Potentilla simplex

A common inhabitant of fields and dry woods

Potentilla simplex common cinquefoil

Plant grows in the wild/spontaneouslyPlant is native to PA

This perennial native plant of the rose family is named for its 5-part palmately compound leaves. The leaflets are 2.5 inches long on average and about 0.75 inches wide. The leaflets are toothed, except near the base and have prominent veins. The plant sprawls close to the ground by means of horizontal stems called stolons or runners that form roots at the nodes. These runners can be 6 to 20 inches long. They are initially green, but turn red with age. Both the flowers and leaves rise from the runners on separate stalks.

The flowers are about 1/2 inch in diameter with 5 yellow petals, each rounded on the ends and narrow at the base. The first flower rises from the axil of the second leaf. The flowers are reasonably showy in the spring but only a few flowers are in bloom at any time. These flowers have no noticeable scent. Small bees and flies are the major pollinators.

This plant is common in fields and dry woods in most of the eastern half of North America, though it is more common in the north. It is documented in every county in Pennsylvania. The blooming period is from April to June. In lawns and gardens it is often considered a weed. It often grows low enough to survive mowing, though cutting may reduce its size. The common cinquefoil is also known by the name of five-fingers or old field cinquefoil.

The Canadian dwarf cinquefoil (P. canadensis) is very similar but has smaller leaflets (1.5 inches long on average) that are wedge-shaped with more rounded teeth. The stems are densely hairy and there are no teeth on the lower half of the leaves. In common cinquefoil teeth are pointed and extended further down the leaf margin than in the dwarf cinquefoil. There are also only a few tiny hairs on the stem.

Common cinquefoil is sometimes mistaken for wild strawberry, but the latter has white flowers and fewer leaflets per leaf. Native Americans made a tea from the common cinquefoil leaves and used it to treat diarrhea and stomachache. When boiled or roasted the roots taste like parsnips, but it has only generally been used as a famine food. A more upright member of the cinquefoil group is the sulfur cinquefoil (P. recta).

Contributed by: Mark Welchley

Common in dry woods, fields, meadows, and roadsides.

Present throughout the state.

Wetland codes

Flowers May through July.

S-rank:  No rank
G-rank:  G5 (Secure)

Potentilla simplex common cinquefoil

Plant grows in the wild/spontaneouslyPlant is native to PA
Potentilla simplex gallery
Plant Life-Form
perennial forb
Common Names
common cinquefoil