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Plants & Animals

Highlights - Plant Materials Program

Large Indian Breadroot (Pediomelum esculentum)

Scientific Name: Pediomelum esculentum (Pursh.) Rybd.; formerly Psoralea esculenta.
Family Name: Pea (Fabaceae).
Common Name: large Indian breadroot, breadroot scurfpea, white apple.

Morphological Characteristics:
Habit - native perennial legume, diffusely branched and erect from a large, thick, tuberous root; plants 20 to 25 cm (8 to 10 in.) in height and covered in long, bristly hairs; entire plant disarticulates at maturity and blows away in wind.
Leaves – lupine-like, compound with five leaflets, 2 to 5 cm (0.8 to 2 in) long, smooth above with long, silky, appressed hairs below. Flowers – dense, short, clover-like spike, 2 to 8 cm (0.8 to 3.2 in) tall; calyx tube 10 to 15 mm (0.4 to 0.6 in) long and swollen towards one side; petals (corolla) 14 to 18 mm (0.6 to 0.7 in) long, bluish-purple, fading to yellowish.
Pea Pods – small, egg-shaped pods with slender beaks and enclosed by persistent sepals.
Fruit - seed is brown and 4 to 6 mm (0.16 to 0.24 in) long.

Blooming: Flowers in May to July, and seed matures in July to August.

Distribution & Habitat: In Montana, east of Continental Divide at low to mid elevations in sandy areas of dry hills and plains. In Wyoming, mostly just in the east.

Cultural Significance: This plant was a mainstay of the American Indian diet in the Great Plains Region. The large, starchy root is still gathered today for food and is either fresh roasted, prepared as a pudding, or dried or smoked for later consumption.

Pediomelum esculentum plant in bloom. Pediomelum esculentum leaf and flower arrangement.
Photo: Peter Lesica Photo: Wayne Phillips