Indigofera Suffruticosa

Indigofera Suffruticosa, known as Guatamalan indigo, Anil or small-leaved indigo, is a flowering plant in the pea family.  It is native to the subtropical and tropical Americas.  It is commonly used as a source for indigo dye and was used to produce Maya blue. 

It is a perennial shrub in warm, tropical climates, and cannot live where the ground freezes.  So, if you live in a cold climate where the ground freezes in the winter, then you will need to bring your indigo plant inside.  It is grown as a perennial shrub in places like Florida and Texas and the leaves are killed back by frosts in those regions, but it comes back the next year, unless there is really a killing freeze. 

Indigofera Suffruticosa likes to grow in warm climates, so it will grow slowly until the weather is 80+ degrees.  It likes full sun conditions as well.  To harvest the leaves for its indigo dye, you should wait until the plant flowers to harvest the leaves.  This shrub will grow up to 7’ tall if it likes the conditions.  It grows to 5’ in the large pots I have mine in, which are taken into a heated greenhouse during the winter.

The most common way of extracting the indigo pigment from the leaves is to ferment the leaves in warm water until the water turns a mermaid blue/green and there is a sweetness to the bad odor.  Then you strain out the leaves, add a bit of lime to the water until it reaches a pH of 10 or 11 and aerate the water by pouring it back and forth between containers or aerate it any way you wish. 

For more detailed information on how to extract indigo, the Facebook group ‘Indigo Extraction Methods’, offers a lot of information and has many helpful videos and resources.  The ‘Indigo Dye’ group is also very helpful, as well as Fibershed.com.  Fibershed.com offers some of the best information about indigo extraction online, aside from the Facebook groups mentioned.  I have purchased a few expensive books on Indigo, and even the one referred to as the Indigo ‘bible’, but I think the resources I’ve just mentioned are better, in my opinion. 

This plant can be slow to get going, and you will have to wait until the 2nd year to get much of a harvest.  My Indigofera suffruticosa plants, as well as the Indigofera tinctoria plants get a black aphid when I over-winter them in my heated greenhouse in large pots.  It is unsightly and I control it with a bit of Dawn dish detergent with water in a spray bottle.  When they are outside during the summer, it isn’t a problem. 

If you are ever unhappy with any seed you get from me, please let me know. I recommend not planting all of the seed at one time, in case some conditions are

not right, and the seeds do not germinate.  Then you have more to try again.  I have very often had seeds not germinate, not because the seed was bad, but because the conditions were not right for the seed….too hot, too cold, the soil dried out or was too wet.   So, now I do this myself.  I don’t plant all of a seed, in case I don’t manage the conditions well for it in some way the first time….I can try again.  Some seeds/plants are more forgiving and less finicky than others.