The Potentilla Group in my Garden

P. arguta                                               Tall cinquefoil                      white/yellow
P. atrosanguinea                                  Cinquefoil                             red
P. atrosanguinea 'melton's fire'          Cinquefoil                             red/yellow
P. chilensis concolor                            Cinquefoil                             yellow
P. megalantha                                      Cinquefoil                             rich yellow
P. multifida                                           Staghorn cinquefoil             yellow
P. pensylvanica                                   Pennsylvania cinquefoil       yellow
P. recta                                                 Cinquefoil                            pale yellow
P. thurberi                                            Scarlet cinquefoil                dark red


Potentilla is a genus of mostly perennial herbs or sub-shrubs which are native to Northern hemispheres, and members of the Rose family. Hybrid forms are more important than the species, and more likely to be found at your local nursery. Before I begin, let me warn you that identification of these species was provided by the donors of the seeds, who are recreational gardeners like myself.  To my descriptions, you must add the phrase "of the species listed here", because these are the only ones I have grown, and there are a great many more. The species described here proved to be easy room temperature germinators.

P. arguta  --  photo  --  height = 36 to 40"  --  3/4" white flower with yellow center

While not the tallest of the cinquefoils, P. arguta is quite tall and well behaved. The flower stems are rigid and require no staking.  The flowers appear in June and attract solitary bees, including the Halictids.  There are nine leaves per stem instead of five, but their shape and appearance is typical.

Recomendation:  This plant is well worth having in any sunny garden, requires little maintenance, gives you an occasional glimpse of metallic green bees, and is the best of the tall ones.  Flowers 2nd year from seed.


P. atrosanguinea  --  photo  --  height = 18"  --  3/4" red flower

This is a well behaved border plant, making small mounds.  The foliage is a dull silver green.  There are 3 leaves per stem.  The flowers appear in May, but are not standouts, despite their brilliant color.  Flowers 2nd year from seed.


P. atrosanguinea 'Melton's fire'  --  photo  --  height = 48"  --  3/4" multicolor flowers with shades of red to yellow looking much like flames.

Tallest of the cinquefoils, this plant is quick to sprawl, and will smother surrounding plants if not caged or staked & tied early on.  The foliage is dark green and brilliant.  There are 5 leaves per stem - a true cinquefoil.  Flowers appear in profusion during May/June and attract a wide range of native pollinators. Flowers 2nd year from seed.

Recommendation:  Grow this one for the floral display if nothing else, but be prepared for the sprawling habit.  After cutting down the flower stems, the new growth makes a very attractive mound for the remainder of the season.


P. chilensis concolor  --  photo  --  height = 24"  --  1/4" yellow flowers

This plant has red stems with ferny foliage not unlike Filipendula hexapetala. Flowering continuously during July and August, the plant has many desirable features, but fails to enchant because the flowers are inconspicuous and the sprawling habit is difficult to manage.  Owning a single specimen is more than sufficient. Flowers 2nd year from seed.


P. megalantha  --  photo  --  height = 6 to 10"  --  1" flowers are deep yellow

One of the earliest to flower during April to May, this plant is a well behaved little mound with attractive green leaves and the largest flower in this group.  There are 3 leaves per stem.  Flowers 2nd year from seed.

Recommendation:  This is a wonderful plant for border or rockery.  It requires no maintenance and presents a nice appearance throughout the season.  You will probably never have enough of these.


P. multifida  --  photo  --  height = 6"  --  1/4" yellow flower

One would think from the inconspicuous almost hidden flowers that this plant had little to offer.  This is an attractive almost ferny foliage plant with dark green leaves whose undersides are quite silver.  It is early to flower, like P. megalantha.  Flowers 2nd year from seed. There are 7 ferny leaves per stem.

Recommendation:  This is another delightful plant for border or rockery.  It requires no maintenance.  The leaves are arranged to show the silvery undersides across 50% of each mound and is beautiful all year.  I rate it as "must have plenty" if you can be content with foliage alone.  


P. pensylvanica  --  photo  --  height = 20"  --  1/4" yellow flower

Both foliage and flowers are insignificant in comparison to the rest of this group. The plant tends to lay down too much for its height.  There are 7 leaves per stem, and the flowers open during May. Flowers 2nd year from seed. One specimen may be one too many.


P. recta  --  photo  --  height = 30"  --  3/4" pale yellow flowers

This plant is too vigorous for the average garden.  It flowers during the first year from seed.  In its second year, the plants form a dense hedge at first.  As it begins flowering in May, all the stems fall prostrate, smothering everything else nearby.  It offers moderate attraction to solitary bees.  The foliage is unremarkable; there are seven leaves per stem.  I suspect that P. recta is a strong self-sower.  New foliage appears quickly on all of the Potentillas that require mid-summer cutting back.  One specimen is sufficient while the space is unneeded for other plants.


P. thurberi  --  photo  --  height = 36"  --  3/4" red flowers w/dark red centers

This is another flopper requiring a stake and a tie at about the 24" level.  The leaves are typical cinquefoil type with 5 leaves per stem.  Flowering begins in June and continues through August.  They are a remarkable magnet for beneficial wasps of every description and size.  Flowers 2nd year from seed.

Recommendation:  This species is a must have for the wild or "native" garden. It belongs on every list of plants for attracting beneficial insects.  Some management is required, and it is not unattractive considering the long period of bloom.  Do not go for specimen plants; put in 3 to 6 plants for best results.


Here is the short list of plants I have not grown, but would like to try.  Those known as common weeds have been removed from the list.
Potentilla alchemilloides
Potentilla argentea                                            Hoary Cinquefoil
Potentilla atrosanguinea v argyrophylla
Potentilla aurea                                                  Pieciornik
Potentilla calabra
Potentilla canescens
Potentilla crantzii                                               Alpine Cinquefoil
Potentilla erecta Tormentilla
Potentilla fruticosa
Potentilla fulgens
Potentilla gracilis                                               Slender Cinquefoil
Potentilla grandiflora                                         Pieciornik
Potentilla hippiana
Potentilla impolita
Potentilla meyeri
Potentilla nepalensis                                    
Potentilla nitida
Potentilla palustris                                            Marshlocks
Potentilla pectinisecta                                     Cinquefoil
Potentilla rupestris                                           Rock Cinquefoil
Potentilla speciosa
Potentilla sterilis                                               Barren Strawberry
Potentilla tridentata

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