A low, bushy, sparsely to densely hairy perennial; our earliest-flowering Baptisia. Flowers many, in the typical pea-family shape, on a heavy, long, drooping raceme, cream-colored. Blooms April–June. Leaves with a pair of prominent leafy bracts (stipules) at the base; leaves compound with 3 leaflets, each to 3½ inches long, oblanceolate to narrowly obovate. Fruit an oval pod to 2 inches long with a pointed beak to ¾ inch long. Pod walls thick, leathery, somewhat hardened, with tiny, shiny seeds attached along one side within. Pods, and the rest of the plant, turn blackish upon drying.
Similar species: There are 4 species of Baptisia in Missouri. This one is distinguished by its large, persistent, leafy bracts at the bases of the compound leaves and the flower stalks; also by its hairiness, long flower stalks, and large fruits with tapering tips. It matures in late spring and flowers while the surrounding vegetation is still short.