Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Also known as "tipsin" or "Indian breadroot", breadroot scurf pea usually begins to bloom on the Dakota prairies during the first week in June. Occurring throughout our state, the plant can be found on plains and grassy hills from the Northwest Territories to Texas.
Breadroot scurf pea is a hairy perennial plant up to a foot tall. One to several stems arise at ground level from a thick brown root. Three to four inches below ground, the root forms a tuber-like body up to three inches long and an inch wide. Each leaf is divided into five leaflets. About 20-30 bluish-purple flowers are found in clusters about 2-4 inches long at the top of the plant. Legumes (pods) are flat and have a long slender tip.
Cattle do not have much effect on the abundance of breadroot scurf pea. The plant likes dry soil. The starchy, thickened roots of this plant were a staple in the diet of many native North Americans, and were also eaten by the early voyagers as the "pomme de prairie" and later by many European immigrants. It has often been suggested that the plant be commercially grown.
Breadroot scurf pea is a member of the large and economically important bean family (Fabaceae), which includes our alfalfas, peas, clovers, peanuts and trees such as caragana and locust. Fab means "bean" in Latin. The generic name Psoralea stems from the Greek psoraleos, "scabby," concerning the glandular dots or "scurf" on the leaves. The specific epithet esculenta means "edible" in botanical Latin. The renowned German botanist Frederick Pursh first described this species for science in 1814. Pursh was the first to publish upon the many plants brought back from the western wilderness by Lewis and Clark.