Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for White Wild Indigo - Baptisia alba   (L.) Ventenat
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Section 6 » Order Fabales » Family Fabaceae
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Author(L.) Ventenat
DistributionThe range has been confused with B. albescens, especially as that species was formerly named as B. alba, and this species was formerly known as B. pendula. Thus, specimens labeled as "Baptisia alba" in many or most herbaria cannot be comfortably placed by the website authors into the correct species as currently named. The range map below is thus based mostly on 1) records as shown for the original B. pendula in RAB (1968), and 2) counties recorded in the NCNHP database. Thus, given those two sets of data, this species occurs only in the central and southern Piedmont, and very sparingly in the western Coastal Plain (a disjunct population). It is not known to reach as far north as VA, so NC specimens of "B. alba" along the northern border likely relate to the now named B. albescens, which does occur north into VA. Specimens of "B. alba" from the western Piedmont and Mountains likely also refer to B. albescens now, as neither RAB (1968) nor the NCNHP database show any records west of Mecklenburg County.

This is a southern species, reaching north only to central NC and northern AL, and south to northern FL and west to MS. Despite it being mostly found in the Piedmont in NC, it does range widely across the Coastal Plain in states farther south.
AbundanceRare to uncommon in the south-central Piedmont, and probably declining owing to development, as many populations are or were along vacant road margins that are being developed or widened. Extremely rare in the west-central Coastal Plain, probably extant now only in Johnston County in that province. This is a State Threatened species.
HabitatThis species and the very similar B. albescens have essentially similar habitats: dry to somewhat mesic soil along woodland edges and openings, particularly along mowed roadsides. There seems to be no affinity for high pH soils for either species.
PhenologyBlooms from May to July, and fruits from June to October.
IdentificationThe two "white wild indigo" species in NC have been confused over the years, not only by observers but also by collectors. Each species has a similar growth form -- a bushy, well-branched herb with glaucous blue-green leaves, reaching 2-3 feet high. Each leaf is trifoliate, with each of the 3 leaflets being somewhat elliptic in shape, about 2 inches long, and 2/3-inch wide. This species has slightly larger flowers, and they grow in a handful of terminal (on the branches) and conspicuously erect racemes, each about 6 inches tall, with each flower about 3/4-inch long. Much better for species confirmation is the capsule; in this species, it has large and black pods that are about 1.5 inches long and nearly 1 inch wide, and these hang downward. In B. albescens, the pods are narrow and cylindrical in shape, light brown in color, erect, and average only about 1/3-inch wide. Thus, to safely identify either species, you almost certainly need to see the capsules, though at times the size of the flowers might be good enough, as long as you are comfortably familiar with both species in bloom! The best way to see either species is to drive some of the back roads in the southern Piedmont, generally during the latter part of May or June, trying to catch these bushy legumes in bloom or fruit. Needless to say, a bushy herb with erect white spires of sizable flowers is sure to catch your attention!
Taxonomic CommentsSee above. For much or most of the 20th Century, this species was named as Baptisia pendula. The western populations of the former species are now generally split out as Baptisia leucantha.

Other Common Name(s)Thick-pod White Wild Indigo. This name, suggested or used by Weakley (2018), eliminates the confusion, as B. albescens also has white flowers and can also be called "White Wild Indigo". Weakley (2018) call that species as Thin-pod White Wild Indigo, to clearly eliminate confusion.
State RankS2 [S2S3]
Global RankG5
State StatusT
US Status
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USACE-empFACU link
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
Photo Gallery
B.A. SorrieStanly County, 2009, roadside near a rocky creek. StanlyPhoto_natural

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