Description & Overview

Tall Cinquefoil (Drymocallis arguta) is Wisconsin native perennial found throughout Wisconsin (except near Kettle Moraine and a few select northern counties) in upland woods and prairies. It thrives in dry to moderately moist meadows and is rather uncommon, often growing amongst tall grasses, making it difficult to see.

Its flowers are small and resemble those of a strawberry plant with white petals, green sepals between each petal, and a round center of pistils with roughly 20 stamens in a ring. Flowers sit atop tall stems and bloom sporadically between June and July. Its leaves are green and are found along the stem which has tiny slightly sticky hairs.

Tall Cinquefoil may also be known as Prairie Cinquefoil or Tall Potentilla.
The botanical name is synonymous with Potentilla arguta.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 12-40 inches

Mature Spread: 24-36 inches

Growth Rate: Perennial

Growth Form: Upright, unbranched

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Site Requirements: Dry to mesic, well-drained soil.

Flower: A cluster of whitish-yellow flowers, 5-parted, <1" wide.

Bloom Period: June – July

Foliage: Light green, long mostly basal leaves, pinnately compound with seven to 11 leaflets, white sticky hairs.

Fall Color: N/A

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: The capsule contains many dry seeds.

Suggested Uses

Tall Cinquefoil prefers full sun and is most at home in dry, slightly moist soil, making it a wonderful addition to restoration plantings. This vertical prairie plant can tolerate drought because of its long taproot, and spreads by rhizomes, but is by no means aggressive.

This tall beauty is an excellent plant to include in a native or pollinator garden or even a rock garden, especially in gravelly, sunny sites that are on a slope. The extended blooming period (sporadically for about a month) is appreciated by pollinators throughout their life stages. Light-colored flowers are a favorite of moths during dusk and at night.

Wildlife Value

Tall Cinquefoil is a host plant for the Dorcas Copper butterfly (Lycaeana Dorcas), a rare and uncommon species within Wisconsin, as well as the Purple Copper (Lycaena helloides) which is more prevalent but often confused with the Dorcas.

Other visitors to Tall Cinquefoil include Eastern Pine Elfin (Callophrys niphon), Yellow-faced Bees (Hylaeus spp.), Mining Bees (Andrena spp.), Small Carpenter Bees (Ceratina spp.), Metallic Green Halictids, Solitary Bees, Two Moon Beewolf (Philanthus bilunatus), Syrphid Flies (Toxomerus spp.), as well as ants.

Some larvae form galls that mine the leaves, like the Cinquefoil Stem Gall Midge, the Cinquefoil Axil Gall Wasp, and the Douglas moth.

Maintenance Tips

A low-maintenance plant, water until established. Leave plants standing through winter until mid-Spring when insect activity has started, then cut back to about 18″ and watch them sprout!

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: No
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: No

Foliage is occasionally browsed by deer as well as other herbivores provided there is nothing more appealing in the area.

Drymocallis argute has no serious pests or problems.

Potentilla in general is sensitive to juglone toxicity. To be safe, we recommend avoiding planting around Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), or Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata).

Leaf Lore

The genus Drymocallis is Greek for “woodland trail” while the specific epithet arguta refers to the leaves that are “sharply-toothed.”

The Chippewa make a decoction of the root to treat dysentery, and applied dry roots into (via pricking the skin) the temples, in the nostrils for a headache, or applied to cuts.

Tall Cinquefoil was previously in the genus Potentilla and is commonly known as Cinquefoil because of its five leaflets. It was reassigned to the Drymocallis genus as its leaflets are usually in numbers of seven to 11, though the common name of Cinquefoil has remained in botanical vocabulary.

Thought to be protocarnivorous, Tall Cinquefoil can trap and kill insects, but cannot directly digest or absorb nutrients like a true carnivorous plant. The sticky hair along the plant’s stem catches insects and the insects were observed to be digested, though it’s not known whether the digestive enzymes were produced by the plant itself or surface microbes. There is evidence of protocarnivorous capabilities in Geranium viscosissimum and Potentilla arguta and other sticky plants.

Drymocallis arguta is the only species in the genus Drymocallis that is found east of the Rocky Mountains.

Companion Plants

Combine Tall Cinquefoil with plants that enjoy similar dry conditions such as Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis), Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya), Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa), Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Red Oak (Quercus rubra), Sand Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), or Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa).

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Written by Beth DeLain