

Baptisia 'Blue Mound'
'Blue Mound' is a hybrid B. australis var. minor and B. australis var. australis from Chicago Botanic Garden. The habit is very much like minor: low, broad, and bushy; but it's a bit larger and has larger flower spikes like australis.
B. 'Blue Mound'
Baptisia 'Lavender Rose'
This multi-generational hybrid between B. australis and B. bracteata var. leucophea has buds that start out bright pink and age to rose-lavender. Habit is quite a bit like a good form of B. australis. From Chicago Botanic Garden.
B. 'Lavender Rose'
 Baptisia 'Royal Purple'
A complex hybrid developed from the species Baptisia australis, B. bracteata var. leucophaea, and B. sphaerocarpa. Habit is much like australis, but the flowers are very dark purple.
B. 'Royal Purple'
B. 'Royal Purple'

Baptisia 'Sandstorm'
A second-generation B. australis x B. bracteata var. leucophaea hybrid, 'Sandstorm' is another variety with uniquely colored blooms. Sand colored flowers on long spikes held above the foliage in tremendous profusion. 
B. 'Sandstorm'
B. 'Sandstorm'

Baptisia 'Spilled Buttermilk'
Baptisia australis x leucophaea selection backcrossed to B. leucophaea. I like the thought of this plant: maintaining the unique low habit of B. leucophea but with better vigor and easier to propagate. But the habit appears quite floppy. Possibly worth pursuing this goal but using another plant with better habit, B. australis var. minor maybe.  I'm not sure if we'll see this one on the market. 

Baptisia 'Sunny Morning'
A hybrid of Baptisia sphaerocarpa crossed with Baptisia alba, this one displays numerous long yellow flower spikes. Habit is more bushy than other similar hybrids on the market.

'Sunny Morning'
Tony Avent from Plant Delights Nursery in NC has long had an interest in the genus. They have sold a large number of species selections over the last few decades and have lately been introducing hybrids from their program.

 Baptisia 'Blonde Bombshell'
This is a hybrid betweeen B. sphaerocarpa and B. alba. It has long flower spikes and upright habit and bright yellow flowers. Flower coverage is excellent.

'Blonde Bombshell'

 Baptisia 'Blue Towers'
This variety is a hybrid between B. australis and B. alba. It retains the flower color of australis but has the habit of alba. It's comparable to 'Purple Smoke' but with a more clear flower color.

'Blue Towers'
The vast majority of new Baptisia on the market are bred by Hans Hansen. Hans started his hybridizing program in the 90s in MN and moved it to MI when he went to work for Walter's Gardens. He has utilized a wide range of species resulting in some unique flower colors. Many of his plants have been introduced through the Proven Winners program.

Baptisia 'Cherries Jubilee'
This hybrid between B. sphaerocarpa and B. australis var. minor has reddish flowers with a yellow keel. Habit is upright with flowers held just above the foliage. This is one of his first hybrids to become widely available.
B. 'Cherries Jubilee'
B. 'Cherries Jubilee'

 Baptisia 'Dutch Chocolate'
This hybrid between B. sphaerocarpa and B. australis var. minor has flowers the color of dark chocolate. This is from the same cross as 'Cherries Jubilee'. Habit is more bushy and flowers are held just above the foliage. This is a nice plant up close, but the flowers are so dark they are lost from a distance.
B. 'Dutch Chocolate
B. 'Dutch Chocolate'

Baptisia 'Brownie Points'
This is one of the more unique varieties of Baptisia, having chocolate brown flowers on upright stems and an upright habit. Brown flowers may sound a bit odd, but it's really quite pretty. Before dismissing it, think of all the great color combinations that can be done!

Baptisia 'Brownie Points'
Baptisia 'Brownie Points'

Baptisia 'Blueberry Sundae'
Like 'Blue Mound', this is a hybrid between minor and australis. The habit is quite a bit more upright, larger, and it blooms slightly later.
'Blueberry Sundae'

 Baptisia 'Lemon Meringue'
A hybrid between B. sphaerocarpa and B. alba. Long lemon-yellow flower spikes and upright habit.
B. 'Lemon Meringue'
Baptisia 'Vanilla Cream'
This variety resulted from open pollinated seed from a trial bed of many species. Cream-colored spikes are held just above the foliage.

Roy Klehm, owner of Klehm's Songsparrow Farms, has recently introduced a few Baptisia to the market. I'm not sure of their origin, but I expect they are from open pollinated seedlings of various hybrids.

Baptisia 'Cinnamon Toast'
This variety is from Roy Klehm and appears to be a hybrid of unkown parentage. Flower buds are dark cinnamon colored opening to "toast" colored flowers. It's really much prettier than it sounds. 
B. 'Cinnamon toast'

Baptisia 'Strike It Rich' 
A yellow hybrid of unknown origin. A dense mound with flowers just above the foliage. Good flower production, but somewhat short spikes. Should reach 4'x4'. 

Baptisia has been part of my gardening and professional life so long that it's hard to imagine gardening without them. I've thought about hybridizing with them, and may do so some day, but there are so many good ones on the market now that I'm not sure it's necessary. I do have one selection I may introduce. It's an open pollinated seedling of 'Purple Smoke' with the same smokey coloration over a lavender-pink flower rather than lavender-purple.
'Purple Smoke' seedling with 'Purple Smoke' in the background

'Purple Smoke' seedling
'Purple Smoke' seedling

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Botanic Garden Trips - April-May 2017

Being able to go to various botanic gardens during spring has been a somewhat surreal experience for me. For the last 20 years I've worked between 60 and 120 hours every week during late April to early June. Spring hasn't exactly been about having fun for my adult life. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE what I do and it is often fun; but retail horticulture is a lot of work and very stressful.

Even though I've had time to do a lot of fun things this year, I've had limited amounts of time to write blog posts (for reference, I started this one 2 weeks ago). I'm bundling my botanic garden visits for spring into one massive post here. Sorry/not sorry for the amount of pictures; I'm keeping them at medium size since there are so many. I'll probably do the same thing for my June trips, though I took fewer pictures at those gardens! I've decided not to include certain pictures here, such as Primula and Baptisia pictures, as they're covered in their own posts.

My first trip this year was in late April when I gave my yearly talk about new varieties at Boerner Botanical Gardens. Despite Wisconsin being relatively cold this spring, there was plenty to see in the gardens. 
Bidens Campfire Fireburst
New Hypoestes from Proven Winners
 There were several Lavenders still remaining from the trials, these were the two with the best habit and they obviously have overwintered for a few years.
Lavandula 'Jean Davis'

Lavandula 'Mitcham Gray'
 Several pasque flowers were in bloom, I always love these guys.
Pulsatilla vulgaris

Pulsatilla vulgaris 'Papageno'

Pulsatilla vulgaris 'Perlen Glocke'

Epimedum maybe rubrum?

variegated Mertensia virginica

Mertensia virginica

Mertensia virginica with Fritillaria imperialis

Paeonia obovata
 There was a really nice Manchurian maple and I have major lust for it but won't be able to grow it here in z4.
Acer mandshuricum

Chaenomoles hybrid
 Early Magnolias were magnificent in peak bloom.
Magnolia 'Anne'

Magnolia 'Anne'

Magnolia 'Butterflies'

Magnolia 'Centennial Blush'

Magnolia 'Merill'

Magnolia 'Michiko Renge'

Magnolia 'Michiko Renge'

Magnolia 'Roseanne', bad picture of a GREAT plant!

Magnolia 'Savage Splendor'

Magnolia 'Savage Splendor'
My second trip of the year was with my regular horticultural partner in crime, Jess Cloninger, and her co-hort Ben Habanek for the Wisconsin Woody Plant Society trip to Klehm's Songsparrow Farm and Rotary Botanic Garden. I managed to only spend $100 at Klehm's; quite the feat made possible by not having anywhere to put plants!
Finally picked up Epimedium 'Spine Tingler'!

Cornus controversa 'Janine' one of my Klehm purchases

Having some time to kill between shopping and the tour of Rotary, we took the opportunity to head to Anderson Japanese Garden in Rockford, IL. As expected for a Japanese garden, this garden doesn't have the diversity of taxa that you would see at a typical botanic garden. It is one of the most stunningly designed spaces I've been to though. Less is definitely more in this case. Maybe my only complaint is that there was A LOT of spring flower color and plenty of plants that would offer stunning fall color, but little evidence of any plants offering summer color. 

Acer griseum
Acer griseum
 Japanese maples were a huge part of the gardens and there were several stunning specimens.
Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium'

Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium'

Acer japonicum 'Green Cascade'

Acer palmatum

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa Yatsubasa'

Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost'
 Azaleas and Rhododendrons were another massive part of the spring display.

Enkianthus campanulatus

Enkianthus campanulatus
As were several flowering dogwoods.

Fothergilla gardenii

Pinus sylvestris has great bark

Tree peony

Tree peony

Tsuga canadensis 'Sargentii'

We then headed to our guided tour of Rotary, it's always cool to hang out with Mark Dwyer when he has time for us and it was different and fun to get a whirlwind tour of the gardens with a group. I ALWAYS find something I hadn't seen before, and I've been there several times. After the tour WWPS had it's meeting and plant exchange, I picked up a few new things there too. 

Acer negundo 'Kelly's Gold'

Acer negundo 'Kelly's Gold'
Boxelder gets a bad rap as a weed tree but there are several great varieties if you have the proper site for the species. It's has tremendous wildlife value as it attracts many insects which in turn attract many birds and mammals. I intend to have a place for at least one, probably 'Kelly's Gold'. 

Acer platanoides 'Princeton Gold'

A variegated Acer rubrum

Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Claim Jumper' - on my lust list!

Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris 'Mirranda'

Kerria 'Golden Guinea'

Magnolia 'Miss Honeybee'

Magnolia sieboldii x tripetala

Viburnum lantana 'Variegatum' (or 'Wavecrest' if you prefer)

Viburnum plicatum Popcorn

The pond was high, these hostas are pretending to be marginal aquatics. 

Geum triflorum

Actaea pachypoda

Arisaema triphyllum

Carex appalachica

Dicentra spectablis 'Goldheart'

Dodecatheon meadia

Dodecatheon meadia

Some sort of fern, looks like a species of bracken

Iris cristata 'Edgar Anderson'

Podophyllum hexandrum from the plant exchange; I did not get this. :(

My last spring trip was with fellow plant and fish nut Kurt Zahringer. He was attending a convention in IL and we had time to get to Chicago Botanic Garden on May 26th. Needless to say, there was A LOT to see. I took a lot of pics of the Baptisia trial, and will talk about those in another post. 

Amsonia ciliata filifolia
This Amsonia ciliata filifolia was pictured in my post about our fall visit too, this time around it had a prop tag in it. Hopefully that means it's destined for the market. This thing is spectacular!
Amsonia 'Fontana'

Amsonia illustris

Amsonia illustris

Centaurea montana 'Amehtyst in Snow'

Clematis 'Mrs. Chamondelay'

Clematis 'Toki'

Dianthus Paint the Town

Euphorbia 'Excalibur'

Fallopia/Persicaria japonica
Every time somebody posts on Facebook about Fallopia/Persicaria japonica 'Variegata', they also say it's not invasive like the green form. These plants were in trial and I don't know how long they've been in place, but it's safe to say less than 5 years as that's how long the trials run. You can see it spreading out to the grass. I'll have another pic in a future post showing it being even more invasive in another garden. DO NOT PLANT THIS! It's ecologically invasive along the lines of purple loosestrife or phragmites, but even harder to eradicate. It's banned here in Wisconsin and several other states. 


Muscari 'Valerie Finnis'


Papaver nudicaule

Parthenocissus 'Fenway Park'

Rudbeckia maxima 'Golda Emannis'

Salvia 'Crystal Blue'

Salvia 'Eveline'

Salvia 'Eveline'

Salvia 'Pink Wesuve'

Salvia 'Sweet 16'
It was great to see the salvia trial in bloom. I hadn't seen Salvia 'Sweet 16' in bloom yet and it's definitely equal to the quality of S. 'Eveline'. 
Athyrium 'Burgundy Lace'

Athyrium 'Burgundy Lace'

Thalictrum 'Purpleicious'
Green Roof


Neat fern-imprinted slate. I want a few pieces like this.

green roof

green roof baptisia

green roof

Calycanthus 'Aphrodite'

Ginkgo 'Chi Chi' bonsai

Ginkgo 'Chi Chi'

Lonicera henryi

Viburnum plicatum
This was a good place for us to visit since Kurt is a succulent/cactus geek and I like pretty much everything. It's always fun spending time with someone who knows more about cacti then I do. 

Agave angustifolia 'Marginata'
Agave parasana 'Fireball'

Agave parasana 'Fireball'

Agave parryi truncata

Agave Sp. F0-76

Agave victoria-reginae 'Variegata'

Aloe 'Goliath'

Amorphophallus titanum

Amorphophallus titanum

Amorphophallus titanum

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus 'Skylark'

Ecbolium viride

Ecbolium viride



Euphorbia fruiticosa

Notocactus magnificus

Opuntia ficus indica Grey Form - I want one!

Ubelmannia pectinifera

xGastworthia Royal Highness

Yucca rostrata 'Sapphire Skies'