Rough Cinquefoil (Potentilla norvegica)


Rose Family (Rosaceae)

Other Names:

Potentilla monspeliensis, Norway cinquefoil, strawberry-weed, upright cinquefoil, yellow cinquefoil.

Origin and Distribution:

Rough cinquefoil is native to North America and Europe. It is distributed throughout the eastern half of the U.S. and in the northwestern states. Rough cinquefoil prefers open sites with dry, sandy soil, and is commonly found in fields, meadows, pastures, and roadsides.

Plant Description:

Rough cinquefoil behaves as either an annual if growing in cultivated ground, a biennial when growing in less disturbed sites, or a short-lived perennial. It grows as a rosette at the beginning of the season, but later forms an upright, hairy, robust stem with yellow flowers. Leaves consist of 3 coarsely-toothed, hairy leaflets. Rough cinquefoil reproduces by seeds.

  • Root System:

    Rough cinquefoil has a simple, vertical taproot. Adventitious roots appear at the base of the crown.

  • Seedlings and Shoots:

    Seedlings form a rosette of leaves. The first true leaves are coarsely toothed but not divided until about the fifth leaf when 3 distinct lobes appear.

  • Stems:

    Stems are upright, branched, hairy, and about 1 to 2 feet tall. As the plant ages, stems become woody and change from green to dull purplish-red. Biennial and perennial forms may have several stems emerging from a single crown.

  • Leaves:

    Rosette and stem leaves are green and hairy on both sides, and consist of 3 oval, coarsely-toothed leaflets. Stem leaves are alternate (1 leaf per node). Lower leaves attach to stems by way of long stalks (petioles), while leaves along the upper part of the stem have very short stalks. A pair of leaf-like appendages (stipules) are located at the base of each petiole where it attaches to the stem.

  • Flowers:

    Flowers appear in clusters at the ends of branches. Flowers are about 1/4 inch wide consisting of 5 yellow petals.

  • Fruits and Seeds:

    Pale brown seeds are oval, less than 1/25 inch long, and have shallow ridges running the length of the seed.

Similar Species:

Rosettes of rough cinquefol may be confused with wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), which is a low-growing plant with 3-parted leaves. However, the edges of wild strawberry leaflets are generally smoother than rough cinquefoil leaflets, which have teeth all around the margins. Also, wild strawberry produces short, thin stems with white flowers versus the tall, robust stems and yellow flowers of rough cinquefoil. There are several species of cinquefoils that may be confused with rough cinquefoil. Sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) may be distinguished from rough cinquefoil by its generally unbranched stems and leaves made up of 5 to 7 leaflets. Sulfur cinquefoil stems may branch, but only above the point where flowers begin to emerge. In addition, its flowers are larger than those of rough cinquefoil. Silvery cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea) can be distinguished from rough cinquefoil by its 5- to 7-parted leaves, with leaflets that are very coarsely toothed and silvery below. Common cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis) and oldfield cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex) can be distinguished from rough cinquefoil by their creeping stems (stolons) that can root at the nodes.


Seedlings emerge in mid- to late spring and also in late summer. Plants flower from June through September. Rough cinquefoil can produce over 13,000 seeds per plant. Seeds are wind dispersed. Mowing tends to result in shorter plants with more branches and spreading roots. Other cinquefoils are used as ornamentals or planted for soil erosion control.


None known.

Facts and Folklore:

  • Potentilla means 'powerful' and refers to the astringent attributes of plants in this genus.

  • The common name 'cinquefoil' was derived from the French term for 'five-leaved'.

  • Cinquefoils are often a problem in the western U.S. because they tolerate drought and most animals avoid eating them.