Keep Horses Away From Creeping Indigo

What is creeping indigo and will it hurt my horse?

Keep Horses Away from Creeping Indigo
Creeping indigo is an invasive weed that can cause life-threatening liver disease and neurologic signs in horses that eat it. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Denis Barthel
Q: Have you or your readers ever heard of a plant called creeping indigo that’s deadly to horses? I read about it online, and I’m curious to know more about it and its danger to horses.

Debra Harris Taylor, via Facebook

A: There are two species of creeping indigo (also known as lawn indigo or trailing indigo)—Indigofera spicata and Indigofera hendecaphylla—that are very similar in appearance, and their identities are often confused. Both species are prostrate (grow flat across the ground), spreading perennial herbs that grow to 18 inches in height and 3 feet in diameter, with a strong, woody taproot (the central downward-growing root). Flowers can be pink, red, or white. Seed pods are typically leguminous (pealike). I. spicata has a short, 3-inch-long inflorescence (cluster of flowers on the branch), while I. hendecaphylla has a 4- to 5-inch inflorescence. The latter also has longer seed pods with distinctive beaks.

Both species are native to Africa’s higher rainfall areas and have since been introduced to many tropical areas of the world. In North America, I. spicata grows predominantly in Florida, where it has established itself as an invasive pasture and lawn weed. It spreads readily by

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Written by:

Anthony P. Knight, BVSc, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, is a professor of large animal medicine in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. He received his veterinary degree from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, in 1968. After completing a master’s degree at Colorado State University, he joined the faculty in 1974. His current professional interests include livestock heath, foreign animal diseases, emergency management, and plant toxicology. He has written two books on poisonous plants of animals in North America, and maintains a poisonous plants website for use by anyone wanting poisonous plant information.

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