In the days before amino compounds were discovered to produce pure dyes without the aid of plants, the world's supply of blue dyes came from several plants native to Africa and Asia. Indigo became a fortune-making crop plant. People who were fired with the knowledge that the indigo plantations of the south were bringing their owners great wealth, searched for other plants which also would give forth that priceless blue dye.
Baptisia leucantha T. & G.
May - June. Prairie roadsides. sands.
Of all the wild American plants which were examined and used to produce indigo dye, the white false indigos of several species were most satisfactory. But no fortune was made from those wild plants. The quality of the dye was poor, the plants were not abundant enough in the wild and they were not adaptable quickly to cultivation.
But the white false indigo plants still grow wild in America; they are fairly common in Illinois. In late May the tall and elegant spikes stand erect above the bushy plants. The spike of flowers, often from one to two feet tall and closely set with white, pea-shaped blossoms, is identified as far away as it can be seen; only the white false indigo in Illinois has that long wand of white blossoms, that loosely-leafy, bushy plant.
The plant is branched, smooth, with grey-green, oval, kid-skin leaflets arranged in trios over the stems. When the leaves, stems, flowers, or fruits are. bruised or broken, the skin turns blue - the ancient characteristic which gave the false indigo its name and put it in the pages of American history.
White false indigo is found in sandy fields, on prairie slopes, upland pastures, and in the riginal prairie soil along railroad tracks.