En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
1 rating

Monday - September 05, 2011

From: Jesup, GA
Region: Select Region
Topic: Pests, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Caterpillars devouring Blue Wild Indigo in Jesup GA
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have a false blue indigo growing in my garden. Every spring it gets defoliated by Genista moth caterpillars. It usually doesn't put out new growth until the next spring. This summer, it has put out new growth and now it is covered in the caterpillars again. Should I use some control to get rid of them or should I just let nature take it's course?


Baptisia australis (Blue wild indigo) is native to North America and to Georgia. According to this USDA Plant Profile Map, it is native to far northwestern Georgia, while Wayne County is in far southeastern Georgia. We don't think that is germane to your problem, just a comment. With a species name like australis, we were surprised that it was native to North America at all, but it turns out the "australis" means "southern" and not "from Australia." We are always learning new things. Also, when we searched on our Native Plant Database on the common name "False Blue Indigo" we got zero results. When we searched on the Internet the same way, this is the plant we got. The "False" may be part of a trade name, or it may be another totally different, and non-native, plant.

Now let's talk about the Genista caterpillar. How did you identify it as such? Here are pictures of the caterpillar and moth. From the National Society of Arboculture, please read this article on the Genista. In particular, note their comments on the use of pesticides. We have not found any research indicating that the Blue Wild Indigo is a larval host for the Genista moth; however, it would appear that is what you are seeing.

From BAMONA (Butterflies and Moths of North America, we found the information that wild blue indigo is a larval host to the Wild Indigo Duskywing.

From Gardens with Wings, we found pictures of the caterpillar, mature butterfly and chrysalis of this visitor to the Wild Blue Indigo.

Bottom Line: We learned that the Genista is a web producing caterpillar that attacks Texas laurel, crape myrtle, honeysuckle, and Laburnum. Larvae defoliate as well as spin webs. We would appeal to you not to employ pesticides, as they can do much more harm than good to the surrounding vegetation, butterflies, soil and water supply. Whatever is eating your plant, if you would rather not have a chewed-on plant, we suggest you pull it out. There is no point in wasting scarce resources on a plant that is not satisfactory to you.



From the Image Gallery

Blue wild indigo
Baptisia australis

Blue wild indigo
Baptisia australis

Blue wild indigo
Baptisia australis

More Pests Questions

Problems with iguanas in Ft. Lauderdale FL
August 04, 2009 - I live on the intracoastal waterway near Ft. Lauderdale,FL and I am having problems with iguana. They will not eat lantana or buttercups; however is there a poisonous ground cover, preferable with fl...
view the full question and answer

Tulip trees losing bark in OH
July 11, 2011 - We have two tulip trees in our yard that are losing their bark at the base of the trunk. I am careful with the mower keeping away from the tree when I mow. What could the problem be and what can I d...
view the full question and answer

Getting rid of Aphids on Asclepias plants in Brea, CA.
July 23, 2012 - I grow asclepsias or MILKWEED for the benefit of Monarchs. At times I have aphids consuming the leaves. How can I destroy the aphids without harming the Monarch eggs? Thank you very much.
view the full question and answer

Spots on leaves of Esperanza from Dallas
May 30, 2012 - Have a new 1 foot high Esperanza. It is flowering OK (so far) but it has small rust colored spots about the size of a B-B all over most of the leaves. On the top side of the leaf the spot is depress...
view the full question and answer

Caterpillars ate my Sophora in La Mesa, CA.
July 06, 2011 - Before I noticed what was happening, my newly-planted 1 foot tall Sophora secundiflora was eaten by caterpillars. It now has no foliage. Do you think it will leaf out again?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center