Shoreline Plants  

Species: Potentilla palustris (L.) Scop. (Synonym Comarum palustre L.), marsh cinquefoil, purple cinquefoil
Family: Rosaceae

Marsh cinquefoil is a low-growing, sprawling, emergent perennial with reddish trailing stems and reddish-purple flowers. The flowers produce a foul odor that attracts flies for pollination. The plant stems can be as much as 1 m long, with 3-7 leaflets per leaf. The leaves and upper part of the stem are often hairy, although individual plants vary in the amount of leaf hair. Marsh cinquefoil is common from sea level to subalpine zones, and is usually grows as an open sprawling mat along the water's edge.

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Leaf: The compound leaf is composed of 3-7 sharply toothed leaflets on a long leaf stalk that forms a sheath around the stem. The leaflets are typically 2-10 cm long, smooth and light green on the upper surface, and covered with short, stiff, white hairs on the undersurface. The leaflets have a pinnate to subpalmate arrrangement (see glossary for definitions).

Stem: The up to 1 m long stem (stolon) is usually reddish and floats in shallow water or sprawls along the shoreline. The upper part of the stem rises above the water surface 20-50 cm, is frequently hairy, and supports the flowers.

Flower: The flower is 12-24 mm across and has 5 deep red petals (2-6 mm long) that turn purple late in summer. The 5 reddish sepals are much longer than the petals. Blooms June through August.

Fruit: Marsh cinquefoil has smooth, brownish-purple, clustered egg-shaped achenes, about 1.5 mm long.

Root: Roots from the nodes of stolons.

Propagation: Seeds and stolons

Importance of plant: The leaves and the seeds are eaten by browsing animals and waterfowl. The roots were used by Native Americans as a medicinal plant for dysentery and stomach cramps.

Distribution: Northern North America.

Habitat: Marsh cinquefoil grows in bogs, marshes, wet meadows, creek banks, and lake margins. It is always associated with fresh, non-brackish water.

May be confused with: Pacific Native American Use Icon silverweed (Potentilla pacifica) or common silverweed (Potentilla anserina), both of which have cream-colored to yellow flowers and are tolerant of brackish water.

Photographs: Potentilla palustris

Line Drawings: None available 

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