Peggy A. Gretchen FNPS Member Pasco Master Gardener
Botanical Name: Amorpha fruticosa
Common Name: False Indigobush, Bastard Indigobush, Bastard False Indigo, Leadplant.
Family: Fabaceae (Pea or Bean)
Type of Plant: Native, deciduous, densely branched, flowering woody shrub. Sometimes more or less evergreen in South Florida. Height: 3 – 12 ft. Width: 3 – 12 ft.
How to Identify:
Leaves: Alternate, odd-pinnately compound, 4 – 12 inches or more long. Leaflets (9 – 35) are opposite, stalked, elliptic to oblong to ovate-oblong, margins entire. Stems are smooth to hairy.
Flowers: Showy spike-like racemes, 4 – 8 in. long, with densely packed small, dark violet to purple to deep indigo blue flowers; usually borne at the tips of every branch. In some forms, the flowers are so intense in color as to appear black. Each individual flower has a single, erect, clawed petal with many (10) dark reddish-purple stamens tipped by bright or-ange anthers. There is also a white flowering form.
Flowering Time: Mostly in late spring – early summer.
Fruit: Small, curved, usually single-seeded pod, sometimes with two seeds, and dotted with resinous glands. Seeds are smooth, brown, lustrous, and elliptic.
Habitat: Common in moist to wet hammocks, floodplains, stream banks, margins of swamps, ponds, lakes rivers, and freshwater marshes. Occasionally found in sandhills.
Distribution: Nearly throughout Florida, except for the Keys. Native to North America, including Mexico, and widely distributed. Hardiness Zones: 8 – 10a.
Landscape Use / Wildlife Benefit: This very unusual and adaptable native flowering shrub is an attractive addition to any home landscape, if you have the room for it. The contrasting deep violet/purple petals and the bright orange an-thers make a striking statement when in full bloom. Mix it with Florida native wildflowers and grasses with similar culti-vation needs. The flowers are an important source of nectar for many native butterflies, bees. and other insect pollina-tors. Also, it is a larval host plant for the Southern Dogface Sulphur butterfly, found in sandhills, fields, weedy pastures throughout most of the state, as well as for the Silver-Spotted Skipper butterfly, found in the wetlands of North and Central Florida.
Cultivation: Easy to grow and adaptable!
Soil: Prefers fertile, organic, slightly acidic. Adapts very well to average, sandy.
Light: Partial Sun - Full Shade. Prefers light to moderate shade. Will bloom better with partial sun.
Water: Average – wet. Prefers moist. Adapts well to drier sites in the home landscape, especially with irrigation or with some shade. Some drought tolerance once well established. Irrigate if it wilts. High tolerance of seasonal flooding – withstands several inches of standing water for months at a time.
Miscellaneous: Low salt tolerance. Responds well to periodic pruning to keep a shorter, more compact form, espe-cially needed for overly large, older plants and the better to admire the flowers! Rarely spreads from self-sown seed. Some forms will put out suckers far from the parent plant.
Propagation: Easy to grow from seeds collected in the fall. Scarify the seeds to increase germination rate. Also, by root cuttings.
Availability: Sometimes found at Florida native plant sales and Florida native nurseries. See www.plantrealflorida.org
Note: There is one other Amorpha species in Florida: Amorpha herbacea or Dwarf Indigobush, also known as Luster-spike Indigobush or Clusterspike False Indigo. There are two varieties. A. herbacea var. herbacea occurs nearly throughout Florida in well-drained, sunny habitats and is extremely drought tolerant. It rarely grows more than 2 – 3 ft. tall, but often is much wider. The foliage is a beautiful grayish-green. The flowers are not as showy as A. fruticosa, being a creamy white or pale blue with yellow-orange anthers, appearing in spring to summer. The other variety is A. herbacea var. crenulata, which is a rare endemic species in the rock pinelands of Dade County.
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Minno, Marc C., Jerry F. Butler, and Donald W. Hall, Florida Butterfly Caterpillars and their Host Plants, Gainesville, Florida, University Press of Florida, 2005.
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