Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Rough cinquefoil

The overwhelming majority of wildflowers Bleeding Heartland has featured over the past eight and a half years have been native to North America. Occasionally I’ve showcased plants that are widespread in Iowa, even though they originated on other continents.

Rough cinquefoil (Potentilla norvegica) can’t be placed definitively in either group.

Its scientific name and alternate common name (Norwegian cinquefoil) suggest a European origin. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers the plant native to most of the country.

The Illinois Wildflowers website notes,

Mohlenbrock (2002) considers this species to be adventive from Eurasia, but other authorities think native strains exist that are difficult or impossible to distinguish from those of the Old World. I am inclined toward the former view because this species is typically found in areas that are weedy and disturbed. Habitats include weedy meadows, fields and pastures, gardens and edges of yards, edges of parking lots, vacant lots, borders of small streams, sloughs, sandy marshes, and miscellaneous waste areas.

Minnesota Wildflowers takes the opposite view: “There is some debate on whether P. norvegica is native to the US or an adventive Eurasian species. The DNR recognizes it as native in Minnesota, so we do, too.”

I photographed these rough cinquefoil plants in early July in a butterfly garden along the Urbandale bike trail. Most of the species growing there are native, but some “volunteers” may have sprung up without being deliberately planted.

This shot shows the compound leaves of rough cinquefoil, which “become progressively smaller as they ascend the stem.”

As with other cinquefoils, the flowers have five petals. They are yellow but not notched like the petals of sulfur or rough-fruited cinquefoil, which Bleeding Heartland profiled last year. The sepals are green, pointed, and a little longer than the petals.

A closer look at a flower:

Small colony of rough cinquefoil plants:

I went back to this area in early September looking for the rough cinquefoil after they had gone to seed, but was unable to find them. (According to Illinois Wildflowers, rabbits and deer sometimes eat cinquefoil foliage, and those mammals are plentiful in this part of Urbandale.) If I can find the plants on my next visit to the area, I will update this post with pictures of developing fruit.

Tags: Wildflowers
  • Rough cinquefoil does not behave...

    …like a species that is trying to take over the world. If it is non-native, it’s a polite non-native, which is a big plus. It’s also pretty, and these photos show that well.

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