Potentilla palustris (Marsh Cinquefoil)

Plant Info
Also known as: Purple Marshlocks, Purple Cinquefoil
Family:Rosaceae (Rose)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; semi-aquatic; mucky or peaty soil; marshes, wet ditches, lake and river shallows
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:12 to 24 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Flower shape: 7+petals Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Open clusters of 1 to 3 flowers on 1-inch stalks at the tips of branching stems. Flowers are ¾ to 1 inch across, deep reddish purple with 5 to 8 lance oval petals alternating between narrowly triangular (or swollen in the middle) sepals twice or more as long as the petals. Sepals are also maroon, densely hairy on the upper half and sharply pointed at the tip. The flower center is dark purple, surrounded by many purple stamens with yellow pollen edging the tips (anthers).

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound

[photo of lower leaves] Leaves are alternate, pinnately compound with 5 to 7 oblong to elliptic leaflets. Leaflets are 1 to 3 inches long, rounded tip at the tip, rounded to slightly tapered at the base, sharply toothed around the edges, the upper surface smooth, the underside waxy, stalks variously hairy. Lower leaves are long stalked (but all leaflets are stalkless), the lower half of the stalk with long, wing-like leafy appendages (stipules) that sheathe the stem.

[photo of upper stipules] Leaf stalks shorten and stipules broaden as leaves ascend the stem, becoming short stalked with 3 leaflets in the flower clusters and the stipules nearly free. Stems sprawl, submerged and ascending in water, coarsely branched, the lower stem somewhat woody, smooth and reddish brown, but green with fine spreading hairs just below and in the flower clusters.


Marsh Cinquefoil, sometimes known as Comarum palustre, deviates from most other Potentillas not only in its deep maroon colored flowers but also in having more than just five petals, typically 6-8. And while many of the yellow flowered species require moist habitats, this species appears to require persistently watery habitats and is completely at home in free standing water, its stems submerged with aquatic roots and just the upper stems ascending above the water line. While its northern latitude range implies a preference for cooler temperatures, it's not overly fussy and is common along marshy road ditches and drainage channels throughout much of Minnesota, especially the northern part of the state.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Wild Ones Twin Cities Chapter

Where to buy native seed and plants ↓

Map of native plant purveyors in the upper midwest

  • Minnesota Native Landscapes - Your Ecological Problem Solvers
  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water
  • Itasca Ladyslipper Farm - Native orchids, container grown
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at PrairieMoon.com!

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Red Lake Peatland SNA, Beltrami County, and in Lake and Ramsey counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin and Lake counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Anthony - Mille Lacs Kathio State Park
on: 2015-07-03 22:50:43

In a poor fen

Posted by: Jutta - Lake Bemidji State Park
on: 2015-07-07 07:03:53

Saw in the Bog walk.

Posted by: Charlene - St. Louis County
on: 2015-07-12 13:07:33

Roadside ditch along Boulder Lake Road .. also wild iris and wild calla (arum) in same location.

Posted by: Peg - stream feeding into Vermilion River-on a beaver dam
on: 2016-07-14 10:25:03

Fully in bloom July 5, 2016

Posted by: Jean - 15 miles N of Bemidji
on: 2016-07-29 16:58:18

This lovely blooming lady showed up in one of my sunny, dry gardens. Hope to harvest some seeds for more plants next summer.

Posted by: Terry S - Minneapolis
on: 2017-05-08 09:50:44

I'm sure you know that this is now recognized as Comarum palustre ... FNA and most other sources. I'd be surprised if Minnesota hasn't caught up on this. Interestingly, the first time I saw this species, in the Boundary Waters, I had the hardest time keying it out because the specimen I had collected had 6 petals uniformly! Terry

Posted by: Laurie O - Irving and John Anderson Park
on: 2017-06-14 07:51:44

Saw this beauty blooming while I was out on the lake for a paddle. Had never seen it before!

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.