Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Wildflower Wednesday: Amorpha fruticosa, Another Fabulous Fabaceae

I purchased bare rooted False Indigo on a whim last fall. I bought three because three is the number that is stuck in my head when buying plants! I had no idea where in the garden I would plant them, so I soaked the roots and planted them in quart sized containers and let them over winter.

I completely forgot them until the classic pinnately compounded leaflets that screamed "I am a member of the Pea family" emerged. Then I began imagining all the different fab Fabaceaes I might be growing.


more identifying  clues emerged

It wasn't too long after the plants had fully leafed out before the narrow racemes developed. A few weeks later the blooms began opening from the bottom up (acropetal development). I knew by then that it was Amorpha fruticosa and I was thrilled.

I don't know about you, but I think they have the most incredible blooms. The racemes have dense clusters of deep purple flowers with gold stamens. But don't expect a classic pea flower from this Fabaceae. False indigo's flower has a single petal, other members of the pea family have the distinctive banner, wings and keel. 

 It was easy to see why I bought them in the first place. I hoped they would find a place in my garden and attract even more pollinators.

love the blue at the top

The blooms lasted for about 2 weeks and I saw little sweat bees visiting it. I am convinced the shrub would bloom more and last longer if they were happily in the ground. But, I still didn't know where in my garden they would go.

Photo Karin Hicks-Southern Meadows

I did know that they needed more room for their thick roots and rhizomes, so I planted them in a giant container with good clay soil and mulch to keep it moist and pondered their future.


False Indigo is a 6-10 ft., loose, airy deciduous native shrub in the Fabaceae (pea/bean) which often forms dense thickets. It is typically found growing in moist open woodlands, roadsides, canyons, floodplains, gravel bars, stream and pond banks, and along swamp edges.  Dear Reader, please note that this is not at all what Clay and Limestone is like making placement in my garden even more difficult.  Further reading revealed that because it's tolerance of a large range of soil types one can plant it in full sun to partial shade in moist to dry soil. Partial shade is especially needed if garden soil is on the dry side.  One grower says it's a tough plant for a tough place. So, maybe, it could be happy here?

We will have to see. I am still pondering where to plant it and it's already way too hot to plant out in my middle Tennessee garden.

 The Particulars

Botanical name: Amorpha fruticosa 

Common names: Bastard Indigo, False Indigo, Indigo Bush, 

Phonetic Spelling:  ah-MOR-fah froo-tih-KOH-sah

Family: Fabaceae

Habit: Deciduous shrub with thick roots and rhizomes.  

Description: Stems - Ascending, woody, to 2 m, branched, multiple, glabrous, or young branches pubescent.  Leaves - Alternate, odd-pinnately compound, with petiole to 3 cm. Leaflets typically oblong, to 40 mm long, entire, mucronate, opposite, glabrous above, pubescent underneath. Inflorescence - Terminal and axillary racemes to 18 cm long. Pedicels 1-2 mm long (source)



Flowers: Calyces 5-lobed, the tube 2.0-2.4 mm long, the lobes 0.2-1.0 mm long, the lowermost lobe conspicuously longer than the other 4 lobes. Corollas not papilionaceous, the single petal 4-5 mm long, 2.5-3.0 mm wide, obovate, arched, folded around the stamens and pistil, dark bluish purple to dark purplish blue. Stamens 10, exserted, with the free portion of the filaments 3-4 mm long, the anthers yellowish orange to orange. Ovary superior, 1-2 mm long, usually glabrous, the style 4-5 mm long, exserted, glabrous or more commonly with ascending hairs. (source)

Flowering: Depends upon where you garden. In middle Tennessee they bloomed in April and early May, zones 6 and cooler much later.

Habitat: Moist ground, gravel bars. Also cultivated. 

Fruits: Modified legumes to 7 mm long, glabrous or sparsely pubescent, strongly exserted beyond persistent calyx, prominently pustular gland-dotted, 1-seeded. Seeds 3.5-4.0 mm long, 1.4-1.6 mm wide, tan to reddish brown. (source)

Distribution: AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, WI, WV, WY. origin is southeastern states

Wildlife Value: Flowers attract butterflies, nectar-bees, and other pollinator insects. It is a larval host for the California & southern dogfaces, Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus), Gray hairstreak, Hoary edge skipper. Foliage browsed by small mammals. Photo below is of a White Marked Tussock Moth. Thanks Karin Hicks for this photo and your others.
Photo Karin Hicks-Southern Meadows

Comments: It is great for erosion control, windbreaks, and screens. It is usually found in areas near water, such as margins of ponds and sloughs.  The plant does well in gardens; however it is considered an invasive exotic in parts of New England and the Northwest, where it is not native. It is not native in Washington and much of the Pacific Northwest, Michigan, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. It is a prohibited species in Maine and Connecticut and is considered an invasive species in Connecticut and Washington.  It can propagate clonally from vegetative fragments, such as roots and stems, deposited in flooding events. Think carefully where you plant it.

Don't forget our Wildflower Wednesday monthly challenge!  The first part of this challenge is to do something every month during 2022 that supports native wildflowers, pollinators, and the critters that visit and rely on our gardens. The second part of the challenge is to post about it somewhere: Your blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or even your neighborhood listserve. 

Why post it?  Because positive publicity is needed to educate our friends, neighbors and communities about how important even the smallest changes we make as gardeners can be for pollinators, birds, insects and mammals that live all around us. 

An incomplete list of things you might consider doing or changing in your garden

Shrink your lawn and make your planting beds larger.

Plant your favorite native perennials and shrubs. Leave them standing after they've gone to seed to continue to provide for wildlife. What you plant in your yard makes a difference to wildlife. I garden for wildlife so every tree, shrub and plant is chosen with wildlife in mind.

Plant more natives and then consider planting even more. "A typical suburban landscape contains only 20-30% native plant species. Try reversing that trend in your own landscape by using 70-80% native species." (source

Commit to never, ever, ever, ever using pesticides in the garden.

Stay away from native plant hybrids and cultivars that are double flowered. They are sterile and have no pollen or nectar for insects and no seeds for the birds. If possible plant “true open-pollinated native wildflowers”

If you want to garden for wildlife and pollinators, don't let lack of space stop you! Plant your favorite wildflowers in large containers. You just might have the prairie or woodland garden you've always wanted...in a pot!
Create a water feature. Provide water year round that is accessible to birds, bees and other critters.

Show some soil! Our native ground nesting bees nest in bare soil, so don't mulch every square inch of your garden. 

Invite bugs into your garden. Plant annuals that attract beneficial bugs.

Learn to tolerate damaged plants. Imperfection is the new perfect.

Don't be in a rush to clean up the fall garden. Leave plant stalks and seed heads standing all winter. Leave those fallen leaves or as many as you can tolerate! Insects over winter in the fallen and decaying leaves.

Leave a layer of leaves as a soft landing material under trees for moths and butterflies to over winter. Many caterpillars drop to the ground from the trees in the fall.

Make a brush pile. Stack fallen brush, cut tree limbs, broken pots for ground beetles. Ground beetles are excellent at eating "bad bugs'. They're also good bird, toad and small critter food. 

Rethink what you consider a pest. Lots of good bugs eat aphids. Spiders are important predators and bird food!

Add nesting boxes for birds.

Plant shrubs and small trees that provide berries and nuts.

Keep a nature journal: Observe visitors to the water feature, make note of when they visit. Notice which flowers attract the most pollinators and which ones are just pretty faces. 

Join your state native plant society.

Join WildOnes even if there's no local group.

Take an online course on tree, fungi and wildflower id.

Take a walk in your neighborhood and observe nature. To quote Joanna Brichetto in Sidewalk Nature "Look Around. Nature is here, is us, our driveways, our baseboards, parks, and parking lots."

Buy the best wildflower, butterfly and bird id books for your state.

Read nature books to your children and grandchildren. 

Read! There are hundreds of books on gardening for wildlife, the environment, and rewilding our world. There are delightful blogs with wonderful and informative articles.

If you live in Nashville join the Facebook ReWild Nashville Group!


Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday.  This day is about sharing wildflowers and other native plants no matter where one gardens~the UK, tropical Florida, Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, India or the coldest reaches of Canada. It doesn't matter if we sometimes share the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most.

Please leave your links in comments,  I am not using Mr Linky.

Keep gardening and keep positive,


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. I love the foliage.

  2. Little sparkles of vibrant colour

  3. That deep purple really grabs you!

  4. Giant containers is a great idea when wer're not sure what to put where.. Liking this pollinator. Not ready to do any shrubs now but thinking chives are needed to get the ball rolling.

  5. Sorry I didn't see the "anonymous" . It was me. Getting used to changed blogspot

  6. So much beauty - but SO Much more - teaching - and what a lesson! I am working to have more useful creatures in my garden which is only 7 years old. I am working hard.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson