Common Cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex)

Common Cinquefoil Flower

The Common Cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex), also called the Old-field Five-fingers and Old-field Cinquefoil, is a perennial forb/herb in the Rosaceae (Rose) family and order, Rosales. The order and family name is from the Latin for "rose." The genus name is from the Latin for "powerful," a reference to the medicinal properties of this plant. The species name is from the Latin for "simple."  This plant can be from 2 inches to one foot (5.08 to 31 centimeters) tall but normally has trailing stems that root at nodes as they spread. It blooms from April to June.

Common Cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex) Leaves

The flower is yellow with five, ovate, almost heart-shaped petals on a thin stem rising from the axis of a leaf. Each flower is up to ½ inch (1.3 centimeters) in diameter. The petals of a mature flower do not overlap. Each flower has many stamen and pistils. There is only one flower per stem.

The leaves consist of five, toothed leaflets in a palm-like arrangement. Each leaflet is up to two and one half inchs (6.35 centimeters) long but usually shorter. The under surface of a leaflet is somewhat white.

The fruit is an achene (dry seed). This plant reproduces by seeds and stolons (protrusions at stem nodes that can take root).

The root system is simple but root units are connected by above ground trailing stems. Therefore, the plant has access to roots at various locations. This system differs from a rhizome in that the stems connecting various root units are above ground.

The Common Cinquefoil resembles some strawberry plants but has five leaflets whereas the strawberry plants have three leaflets. A related species found in Southern Maine, the Canadian Dwarf Cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), has shorter leaflets and each leaflet is entire (not toothed) below the middle of the leaf.

The following photograph shows a section of a Common Cinquefoil leaf at 40X magnification. Note the large number of veins dividing the leaf into small regions in which photosynthesis takes place. This characteristic is an example of how plants adopt arrangements of vascular veins and regions in which photosynthesis occurs to optimize survival in a particular environment. This plant, being low to the ground, is subject to attack by insects. The many veins minimize the damage from insect attacks. The whitish bloom under the leaf will reflect sunlight passing through the leaf back into the leaf to maximize photosynthesis, which becomes important when this low plant is surrounded and shadowed by other plants. Its ability to produce trailing stems also increases its ability to survive in crowded conditions. The trailers will be successfully established in those places that have sufficient light, water and nutrients.

Common Cinquefoil Leaf 40X


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