PLANT PROFILE: Indigofera suffructicosa

Indigofera suffruticosa, also known as Guatemalan indigo or añil indigo, is a flowering plant in the family Fabaceae and is native to subtropical and tropical America, including the southern United States, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South America as far south as Paraguay and northern Argentina.

This species is an errect, branching shrub with pinnate leaves, growing 45 – 250 cm tall. It is a perennial plant that grows best in a sunny position and thrives in a range of soil conditions in dry areas, often in waste ground, exposed slopes or on sandbars.

Indigofera suffruticosa is grown as a cover crop and green manure in coffee, rubber and tea plantations. In South America it is one of the components of natural pastures that develop after the rainforest has been cleared. Before the introduction of coffee, indigo was one of the most important exports of Central America, but it is now grown commercially only in northern Salvador.

Añil is used in Central America as a source for indigo dye, and if mixed with palygorskite clay, can produce Maya blue, a pigment that was extensively used in ancient times in Mesoamerica, covering today Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize. Used to decorate pottery, murals and statues, this vibrant light blue pigment has retained its beauty over the centuries and has attracted attention for its remarkable stability.

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