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White Wild Indigo is a herbaceous, perennial plant that is native to Indiana's prairies and grasslands. Also known as false indigo and rattlebush, it is a widely popular plant in both backyard gardens and prairie restorations. The Nature Conservancy's Kankakee Sands Efroymson Family Prairie Restoration is an example of such use. Located in northwest Indiana's Newton County, it boasts its own native plant nursery where seeds of various prairie grasses, plants and wildflowers are planted, grown and transplanted throughout the vast 7,600-acre preserve.
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What makes the wild white indigo so popular? The wildflower is quite unique, with pea-like, bright white blooms found on large stalks three to six inches in height. The stout central stem and upper side stems are smooth, and vary from light green or reddish purple. The leaves are oval-shaped, pointed and are usually a grayish green or blue green color. While not fragrant, the showy blooms make a beautiful sight during late spring to mid-summer.
Not only are wild white indigos beautiful, they also benefit a number of insects. Worker bumblebees pollinate the flowers, and the wild indigo weevil feed on this plant and other wild indigo varieties. It is also a great plant to attract butterflies and skippers. Wild Indigo Duskywing, Hoary Edge and Southern Dogface are a few species whose caterpillars feed on the indigo’s foliage. Unfortunately, white wild indigo is poisonous to mammalian herbivores. If livestock, such as cattle consume sufficient amounts of the plant, it can be seriously poisoned. Fortunately most mammalian herbivores tend to stay away.
Because wild white indigo is native to our state, it is easy to plant and grow. The soil can be from partially wet to dry, and it prefers full sun or partial shade. Once established, it will grow very quickly during the spring. As one of the tallest early-blooming perennials, the white wild indigo in full flower is quite spectacular. Pair them with native plants of various heights such as columbine and lupine for a lovely effect.