Native to the majority of central and eastern North America, this deciduous shrub is typically found growing in meadows, open fields, and along streams. Widespread cultivation has led it to escape cultivation and spread far beyond its native range, including New England, where it was likely introduced for ornamental purposes. It often struggles to grow wildly within its native range due to parasitic weevils that go into its pods and eat many of the seeds, leaving few viable ones to proliferate. Yet, its root systems go far beyond the 2 – 5 feet that it spreads above ground, making it resistant to drought, erosion, fire, and herbivory.
Blue wild indigo produces flashy blue flowers in the spring or early summer, which stand upright if planted in an area with full sun. These conspicuous blooms attract numerous pollinators, including honey bees, bumble bees, hummingbirds, and many butterflies. Further, they have been used by some indigenous peoples as a source of blue dye, a tradition that was copied and spread by European colonialists. In fact, this perennial member of the legume family is also called “blue false indigo,” referring to its use as an inferior substitute for another dye-producing plant, the “true indigo.”