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Its typical five-fingered leaves and – in early spring – five-petalled yellow flowers are borne on low-lying stems. As its common name implies, in most of its range it is one of the first cinquefoils to bloom.
It can grow in dry, marginal habitat, such as roadsides, dry meadows and even talus. Thus it can be used for rock gardens, providing bright bunches of yellow when few other plants are blooming.