Rumex acetosella

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Rumex acetosella
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Core eudicots
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Polygonaceae
Genus: Rumex
Species: R. acetosella
Binomial name
Rumex acetosella

Acetosella vulgaris (W.D.J. Koch) Fourr.

Rumex acetosella is a species of sorrel, bearing the common names sheep's sorrel, red sorrel, sour weed, and field sorrel. The plant and its subspecies are common perennial weeds. It has green arrowhead-shaped leaves and red-tinted deeply ridged stems, and it sprouts from an aggressive and spreading rhizome. The flowers emerge from a tall, upright stem. Female flowers are maroon in color.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The plant is native to Eurasia and according to Stace (1992) the British Isles, but it has been introduced to most of the rest of the northern hemisphere. It is commonly found in fields, grasslands, and woodlands. It favors moist soil, so it thrives in floodplains and near marshes. It is often one of the first species to take hold in disturbed areas, such as abandoned mining sites, especially if the soil is acidic. Livestock will graze on the plant, but it is not very nutritious and is toxic in large amounts because of oxalates. The American Copper or Small Copper butterfly also depends on it for food.


A perennial herb that has a slender and reddish upright stem that is branched at the top, reaching a height of 18 inches (0.5 meters). The arrow-shaped leaves are small, slightly longer than 1 inch (3 cm), and smooth with a pair of horizontal lobes at the base. It blooms during March to November, when yellowish-green (male) or reddish (female) flowers develop on separate plants at the apex of the stem, which develop into the red fruits (achenes).

Rumex acetosella is widely considered to be a hard-to-control noxious weed due to its spreading rhizome. Blueberry farmers are familiar with the weed because it thrives in the same conditions under which blueberries are cultivated. It is commonly considered by farmers as a liming indicator plant.

Culinary uses[edit]

There are several uses of sheep sorrel in the preparation of food including a garnish, a tart flavoring agent, a salad green, and a curdling agent for cheese. The leaves have a lemony, tangy or nicely tart flavor.

Revegetation in the Australian Alps[edit]

From the 1950s, the New South Wales Soil Conservation Service undertook an extensive rehabilitation program for the vegetation of the Carruthers PeakMount Twynam area, which was in dire need of growth after a century of grazing. The group utilized various methods that use bitumen, wire netting and bales of straw. However, none were greatly successful.[vague]. Sheep Sorrel was present in the bales of straw, and in fact helped to hold the soil for re-colonization by the native vegetation



  • C.A. Stace, (1992). New Flora of the British Isles. Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RP.
  • Rumex acetosella; Missouri Botanical Garden's
  • Weed of the Week - USDA Forest Service

External links[edit]