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Baptesia calycosa, known as Florida wild indigo or Canby’s wild indigo, is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae). It is native to Florida and occurs nowhere else (that is, it is endemic to Florida). It grows in the open-structured pinelands of dry sandy soil of pinelands and dunes, which hosts a broad diversity of low growing species. This species is quite rare, found in just a very small range, and is listed by the Florida and the federal government as an endangered species. It is threatened especially by development of its habitat for tree farming and use of pesticides in tree farming practices.
Baptesia calycosa is a bushy, leafy perennial herb that grows up from stout roots and a branching system of underground root shoots (rhizomes). The plant usually grows to be less than 1 meter (3 feet) high. As it gets larger, it sometimes does not continue growing upright, but leans over.
The outer petals of the Florida wild indigo flower are large and green and form a cup around the base of the flower (the calyx). The calyx is larger than in other Baptesia species and often mostly the yellow flowers inside; for this Canby 1898 described Baptesia calycosa a “very remarkable species.” This is the derivation of the species name: calycosa. After the flower is pollinated, the ovary grows into a small black pod, about 1 cm long, with a hooked “beak” at the end. Inside the pod grow two to four seeds. Reynolds reports that especially after flowering, this plant becomes a favorite food host for caterpillars, although she does not specify what kind.
There are two subspecies, both rare. Baptesia calycosa villosa, called the Florida hairy wild indigo, occurs in a small, localized area including the six most western counties of the Florida panhandle. The stems, branches and undersides of the leaves are covered with short, soft hairs. Some have considered this a separate species, B. hirsuta. The other subspecies, Baptesia calycosa calycosa, occurs only in two counties of northeastern Florida. It is very similar to B. c. villosa but it has far fewer hairs. Natureseve reports that B. c. calycosa has not been seen since 1940, and is listed as “critically imperiled.”
The genus Baptesia has a significant number of species that are endemic to the coastal plain of North America between Massachusetts and Veracruz, Mexico.
(Canby 1879, 1887; Coile and Garland 2003; Larisey 1940; Litt et al. 2001; NatureServe 2015; PLANTS; Provencher et al. 2001; Reynolds 1880; Sorrie and Weakley 2001; Wunderlin and Hansen 2008)