Potentilla palustris : Marsh Five-finger


Scientific Name:

Kingdom: Plantae


Class: Dicoteldonae (two seed-leaves)

Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Genera: Potentilla (Cinquefoil) (Lat. potens=powerful; referring to the strengh of the medicine from some species)

Species: palustris (Lat. palus = marsh; referring to the habitat of this species.)

Synonym(s): Comarum palustre

English Name(s):

Marsh Five-finger, Marsh Cinquefoil

First Nation Names:



  • Emergent bog plants.
  • From long freely branching prostrate (horizontal) submerged, subligneous (sub-woody) rhizomes (rootstocks).
  • Stems erect to decumbent, 10-100cm high, rising out of the water, often dark reddish tinged.


  • Mostly cauline (on stem), often dark reddish tinged, lower ones largest.
  • 5-pinnate or sometimes 7-pinate, 5-20 cm long.
  • Leaflets oblong-lanceolate in shape.
  • Margins sharply serrate (toothed).
  • Dark green above, pale and somewhat pubescent (hairy) below.

Reproductive Parts:

  • Flowers about 2 cm wide, solitary or few togather from axils (base) of upper most leaves.
  • Sepals 5 or 6, 7-15mm long, ovate-lanceolate in shape, enlarging in fruit. purpleish.
  • Bracteoles alternating with the sepals, lanceolate to linear in shape, 3.5-11mm long.
  • Petals 5 or 6, purplish or reddish purple, 2.5-5mm long, about half as long a the sepals.
  • Anthers (male parts) deep purple.


  • Fruit is a small, dry, seedlike, achene (nutlet).
  • Achenes numerous, about 1mm-1.5mm long, hairless, buoyant.

Not to Be Confused With:

  • Potentilla palustris (Marsh Five-finger) is a very distinctive plant not easily mistaken for anything else.



  • Is one of the few members of the Rosaceae that may have 6 rather than 5 sepals and petals.
  • Is the only Potentilla (Cinquefoil) with purple petals and in our area is the only aquatic one.

Life Cycle:

  • Perennial

Seasonal Cycle:

  • Leaves deciduous (falling).
  • Leaves and stems emerging in June.
  • Flowers have gone to seed by late July.


Animal Uses:

  • The flowers emit a fetid odour that attracts carion-feeding insects as pollenators


  • Aquatic.
  • Wet marshes and bogs.
  • Less often, stream banks and lake shores.





  • Plants probably contain tannin-like compounds and therefore can be used to treat intestinal upsets, surface cuts and burns


    Traditional Gwich'in:





            Traditional Other:


            • In astrology Potentilla are said to be governed by Jupiter.
            • In the Victorian Language of Flowers these plants symbolized "beloved daughter" or " I claim, at least, your esteem".
            • Potentilla were said to flourish in the gardens of witches. One of few yellow flowers they cared for.



              • A decoction of 1/2root in 1 liter water was taken to treat dysentery by the Chippewa.
              • Root tea was said to relieve stomach cramps.


              • Siberian Inuit dried the leaves used them alone or blended them with other plants, to make a favorite tea.


              Flowering stem

              Flower top view

              Flower side view

              5-parted leaf

              Marsh full of Five-fingers

              Flower top view

              Illustration from: Illustrated flora of BC

              Range Maps

              World Range: Circumpolar, wide-ranging; in N.A. from GL and NL to AK, south to NJ, WY, and CA.

              Prov/State Abrev. List

              In Yukon: Common north to Arctic coast and Hercshel Island.

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