(Large Leaf Wild Indigo - Plains Wild Indigo - Prairie False Indigo -White Wild Indigo - White False Indigo - Shoo-fly Weed - Horsefly Weed)
Baptisia alba Syn: macrophylla, lactea, obovato, pendula (Linnaeus) Ventenat
Fabaceae (Pea) Family
Plant is an upright, smooth perennial. Preferred habitat is on prairies, at roadsides, fields and edge of streams. Distribution is throughout the Escambia region.
Leaves are alternate on the stem; trifoliate; leaflets are widest at the center to nearly oblong; no teeth or lobes.
Flowers are in a raceme at the end of a flowering stem; calyx is five-lobed; five petals; white. Flowers occur in the spring and early summer.
Fruit is a bean pod.
Other indigo species in the Escambia region are Pineland (yellow), Nuttall (yellow) and False Indigo (purple). The Latin describes this plant as white like milk. Many species of the genus contain a blue dye that resembles indigo, which becomes noticeable in autumn as the plants blacken. It would appear that every section of the country has adopted a different Latin to describe the plant, which makes it difficult to determine the true species name. In Mississippi the plant is called lactea while in the Carolinas it may be referred to as alba and the Smithsonian calls it leucantha - all meaning white, so none are wrong although it does get confusing.
The colonists found several uses for these bushy plants from brushing away horseflies while plowing to making a crude dye. In time it was also used as a treatment for malaria. The most common use; however, was as a dye. Later it was found that extracts from the Asian Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) was a far superior commercial product.