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Photo credit: Mike Howard, BLM

Chihuahuan scurfpea (Pediomelum pentaphyllum) | ESA status: petitioned for listing

Chihuahuan scurfpea

Little is known about the Chihuahuan scurfpea, a desert-dwelling plant found in the southwest. WildEarth Guardians is working to ensure this secretive plant does not disappear forever.

Chihuahuan scurfpea facts

In the early 1900s, the Chihuahuan scurfpea made regular appearances at markets in Chihuahua City, Mexico, and was thought to be fairly common in the area. The Tarahumara people collected it for its medicinal properties; it helps reduce fever and may have other, unknown pharmaceutical benefits.

During rainy years, the plant’s short-stemmed, light colored foliage and small purple flowers emerge from the sandy loam soils of the Chihuahua Desert floristic region. But during dry years its thick, tuberous taproot enables it to weather the drought by remaining dormant, and it stays hidden beneath the soil. Because of this, it has always been a difficult plant to locate.

Little is known about the scurfpea. Its method of seed dispersal, its preferred associates among other plants, and much about its ecology and biology remain a mystery. We do not even know if the habitat it currently occupies is optimal, since the places where it has been located are highly disturbed.

Chihuahuan scurfpea habitat

Over the past 100 years, it has become even harder to find Chihuahuan scurfpea, as populations have been extirpated from Chihuahua and Texas. Only around 300 known plants remain in two locations in New Mexico and Arizona, where it was rediscovered in 2006.

What are the threats to the Chihuahuan scurfpea?

Herbicides have been applied to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands the scurfpea occupies in New Mexico in order to reduce brush species for grazing permittees, with little consideration for the plant. In fact, the potential loss of the entire scurfpea population in the herbicide treatment area was deemed an “acceptable risk” by the BLM.

The areas where the scurfpea currently grows have been heavily overgrazed, leaving little vegetation to anchor the soil. Wind erosion and flooding are rapidly undercutting the deep, sandy soils the scurfpea needs. Grazing has also converted its former grassland home to shrub-dominated areas, leaving the scurfpea to struggle on in highly disturbed habitat.

What WildEarth Guardians is doing to protect the Chihuahuan scurfpea

WildEarth Guardians is pressing for protection of this rare plant under the Endangered Species Act. We filed a petition with the federal government to list the scurfpea in 2007.