Cinquefoils, botanically known as Polentilla, are mostly hardy, perennial plants and shrubs found wild in many parts of the world. Some are natives of northern America, others of the European mountains and of northern Asia. Their average growth is from 6 inches to 3 feet high. Their flowers are similar in shape to a strawberry blossom and are exhibited in a wide range of colors. Their leaves are also similar to those of the strawberry plant. Some varieties are valuable plants for the perennial border, others for rock gardens and some for shrub borders.
For a rock garden, the herbaceous Polentilla include a number of hardy species that thrive in well-drained, sandy loam soil in a sunny location. The most attractive is P.nitida, a charming little plant, 6 inches high, with gray leaves and pale pink flowers that blooms in the summer: the variety alba has white flowers. These two plants like gritty soil. Others that are suitable for this type of landscape include: P. ambigua, 4 inches tall with yellow flowers; P. aurea, 4 inches, with rich yellow flowers; P. fragiformis, 8 to 10 inches, with deep yellow flowers; P. tormentillo-formosa, 6 inches, with orange-yellow flowers; and P. tridentata, 3 to 6 inches tall, with white, evergreen foliage. These rock garden varieties may be increased by sowing seeds in pots of sifted sandy soil in spring, or by careful division of the plants in September or early spring.
For a border, Polentilla plants may range from 18 to 24 inches high, and have strawberry-like blossoms throughout June and July. These plants thrive in ordinary, well-tilled garden soil, however, they must be well drained, and require full exposure to sunlight. Plant in early fall or in the spring. The rose-colored P. nepalensis grows about 12 inches high and is also suitable for rock gardens
For a shrub, an excellent choice is the single yellow-flowered specie P. recta variety warrenii that reaches 2 feet high. Another yellow variety, which is one of the most valuable forms of cinquefoil, is the P.futicosa Elizabeth. It can reach 3 feet tall and have a 5 feet spread with bloom time June through October. Propagation for shrubs such be done in August by cutting shoots 4 or 5 inches long. These should be inserted in a bed of sandy soil in a border (out of doors) covered with a bell (Mason) jar, and shaded from direct sunlight. When well rooted, they can be potted separately in 3 inch pots and planted in spring and/or early summer.
Here is Texas, P.indica, commonly known as Indian strawberry, false strawberry, or snake berry, grows wild. Like some of the other varieties mentioned above, the Indian strawberry resembles a “regular” strawberry plant except that it has yellow flowers instead of white, and the red fruit is tasteless rather than tasty. The trifoliolate leaves may be cooked as a green vegetable.
As the botanical name suggests, members of the genus Polentilla are considered to be potent medicines. Poultices and washes made from the plant have been used to treat skin infections and injuries. A tea brewed from the Indian strawberry has been used for laryngitis, tonsillitis, and coughs. The plant has also been used for the treatment of snake bites which explains the reason it is called “snake berry.”
The name cinquefoil comes from the French word for five, since many species in the genus have five leaves. There are over 120 varieties of cinquefoil found across North America, many of which are very similar in general appearance, although the color of their flower may vary: white, red, yellow, or purple. One of the most popular is the very pretty wildflower P.glandulosa, commonly known as sticky cinquefoil. It has several leafy, often reddish stems covered in fine, sticky hairs. Each stem is tipped with a loose cluster of yellow flowers, which have 5 sepals, 5 petals, and 5 bracts. Many of the common species are creepers, but the sticky cinquefoil can grow up to 22 inches in height. It prefers dry soil, and grows well in open areas such as fields.
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