Common Cinquefoil, Old Field Cinquefoil, Old-Field Five-Fingers
Synonyms of Potentilla simplex (6) (Updated on 1-13-23 from Plants of the World Online): Callionia simplex (Michx.) Greene, Potentilla canadensis var. simplex (Michx.) Torr. & A.Gray, Potentilla simplex var. argyrisma Fernald, Potentilla simplex var. calvescens Fernald, Potentilla simplex var. typica Fernald, Tormentilla simplex (Michx.) Kechaykin & Shmakov
Potentilla simplex Michx. is the accepted scientific name for the Sulphur Cinquefoil. It was named and described as such by André Michaux in Flora Boreali-Americana in 1803.
The genus, Potentilla L., was named and described by Carl Linnaeus in the first volume of the first edition of Species Plantarum in 1753.
As of 1-13-23 when this page was last updated, Plants of the World Online lists 497 species in the Potentilla genus. It is a member of the plant family Rosaceae with a total of 110 genera. Those numbers could change periodically as updates are made on POWO.
The above distribution map for Potentilla simplex is from Plants of the World Online. Areas in green show where the species is native. The map on the USDA Plants Database is the same.
The map on iNaturalist shows where members have made observations. Anyone can join and it is a great website to confirm and share your observations. The maps on iNaturalist are continually updated as members post new observations.
THERE ARE SEVERAL LINKS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE FOR FURTHER READING AND TO HELP WITH A BETTER POSITIVE ID.
While walking along the fence in the southeast pasture on May 24 in 2021, I noticed a cinquefoil that seemed a little different. There are a lot of Sulfur Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) on the farm, but their flowers are larger and pale yellow. This plant had smaller flowers with bright yellow petals. I took photos and uploaded them on iNaturalist and the name Potentilla simplex was suggested. After a little research, I came to the conclusion that iNaturalist was correct. I submitted the observation and it became Research Grade. NICE! It is always great to find a species I hadn’t identified before.
Potentilla simplex is a well-known native species found throughout Missouri and much of the eastern portion of the United States and Canada. Plants grow upright at first then begin to sprawl and become stoloniferous, rarely growing any taller than 1 1/2’ tall, but spreading several feet. They have several characteristics like most cinquefoils such as palmately-lobed leaves which makes them recognizable as a Potentilla species. Further descriptions below will help you identify the species. You can also read descriptions from the links at the bottom of the page.
Potentilla simplex isn’t really too picky about where it grows. They like full to part sun in damp to dry conditions. They can be found in a variety of soils including sandy loam, clay loam, and even somewhat gravely soils. They can be found at the edges of wooded areas, open woods, pastures, and hayfields, along stream banks, back roads, and highways, railroads… Well, you get the picture. They can also be found growing as understory plants in taller grass.
As I mentioned, the ascending stems become stoloniferous and sometimes root at the nodes. The Missouri Plants website also says “often rooting at the tips then producing small tubers…” The stems are usually somewhat hairy (pubescent) with spreading and appressed white hairs. The stems start out green but can turn a reddish color with age.
There are more photos taken in 2022 at the bottom of the page under the links for further reading. I may move the photos around once 2023 updates are made (my winter project).
The leaves grow in an alternate pattern along the stems, are palmately compound, and grow in clusters on axillary branches. The lower leaves (basal) may fall off with age and have fairly short petioles (leaf stems), while the stem leaves could be sessile (no petioles) or have very short petioles.
The leaves normally have 5 leaflets that are oblanceolate, elliptic, or narrowly ovate. The central leaf is usually twice as long as it it wide. The margins are coarsely toothed and taper to a blunt point. The upper surface is dark green, usually glabrous (hairless) while the underside is lighter green and can be fairly hairy but sometimes glabrous. The leaf petioles (leaf stems) have short stipules where they join the branches.
Single flowers emerge from pedicels (flower stems) that grow from the axils of stem leaves along the nodes. Normally, the plants don’t produce that many flowers, or at least at the same time.
In the center of the flower is the receptacle (hypanthium/hypanthia) from which grow the calyx (bractlets and sepals), petals, stamens, and pistols. The small bright yellow hypanthia are sort of flattish and cup-shaped.
Potentilla simplex begins flowering in April and continue usually until sometime in June.
At the bottom portion of the hypanthia, you will find 5 bractlets and 5 sepals which alternate with each other and overlap at their bases. The outer bractlets are more lance-shaped while the inner sepals are shorter and wider than the bractlets. Both are moderately hairy. The 5 yellow petals are heart-shaped (cordate) with notched tips. They are set fairly wide apart allowing the sepals to show through like a green star.
The above photo shows a side view of a flower and a long peduncle…
A couple more peduncles emerging from the axils of a leaf petiole…
Small bees and flies are attracted by the flowers. Various wasps, skippers, and butterflies sometimes also visit.
Don’t forget about the photos taken in 2022 at the bottom of the page.
I have enjoyed photographing and learning about the many wildflowers growing on the family farm and in other areas. The farm is in Windsor, Missouri in Pettis County (Henry County is across the street, and Benton and Johnson aren’t far away). I have grown over 500 different plants and identified over 250 species of wildflowers (most have pages listed on the right side of the page). I am not an expert, botanist, or horticulturalist. I just like growing, photographing, and writing about my experience. I rely on several websites for ID and a few horticulturalists I contact if I cannot figure them out. Wildflowers can be somewhat variable from location to location, so sometimes it gets a bit confusing. If you see I have made an error, please let me know so I can correct what I have written.
I hope you found this page useful and be sure to check the links below for more information. They were written by experts and provide much more information. Some sites may not be up-to-date but they are always a work in progress. If you can, I would appreciate it if you would click on the “Like” below and leave a comment. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. You can also send an email to me at email@example.com. I would enjoy hearing from you especially if you notice something is a bit whacky.
FOR FURTHER READING:
PLANTS OF THE WORLD ONLINE (GENUS/SPECIES)
INTERNATIONAL PLANT NAMES INDEX (GENUS/SPECIES)
FLORA OF NORTH AMERICA (GENUS/SPECIES)
WORLD FLORA ONLINE (GENUS/SPECIES)
USDA PLANTS DATABASE
MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION
KANSAS WILDFLOWERS AND GRASSES
PFAF (PLANTS FOR A FUTURE)
LADY BIRD JOHNSON WILDFLOWER CENTER
FRIENDS OF THE WILDFLOWER GARDEN
MARYLAND BIODIVERSITY PROJECT
NATIVE PLANTS OF THE CAROLINAS AND GEORGIA
NOTE: The data (figures, maps, accepted names, etc.) may not match on these websites. It depends on when and how they make updates and when their sources make updates. Some websites have hundreds and even many thousands of species to keep up with. Accepted scientific names change periodically and it can be hard to keep with as well. Some of the links may use a name that is a synonym on other sites. In my opinion, Plants of the World Online by Kew is the most reliable and up-to-date plant database and they make updates on a regular basis. I make updates “at least” once a year and when I write new pages or add new photos but I do get behind. We are all a work in progress. 🙂
PHOTOS TAKEN IN 2022…