Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Cinquefoils are members of the Rosaceae family. They contain both herbaceous and woody shrub species. Flower parts are in fives, and leaves are divided into leaflets numbering 3-7, though a few have many more. Some grow upright, while others creep along the ground. Here are a few of them, and some closely related members of the family as well.

This small species creeps along the ground. It's known as the Dwarf Cinquefoil, Potentilla canadensis. The flowers are small, and the sepals sometimes extend past the petals. This plant may be overlooked and mistaken for Common Cinquefoil.

Leaflets number five, and the serrated margin is usually restricted to the upper half of the leaf. I've mentioned in previous posts that this is the likely food plant in Ohio for the endangered Grizzled Skipper butterfly. This is a spring bloomer.

Contrary to the previous species, this one grows erect, reaching a couple feet in height. Look for it on disturbed ground, waste places, and open fields. It's called Rough-fruited or Sulphur Cinquefoil, Potentilla recta. This is a non-native species.

The flowers are larger than other Cinquefoils, and much paler yellow. Like most Potentilla, the stems are quite hairy.

Leaflets are palmate, numbering 5-7, giving it that 'marijuana' type look. Another pale blooming species is the Tall Cinquefoil, Potentilla arguta. On Tall, the flowers may be almost white, and the leaflets are divided into pairs. I've found Tall Cinquefoil on prairies.

Found statewide, our most common species is called Common Cinquefoil, Potentilla simplex. Flowers are a rich yellow, and the leaflets are in fives. Some confuse this with Dwarf Cinquefoil, but I find the differences easy. These leaflets are much more elongate and serrated nearly to the base.

The singular flowers grow out on very long stalks. The stems are creeping, so this plant spreads horizontally and does not grow more than a foot high. Stems turn from green to red.

Common Cinquefoil can form large mats in open areas. The plants send out new roots as they creep along. Its even been known to reproduce vegetatively by sending out clones from the ends of the plant, known as tip-rooting.

Going back and forth in growth habits, here is another erect species. This is the Rough Cinquefoil, Potentilla norvegica, a circumpolar species. When comparing to other similar looking plants, I look for two things. The sepals on this extend well past the petals.

The other character to pay attention to are the leaflets, they occur in threes. So more often they may be confused with Strawberries.

Here's strawberry in the early morning. Wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana, has more evenly serrated leaves. Cinquefoil leaf margins are more coarsely toothed.

The Cinquefoils in our area are yellow. Wild Strawberry has white flowers. Of course once in fruit, the mystery is over.

Yes it's a strawberry, but different. It's called Indian or Mock-Strawberry. I have found it in Athens County, and other places, but it is a non native species. The leaves come to a finer point than virginiana. The flowers are yellow not white.

The fruit is edible, but virtually tasteless. I've always noticed the seeds on Indian Strawberry stick out further than Wild Strawberry. In fact it looks more like a mini Koosh Ball than a strawberry.

I could have put these in my Michigan post, but I saved them for here. This pinnately divided plant is called Silverweed, Potentilla anserina. Be careful with the common name, this is not the same as Silvery Cinquefoil P. argentia. Silverweed can be recognized by the silver gloss on the leaf undersides. This is due to the many fine hairs that cover the leaf. Also notice the small leafy shoots between the larger leaflets. Silverweed grows along the shorelines of the Great Lakes. This is sometimes put in the genus Argentina.

You could never confuse this with any other species in the group. These purple maroon flowers belong to the wetland species Marsh Cinquefoil, Potentilla palustris. Sometimes appearing palmate, the 5 leaflets are divided into three and two. Flies pollinate this species. Many dark purple flowering plants produce a rancid smell for attracting flies.

All the previous species are herbaceous. There is one woody species in Ohio called Shrubby Cinquefoil, Potentilla fruticosa. It grows 3-4 feet in height, and is found in bogs and fens.


  1. Thanks for the information on Indian Strawberry and the cinquefoils! I saw both today in our park and was wondering what they were.

  2. Great information. I was preparing to pull the common cinquefoil, I just identified here. I will leave it as a ground cover.

  3. Cinquefoil Mystery: We were having trouble identifying 2 types of cinquefoil and thanks to this website, the mystery is solved.
    Appreciate your work, even though we're in an entirely different State.