Pediomelum esculentum (Prairie Turnip)

Plant Info
Also known as: Large Indian Breadroot, Indian Turnip
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; dry prairie, often rocky soil
Bloom season:May - July
Plant height:12 to 16 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] Short, cylindrical, densely hairy spike of ½-inch pea-shaped flowers. Flowers are light blue to purple turning creamy with age; the upper petal (standard) is round with darker veins; the lateral wings below it are somewhat lighter in color, inflated over a small keel underneath. The calyx tube and floral bracts are covered in long silvery hairs.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound Leaf type: palmate

[photo of leaves] Leaves are palmately compound in groups of 5 on a stalk up to 6 inches long. Leaflets are oval elliptic, 1 to 2 inches long, 1/3 to ¾ inch wide, narrowing at the base, rounded, blunt or pointed at the tip, upper surface nearly smooth, undersides covered in flattened hairs. Plant is stout, stems and leaves are erect with multiple branches. Stems are densely hairy.


Both Prairie Turnip and Silverleaf Scurf Pea (P. argophyllum) are restricted to open prairie habitats and commonly encountered in those habitats. As the common names imply this species has a large, starchy root that was utilized by both Native American and European pioneers alike. While I have run across it at several locations in past years, all of my images come from out of state. This species was formerly known as Psoralea esculenta.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in western South Dakota


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Paul - Ottawa Bluffs, a few miles east of St. Peter, LeSueur County
on: 2014-06-09 15:21:08

Several of these were still in bloom, though fading, on 7 June 2014, south-facing hillsides, gravelly soil.

Posted by: Christine - Inspiration Peak in Ottertail county
on: 2015-06-25 13:59:36

Saw this last weekend almost at the top of the hill. Almost done blooming but still cool to find and identify!

Posted by: Paul Thurmes - Plymouth, Hennepin County
on: 2018-06-02 10:04:50

We included this species in a custom seed mix for our native grass/wildflower yard. Finally saw several of these growing in our sunny dry location. Blooming today 6/2/2018.

Posted by: kate
on: 2019-08-31 23:46:21

Prairie turnip! Timpsila! I've heard this is a hugely important plant in the dakota/lakota cosmology, when star girl pulls up the turnip plant and falls through the hole in the sky.

Posted by: Bob Djupstrom - Lost valley prairie scientific and natural area, Washington,
on: 2021-06-06 14:49:35

Some about to bloom, a few partially blooming, most with no infloresence present. Viewed on June 5, 2021

Posted by: Karen Schik - Rosemount
on: 2021-06-21 15:40:43

Found one on a sand-gravel bluff prairie, on private property south of Pine Bend Bluffs SNA.

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