Cinquefoil, or Potentilla flowers, make the perfect addition to any garden landscape or bouquet. But, when grown or gifted with their rich history and specific symbolic meaning of hope, honor, and courage, in mind, Potentilla flowers become all the more special. I’ll walk you through the Potentilla flower’s meaning and symbolism in this guide.
The common name Cinquefoil comes from the old French term cinqfoil, which translates to five (“cinq”) leaf (“foil”). The name refers to the many plants in the Potentilla genus that feature an arrangement of five leaves in a fan shape.
The genus name, Potentilla, on the other hand, comes from the Latin word potentia, which translates to “power” or “potent.” The name refers to the belief that Cinquefoil was a powerful herbal remedy for many illnesses.
Potentilla and the Victorian Flower Language
Potentilla had several uses over the centuries, namely as a medicinal herb in the Meditteranean. By the Victorian era, however, the flowers received more attention as a decorative plant.
After cultivation and careful breeding, various colors of Cinquefoil sprung up, giving people more variety than just the classic yellow or gold. During this time though, and according to the classic Victorian Language of the Flowers, Cinquefoil earned the meaning of ‘beloved daughter’.
These flowers were often gifted from parents to their daughters to celebrate birthdays, engagements, and other significant events in Victorian life. The variety of flower colors available today makes it easy to represent multiple daughters in one family with Potentilla.
Potentilla Meaning and Use in Ancient Rome
The Ancient Romans and Greeks recorded and described the many varieties of Potentilla flowers as having medicinal uses. These records state that the plant could cure impotence, flatulence, skin conditions, mental conditions, and much more.
It was considered so powerful that its name Potentilla was coined to communicate its potency.
Because of this, Potentilla become a symbol of health.
While modern medical trials don’t bear out these claims, their meaning as a symbol of healing and curing remains.
European Heraldry, Magic and Cinquefoil
The symbolism of Cinquefoil eventually became influential in the symbolic language of heraldry. This visual language was used on banners, shields, and official seals to identify a specific kingdom or family. As a part of the heraldry tradition of medieval Europe, the Cinquefoil blossom represented courage, power, honor, and loyalty to one’s family.
These flowers also carried a meaning of good luck and victory in battle when carried as a small bundle of fresh blooms. The Cinquefoil varieties of the Potentilla genus grew across Europe, so it was a common herb for both commoners and royalty to encounter daily.
Religious Symbolism of Potentilla Flowers
One common name for Potentilla is the Rose of Venus. This mysterious connection comes from the fact that the planet Venus makes a shape as it passes through the night sky that appears like a five-petaled flower, not unlike the Potentilla bloom.
As a symbol of maternal love and devotion, this five-petaled design appeared in churches and cathedrals across Europe built during the early Medieval period. This linked the Potentilla flower to Christian mystic religious practices in many traditions.
It’s also found as a decoration in some illuminated manuscripts, especially in those discussing the Virgin Mary.
The Common Colors of Potentilla and Their Meaning
While many species in the Potentilla genus feature yellow flowers, you can find various colored varieties due to selective breeding. The flower’s color affects its meaning and its use in the landscape. Potentillas are available in:
- White: Sympathy, recovery from grief, healing, purity, innocence, and devoted love.
- Yellow: Power, energy, happiness, excitement, cheerfulness, recovery, and birth.
- Gold: Celebration, growth, new opportunities, wealth, prosperity, and devotion.
- Orange: Energy, joy, fun, friendship, excitement, enthusiasm, and new beginnings.
- Red: Passion, intensity, romantic love, courage, and wealth.
- Pink: Budding feelings, gentleness, friendship, support, happiness, and growth.
Suitable Gifting Occasions
Potted Potentilla shrubs are an excellent choice for encouraging someone embarking on a new start, such as finding a new career, going back to school, or buying a new home.
Cut Pink Potentilla is perfect for celebrating the birth of a baby girl, encouraging your friends to overcome a challenge, or celebrating joy.
Orange and yellow varieties convey good luck and cheerfulness as well.
Try gifting a bouquet of white Potentilla flowers to celebrate an engagement or to send support to a beloved daughter.
The Final Word
With cheerful star-shaped flowers that carry a world of meaning within their petals, Potentilla is a genus full of inspiration that is rich with symbolism. Try working a few Cinquefoil blossoms into your next landscaping design or a meaningful arrangement.
Further reading: Ultimate Guide to Floriography
Jade is a writer, editor, and photographer with a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations. She writes, edits, and photographs for several online publications in the gardening and lifestyle sphere. In her spare time, she reads and nurtures her urban garden and evergrowing houseplant collection.