Thermopsis rhombifolia

Taisha is the author of today’s entry. She writes:

Thermopsis rhombifolia is also known as the buffalo bean, golden bean, or prairie thermopsis. This photo was taken by Michael McNaughton (aka michaelmcnaughton55@Flickr) who has recently started contributing to the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool. Thanks for sharing with us, Michael!

A member of the pea family or Fabaceae, Thermopsis rhombifolia, is primarily distributed through the Canadian Prairies and the Central Great Plains of the United States. Habitat-wise, the species prefers xeric grasslands with alluvial soils. The slender stem with slightly zigzagged branches holds dark green leaves divided into three leaflets. The inflorescence, a raceme, bears bright yellow flowers which are either scattered or collected in whorls. Characteristic of much of the family, the fruit is a leguminous pod.

According to Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel E. Moerman, Thermopsis rhombifoia was/is used by the Cheyenne as an analgesic or cold remedy, by smoking the dried leaves. The Blackfoot used the yellow petals to colour their arrow shafts yellow. Also, the flowering time of the buffalo bean, suggestive of its common name, indicated to the Flathead and Blackfoot that it was prime buffalo hunting season and (for the Blackfoot people, at least) time to collect buffalo tongues in preparation for the Sun Dance.

Thermopsis rhombifolia

7 responses to “Thermopsis rhombifolia”

  1. Kenton J. Seth

    What is the context of this lovely photo? The individual isn’t growing in its common habit; and additionally this interesting soil- and the plant ostensibly emerging from being buried in it- as though it is poking through a recent volcanic ash deposit…

  2. Jessica

    That’s just lovely. Thanks so much for showcasing this tough little plant.
    The flowers are such a pretty, soft color. It reminds me of Birdsfoot Trefoil – Lotus corniculatus – which has naturalized here, on the East Coast. Although it’s considered an invasive, it’s one of the few plants that can grow along the barren, gravelly borders of the highways and it looks beautiful when its in bloom. I have to admit, it’s one of my favorite plants, despite its thuggish behavior.

  3. Donna

    The habitat reminds me of the volcanic tuft found in the Badlands of South Dakota.

  4. Tiiu Mayer

    This site has lots of photos so you can get a better sense of where it grows and how low it is.

  5. megan esler

    Taisha and other interns/TA’s who write such interesting notes:
    When you choose photos, lovely as they are, could you try to restrict yourselves to photos that have a clearly indicated location and date of collection? I know almost all of the recent entries have had that info, but I’d just like to encourage you a little more.
    Thanks for many 100’s of beautiful, fascinating plants!

  6. John

    Having as much information as possible is always nice, but I say – if you have a stunning photo of a special plant to share, and you don’t happen to have the back story – post away!


    For those who are curious, I inquired as to where this photo was taken. Michael replied that this photo was taken in the Badlands of the Red Deer River valley.

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