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Potentilla - A Hardy, Cold-Loving Workhorse Shrub

By Jim Lakin, MD, Dakota County Master Gardener

Potentilla is a beautiful and useful native shrub. You may be familiar with the many cultivars of Potentilla that are on the market. But the native Potentilla has benefits that the cultivars do not. Read this article about the qualities of native Potentilla that may make it appealing for your garden.

Potentilla - A Hardy, Cold-Loving Workhorse Shrub

Dasiphora fruticose is known by a several common names: Potentilla, Shrubby or Bush Cinquefoil, Golden Hardhack, Shrubby Fivefinger, Widdy, Tundra Rose and Kuril Tea.  Also, it is marketed as a number of attractive cultivars.  The native, species plant is a quite hardy shrub doing nicely as far north as Zone 2.  Thus, it is native to the cool temperate and subarctic regions of the northern hemisphere, often growing at high altitudes in mountains.  It does wonderfully well and is long-lived in central Minnesota.  Your author has had a fine patch with southern exposure which has done very well for over 30 years. 


Potentilla is a deciduous native perennial which grows to 3 to 4 feet being 4 to 5 feet wide.  It is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae and produces a multitude of showy yellow flowers in summer into the early fall.  It grows well in both clay and sandy soils. This could be a consideration for many parts of the Twin Cities.  It will tolerate drought but does best in moist soils.  In the wild it congregates in swampy, moisture-retentive soils.  It will tolerate part shade, but does much better in full sun, especially if you want abundant flowering in summer.

Potentilla is both deer and rabbit resistant.  So, if you have “critter” problems, this would be a good choice for border, hedge or foundation planting.  Potentilla will spread by rhizomes (underground runners) so it can invade adjacent beds.  If it is acting as a woodland border plant, mowing will control spread.  

Potentilla as a flowering hedge

 The native is known to attract butterflies and is pollinator friendly.  Data on pollinator attraction is scarce on the cultivars of Potentilla such as “Crème brulé”, “Marmalade” and “Happy Face”.  There are over 130 named cultivars!  As a general rule, they tend not to be as ecologically friendly as the native plant.  You pay a price for a pretty face!

Since Potentilla is hardy, disease resistant and low maintenance it is found in a wide variety of industrial and commercial plantings.  If you are looking for such a ‘happy camper” for your landscape project, this would be a great choice.

Photo credits: Walter Siegmund, Wikpedia (1), Oregon State University (2)

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