Plant of the Week: Purple Smoke wild indigo

This month, stop by to enjoy the pale purple flowers of Purple Smoke wild indigo, in bloom at West 16th and West 18th Streets.

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees — each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share with you one of our gardeners’ current favorites.

Purple Smoke wild indigo, Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke,’ is a cross between Baptisia australis and White Wild Indigo, Baptisia alba and combines some of the best features of both parents: soft purple flowers, dusty charcoal-colored stems, and gray-green foliage. This small genus of plants, Baptisia, is native to North America and was once used as a dye by early settlers. This history gave the plants both their common name “false indigo” or “wild indigo,” and their genus name, Baptisia, from the Greek wordbapto, to dip. While the color of the dye is similar, these plants should not be confused with true indigo, Indigofera tinctoria which is native to tropical climates.

Plant enthusiasts will recognize the characteristic foliage and blooms of Purple Smoke wild indigo which are common to many plants in the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family, commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family. Like its agricultural cousins soybeans, peanuts, and alfalfa, Purple Smoke wild indigo hosts nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its root system. These bacteria take nitrogen in the air and convert it into usable nitrogen for the plant, eventually being passed into the ecosystem when the plant dies, providing valuable nutrients to other plants. For this reason, legumes are an important part of agricultural crop rotation and help keep soil healthy without the use of fertilizers.

On the High Line at Little West 16th and West 18th Streets

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