Sunday, August 12, 2012

The shrubby cinquefoil that's not a cinquefoil

Species name: Dasiphora fruticosa (formerly Potentilla fruticosa)

Common name: Shrubby cinquefoil

Location: Ontario

This plant is native to the Northern Hemisphere, but not to this area of Canada. The plant likely originated in northern Europe and Asia, and was introduced very early to North America. It has no potential to become invasive, and I would argue it has been incorporated in almost every way into our native flora of Ontario. It prefers growing in cool climates in subarctic or mountainous areas, and can tolerate dry conditions and saline soils. There has been a relatively intense effort to create new cultivars of this plant due to its attractiveness as an ornamental plant since it requires such little effort for upkeep. It is also very popular in Japan as a bonsai plant.

This plant is a great example of how DNA sequencing can show a different picture than what morphology tells us. The true cinquefoils, in the genus Potentilla, have compound leaves like this plant does but they have teeth along the edges while these leaflets are smooth. As far as morphology goes, that's probably not a significant enough difference to warrant putting a plant in its own genus, and so it was classified with the rest of the small, shrubby plants with yellow flowers and 5 petals that look a bit like buttercups (but you should now know why they're in the rose family!), and compound leaves with 5 to 7 leaflets. So far, DNA sequencing tells us that this is the only member of its genus, but that's probably only due to low sequencing effort; meaning that if more plants in the genus Potentilla and more plants in general that look like this one were sequenced, we would find that more species belong in this genus.

One negative aspect of this plant is that it acts as a prime food source and habitat for those pesky beetles that seem to become more and more numerous every summer in North America. Where there are more palatable food sources (like butterfly bushes, which are also numerous in North America) the bugs will prefer to eat those first, and just use the cinquefoil as a nighttime habitat. If you're into catching bugs by hand as a means of insect control instead of spraying, the hours right before sunset would be a good time to go out with an old pop bottle with a bit of vodka at the bottom to pick all of these guys off. The vodka ensures that they stay dead even when oxygen deprived (which these insects can actually tolerate for extended periods, which makes their control just that much more difficult).