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 Herbs/Forbs Questions

Can Flame Acanthus grow in North Carolina, from Kinston NC
June 05, 2011 - Can I grow the flame acanthus (humming bird bush) in eastern North Carolina. If so where can I find it. Thanks,
view the full question and answer

Forget-me-nots choking a spring in Bethlehem PA
June 20, 2013 - Hi Mr. Smarty Plants, I am restoring a native plant area along a spring that feeds directly into our local creek. Right now the spring is becoming choked with forget-me-nots, that I am trying ...
view the full question and answer

Butterfly and Pollinator Plants for Indianapolis Garden
June 23, 2015 - I live in Indianapolis, IN and would like to have a native garden. I'd be especially interested in plants that help butterflies and bumble bees. There's a fairly dry area on the west side of the hou...
view the full question and answer

Bastard cabbage in Austin TX
March 17, 2012 - Not sure if this is the forum to address this; but is there any effort out there to do something about the bastard cabbage taking over Austin? Especially on MoPac where you can hardly see the bluebon...
view the full question and answer

Soil for native Chilopsis linearis and Salvia greggii
February 08, 2010 - I want to plant a desert willow and a salvia greggii in my small lot. The developer used sandy loam to fill in the small garden in the front. I am 73 and a bit impaired. Do I really need to remove ...
view the full question and answer

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