Shrubby Cinquefoil is a native erect perennial shrub growing from 1 to 3 feet tall on multiple slender arching stems that branch. Older branches tend to be decumbent.
The bark is shreddy and reddish-brown. Twigs are also reddish-brown, slender, then becoming shreddy. First year twigs have long silky hair.
The leaves are compound pinnate with five leaflets, but there may be 3 or 7 and sometimes 9. Leaf surfaces are fuzzy with long white surface hair. Each leaf has a pair of stipules at the base that are thin, ovate-lanceolate in shape with pointed tips. These stipules are persistent and partially cover the small leaf buds. The leaf has a short stalk but the leaflets are stalkless. Each leaflet is up to 1/2 inch long, narrowly elliptic to broadly lanceolate in shape with margins that are entire but tend to curl under. The central vein is prominent on the underside. Top color is yellow-green. The upper three leaflets are united at their bases.
The inflorescence is a solitary flower or a small terminal tight cluster of flowers at the end of stems.
The flowers are 5-parted with 5 yellow petals that are broadly ovate to round (orbicular), narrowing abruptly to a clawed base. The calyx has 5 yellow-green sepals with pointed tips, shorter than the petals and subtended and alternating with the sepals are 5 longer green hairy narrow bractlets. Heads are about 1 inch wide when open. Flowers are bisexual with 15 to 20 stamens with yellow filaments and reddish anthers. In the center is a receptacle with numerous pistils with thread-like styles. Flower stalks and the calyx are hairy.
Seed: Mature flowers produce a small hairy achene from each fertile pistil. These remain in the drying calyx with shaken loose by the wind.
Habitat: Shrubby Cinquefoil has a shallow to moderately deep root system with thin woody roots which spread out from the plant. Prostrate stems have the ability to root at the nodes but new growth from wind-blown seed is the primarily reproductive mechanism. The plant grows best in full sun and due to its extended range, it adapts to a variety of sites from lowlands to alpine. In the eastern U.S. it is found in meadows and riparian areas. In the plains it is found with the major prairie grasses such as Dropseed, Little and Big Bluestem. In western locales it is not tolerant of drought but in the plains it is. It is very cold tolerant and winter hardy.
Names: The genus Dasiphora, consists only of 3 species of the Rose Family. These used to be included in the Potentilla genus until molecular research determined they were entirely different. The word is from the Greek, meaning 'hair bearing'. The species name, fruticosa, means 'shrubby' or 'bushy'. The older classifications for this plant include Potentilla fruticosa, and Pentaphylloides floribunda. Authorities are divided on this and many still retain Potentilla as the genus. The currently accepted author names for the plant classification are: First to classify,in 1753, was 'L.' which refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. The second name in a long line of intervening reclassifications - ‘Rybg.’ refers to Per Axel Rydberg (1860-1931), Swedish born American botanist, first curator of the New York Botanical Garden Herbarium. He received a commission from the US Dept. of Agriculture for a botanical exploration of several places in the western states and his expertise was in the flora of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. He described approx. 1700 new species.
Comparisons: While there are a number of yellow-flowered plants called 'Cinquefoils' this species with its shrubby characteristics is usually not confusing, however, this plant is found in the entire Northern Hemisphere and there are a large number of cultivars grown in the nursery trade for landscape use.
Above: Line drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Below: The almost round petals have clawed bases. 15 to 20 stamens surround the group of numerous pistils. The hairy calyx has 5 much shorter yellow-green sepals, alternating with 5 green bracts.
Below: Plants are short and bushy (Photo ©Merle R. Black, University of Wisconsin.) Most leaves have five leaflets - hence the alternate common name of Shrubby Five-fingers.
Below: Some leaves can have up to 9 leaflets. The underside of the leaf also has long whitish hair. Note the curling under of the leaf edge and the prominent central vein.
Shrubby Cinquefoil was introduced to the Garden by Eloise Butler in the Fall of 1914 with plants she obtained from the Park Board Nursery. She added more in 1915 and 1916. In her time the name used was Potentilla fruticosa. It was still in the Garden at the time of Martha Crone s 1951 census.
There are 19 Cinquefoils that have been found in Minnesota of which 3 are introductions. Four of those have not been collected in many years and may not be extant. Minnesota authorities are split on the genus for this plant. The U of M Herbarium retains Potentilla while the DNR plant surveys use Dasiphora. The DNR reports that the plant is still found in 23 widely scattered counties in the State but only Dakota County in the metro area. In North America its range is from the eastern seaboard westward but no further south in the U.S. than the Ohio River Valley, Iowa and North Dakota until you reach the Rocky Mountain area and then the range extends south all the way to Mexico. In western Canada the range then extends northward into Yukon and Northwest Territories and over to Alaska. This is a plant of temperate climate.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"