Creeping cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans) is a native wildflower with pretty, bright yellow blooms and fresh green foliage. It's commonly found growing as a 'lawn weed', where it brightens up flowering lawns in summer. It's an excellent plant for wildlife, with flowers that attract pollinating insects and foliage used as a foodplant by the grizzled skipper butterfly. Creeping cinquefoil is tough, drought tolerant and deep rooting, and can be used to provide colour and ground cover in low-maintenance areas like banks and wild gardens, as well as to help stabilise soil on slopes. However, in borders, its spreading growth is less desirable.

Advertisement

Creeping cinquefoil has been used for medicinal and other purposes as the roots contain tannins and other compounds said to have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, although the plant should not be used for any purpose without first consulting a qualified herbalist. Creeping cinquefoil has no known toxicity to grazing pets such as tortoises, although the leaves are not especially palatable due to their strong taste.

How to identify creeping cinquefoil

Creeping cinquefoil flower detail. Getty Images
Creeping cinquefoil flower detail. Getty Images

Creeping cinquefoil has bright yellow flowers from early to late summer, and looks rather like a flat-flowered buttercup at first glance. It's a low-growing perennial reaching no more than 20cm in height, and spreads by means of runners, which are long stems that root as they spread and touch the ground. Its mid-green leaves are made up of five leaflets – hence the name ‘cinquefoil’ – from the French word for five – and are sharply toothed at the edges.


Is creeping cinquefoil a weed?

Perceptions of certain plants as weeds have changed dramatically in recent years, as awareness grows of the benefits of native wildflowers to our gardens in boosting biodiversity, along with the increasing popularity of naturalistic gardening styles. This includes a much more relaxed approach to lawns. So, the concept of a ‘weed’ is quite a loose one that will vary from one gardener to another. Though all gardening involves an element of crowd control, in the case of creeping cinquefoil, a good balance would be to let it grow freely in lawns and informal, semi-wild spots, but to keep creeping cinquefoil out of garden borders and vegetable beds where it could be a nuisance among cultivated plants.

Benefits of leaving creeping cinquefoil in your lawn

Creeping cinquefoil is a tough little plant that thrives in dry conditions and in poor soil. It’ll also tolerate a fair amount of wear. So, in periods of drought when grass and other lawn plants brown or die back, creeping cinquefoil usually carries on looking good. Wildlife is supported by the flowers and foliage and the leaves also provide cover for insects.

Advertisement
More like this

Controlling creeping cinquefoil

Hand-weeding or raking is the best way to limit creeping cinquefoil. The plant forms deep, slender tap roots that are best dug out with a narrow-bladed weeding tool such as a utility knife or a pronged weeder. To restrict growth in lawns, and to prevent it spreading from the lawn into adjacent borders, use a spring-tine rake to lift the runners just before mowing.
To discourage creeping cinquefoil from growing in a lawn, improve growing conditions by applying a lawn fertilizer, as the plant thrives in poor conditions. Feeding also encourages stronger, healthier grass growth.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement