The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Rough-fruited Cinquefoil (Sulphur Cinquefoil, Sulphur Five-fingers)


Scientific Name
Potentilla recta L.


Plant Family
Rose (Rosaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Early Summer to Late Summer Flowering



Rough-fruited Cinquefoil is an introduced plant that grows erect, 16 to 32 inches high, with hairy stems that are un-branched to the inflorescence. On the many species of Potentilla, P. recta is one of most diverse in it's characteristics. What follows is a general summary.

Leaves are palmately divided into leaflets. The lower leaves are long stalked and have 5 to 7 leaflets and stipules at the leaf stalk base; the upper are smaller, shorter stalked and have 3 leaflets. Leaflets have serrate edges and are much longer than wide and have long hairs on the underside and stiffly appressed hair on the upper side.

Inflorescence: Within the inflorescence many flowers can occur in flattened branched clusters (cymes).

Flowers are pale yellow, 5 parted, around 3/4 inches wide, with heart-shaped petals that have a deeper yellow color at the point of attachment. The receptacle is a brighter deeper yellow containing 80 to 140 carpels with thread-like styles pointing upward. These are surrounded by 15 to 20+ stamens that have yellow filaments and yellowish-brown anthers. The green sepals (calyx lobes) are triangular, shorter than the petals, and hairy. These are placed alternate with the petals so that they are partially visible between the petals. There are also 5 small green still shorter bracts under the sepals and placed directly beneath the petals.

Seed: The flowers produce a capsule containing a number of dry ridged ellipsoid shaped seeds (achenes), about 1.2 to 1.8 mm long, without pappus, that is dispersed by wind action shaking the flowering stem. The seed capsule does not have hooks or burs.


Habitat: Rough-fruited Cinquefoil grows from a crown with fibrous roots. It is found in disturbed areas in full sun and tolerates soils that are heavier and more alkaline.

Names: The species name "recta" means "erect". The genus name, Potentilla, is from the Latin word potens, meaning 'powerful' and refers to the medicinal power of some species of the genus which have medicinal properties. The common name of 'rough-fruited' refers to the ridges on the seeds. The author name for the plant classification - 'L.' refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. The other common names using 'sulfur' refer to the deep color of the petal base and 'five-fingers' is commonly used with the cinquefoils referring to the 5-lobed larger leaves that look like the five fingers of a hand.

Comparisons: Another non-native that is similar to this species is P. norvegica, the Rough Cinquefoil. But there all leaves are 3 parted and the flower sepals and bracts are longer than the petals, which are a darker yellow.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Rough-fruited Cinquefoil flower Rough Fruited Cinquefoil flower closeup

Above: 1st photo - Example of a single flower cluster with one open. 2nd photo - The central receptacle is composed on numerous pistils and surrounded by 20 plus stamens.

Below: 1st photo - The inflorescence has a number of buds on short stalks with green bracts at the base. Sepals, bracts, stalks are all with white hair. 2nd photo - The triangular green hairy sepals (5) are much shorter than the petals and subtended by shorter, more lanceolate bracts.

Rough-fruited Cinquefoil buds Rough-fruited Cinquefoil sepals

Below: 1st photo - A mid-stem leaf. Note the hairy stipules at the stem. 2nd photo - A larger basal leaf with five leaflets.

Rough-fruited Cinquefoil stem leaf Rough-fruited Cinquefoil basal leaf

Below: The seeds with their ridged surface. Photo ©Steve Hurst, USDA-NRCS Plants Database.

Rough-fruited Cinquefoil inflorescence


Notes: Rough-fruited Cinquefoil is an introduced plant, native to Europe and Asia. It is found in the entire United States except AZ, NM and UT; it is also found in all the lower Canadian Provinces. In Minnesota it is present in about 1/3 of the counties, mostly on the eastern half of the state. It is not considered invasive, but untended, it can form large clumps that are quite showy. Martha Crone listed 13 Cinquefoils on her 1951 Garden Census, this being one of them. There are 18 Cinquefoils in the genus Potentilla that have been reported in Minnesota of which 2 are introductions. Four of those 18 have not been collected and are thought to be erroneous. Of the remaining 14, several are known from only one county.

Besides P. recta, two other Cinquefoils are present in the Garden - P. norvegica, Rough Cinquefoil (although it is sometimes not seen); and P. simplex, Common Cinquefoil.

Edwin Way Teale wrote: Many seeds already have fallen to the ground. Others have ridden away on parachutes of silk or have clung with the hooked hairs of their little burs to the fur or clothing of passersby. But many plants, like the rough-fruited cinquefoil, will continue to shake out their seeds, scattering them in the successive storms of winter. Compressed and dry, in varying shades and shapes, the tapestry of colors of next year’s flowers now lie waiting in the seeds. (from A Walk Through The Year, 1978)

References and site links

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.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.