Snow Cinquefoil – Potentilla nivea

Alaska Wildflowers | Yellow

The yellow flowers of snow cinquefoil (Potentilla nivea) blooming in Alaska

Snow Cinquefoil

Potentilla nivea

Common Names

snow cinquefoil
snowy cinquefoil
snow potentilla
villous cinquefoil


Potentilla nivea ssp. fallax A.E. Porsild
Potentilla nivea ssp. subquinata (Lange) Hultén
Potentilla nivea var. nivea L.
Potentilla nivea var. subquinata Lange
Potentilla nivea var. tomentosa Nilsson-Ehle ex Hultén
Potentilla prostrata Rottb.
Potentilla prostrata ssp. floccosa Soják



Genus: Potentilla
Family: Rosaceae
Order: Rosales
full classification

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Forb/herb, subshrub

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Identification and Information

Snow cinquefoil (Potentilla nivea) is a yellow-flowering perennial herb/subshrub. It grows from a central root that is cylindrical and tapered with short rhizomes. A caudex is present and multi-branched. The leaves are mostly basal, alternate, dark green on top, lighter on the bottom, and often covered in short hairs. The leaf blade is ternate, composed of 3 deeply toothed leaflets. Leaves can be petiole or sessile and the petioles are also often hairy. It may also have a few smaller cauline leaves with the same shape.

The stems are ascending to erect and 10-30 cm (4-12 inches) tall and often branched. Plants may have one, or many flowering stems that are green or slightly reddish.

The flowers are terminal on the stem and radially symmetric with 5 yellow petals, 5 triangular sepals, and 5 epicalyx bractlets that are narrower than the sepals. The yellow petals are often darker (nearly orange) near the center and slightly longer than the sepals. Each flower has numerous stamens with yellow filaments and anthers as well as 20-40 carpels (slightly greenish). It reproduces by seed, producing numerous nutlets.


For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

I found no medicinal or food uses for snow cinquefoil. I do find this odd given the very wide distribution of the plant, considering there are many uses of others in the genus Potentilla, including other similar species like Potentilla nana.

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Distribution and Habitat

Potentilla nivea is widely distributed across the northern hemisphere. It is also found in many of the Rocky Mountain states and in parts of Western Europe. There is a bit of disagreement in North American distribution. Mainly, the USDA lists Oregon and Idaho as well as Saskatchewan and Alberta, yet no records exist in those locations according to both NatureServe Explorer and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. Therefore, I left those states and provinces off the map. Additionally, snow cinquefoil is listed as vulnerable in Ontario, critically imperiled in Manitoba, and imperiled in Utah.

Snow cinquefoil grows in well-drained soils and full sun. It is frequently found on ridges and rocky alpine areas in gravelly soils and talus.


RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae  (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
   SubkingdomViridiplantae  (green plants)
      InfrakingdomStreptophyta  (land plants)
            DivisionTracheophyta  (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
               SubdivisionSpermatophytina  (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
                           FamilyRosaceae  (roses)
                              GenusPotentilla L. (Potentilles, cinquefoil)
                                 SpeciesPotentilla nivea L. (snow cinquefoil, snowy cinquefoil)

References and Further Reading


Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg 37

Classification and Taxonomy

Potentilla nivea L. Taxonomic Serial No.: 24729, ITIS Database

Potentilla nivea L., snow cinquefoil, USDA Database


Search String: potentilla, Native American Ethnobotany Database

Map and Distribution

Potentilla nivea, Snow Cinquefoil, NatureServe Explorer

Potentilla nivea L. Published in: L. In: Sp. Pl. 499. (1753)., GBIF

Description and Information

Potentilla nivea, – Central Yukon Species Inventory Project

Potentilla nivea L., The Flora of Svalbard

49. Potentilla nivea Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 1: 499. 1753., Flora of China

73. Potentilla nivea Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 1: 499. 1753., Flora of North America

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