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

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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.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Fruit is a 1-seeded pod about ¼ inch long.


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 by 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.

Posted by: Steve Poole - Lost Valley Prairie SNA
on: 2022-06-03 18:50:11

This is a new location for the turnip at Lost Valley. There are a few plants at several other locations but it is uncommon. It likes the tops of the hills where the soil is thin. The soil is on top of the limestone bedrock.

Posted by: Steve Poole - Lost Valley Prairie SNA
on: 2022-06-04 18:37:19

Went out to Lost Valley again because there was so much that was blooming. I put on my turnip eye to see if I could find any more plants from my last posting. On top of one hill called the fish knob I was able to find a half dozen plants that were in various stages. None of them would actually started to bloom yet however. It's encouraging that there were so many to be found however. I posted pictures and locations to iNaturalist about what I found. You can go there and look up Lost Valley Prairie to find the input for the Prairie turnip.

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