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ORRIN MORRIS: Colonists used wild indigo as a dye for clothing, linens

Morris artwork for Oct. 14

Morris artwork for Oct. 14

In chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation there is a phrase used at the end of the special instructions to the seven churches of Asia, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." That is sound advice for all of us, especially to meditate in silence and allow God to speak words of counsel, hope, and grace for our specific needs.There is another human sensor that needs to be developed, the sense of sight. It is fascinating as a teacher to watch students discover the ability to see as an artist; that is, to detect the effects of light and shadow, shapes and textures and transfer that awareness to paper. For the non-artist, it is equally important to feel the awe of discovering a new or special sight.

I like to take back roads on occasion to see what is in bloom. Wilson Road in northern Rockdale is one such adventure. Beside the usual roadside ditches, there are granite outcrops and unused pastures. Since the road is less traveled than Ga. Highway 20, I can be a Sunday driver and let my eyes linger on the sights.

Several months ago I saw the wildflower that is featured today.WILD INDIGO

Baptisia tinctoriaThe yellow bloom of wild indigo is pea-like with five petals, of which two face each other to form the keel. There are 10 short stamens that are hard to see without pulling the -inch bloom apart. The blooms occur toward the upper part of the stem and outer part of the branches. Its normal blooming season is May through September.

Each wild indigo plant rises from the ground on a single stem, then branches profusely. They often stand 3 feet tall. Each leaf is palmate, that is, like the palm of the hand with three fingers. In this case, the palm is tiny and the three leaflets are oval-like and narrow at the palm.

This has been a very useful plant in the past. It has been used as a fly swatter, a source of dye, and a medicine.

Appalachian folks commonly used the dried wild indigo plant as a fly brush. It was even attached to the harness of plow horses to shoo away the flies. To these people, it was known as the horsefly weed.

Some early colonists steeped the deep blue-green leaves in water and let the "tea" ferment. The result was a blue dye for clothing, drapes, bedspreads, and so on, hence the generic name baptisia, from the Greek word baptizein, "to dye," was used, according to "The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers."

In other places, the leaves of the wild indigo were used medicinally as an antiseptic and astringent to wash wounds and cure eczema. Caution: Some elements in the juice of the plant may aggravate a wound rather than cure it, if misused on persons intolerant of the herb.

The 31st Olde Town Fall Festival in Conyers is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22. I will be in booth No. 54 with notecards featuring Rockdale and Newton scenes, showy wildflowers, and Christmas themes. Mention the name "wild indigo" and get a 10 percent discount on all purchases.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. Notecards are available of the wildflowers published in the Citizen. Email him at odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com or call him at 770-929-3697.