florida Early Detection Network


Sheep sorrel, field sorrel, red sorrel


Rumex acetosella L.


Knotweed family


Rumex acetosella



Close-up of Inflorescence




Synonyms: Acetosella acetosella (L.) Small, Acetosella tenuifolia (Wallr.) A. Löve, Acetosella vulgaris (Koch) Fourr., Rumex angiocarpus Murb., Rumex tenuifolius (Wallr.) A. Löve


Botanical Glossary

Rumex acetosella is a dioecious, herbaceous perennial with creeping rhizomes. This plant measures 10-40 cm (4-16 in.) in height and the roots can reach depths of 1.5 m (5 ft.). The stems of this plant are slender and reddish in color. The alternately arranged leaves have three lobes. The terminal lobe is narrowly lanceolate while the lateral lobes are much smaller and triangular in shape. The terminal lobe measures 2-12 mm (0.08-0.5 in.) in length. All the leaves have an ocrea at their base which is a thin, membranous sheath that surrounds the stem where the petiole meets it. The flowering stalks of these plants can be half as long as the plant. The flowers are nodding on short, jointed pedicels. The male flowers are yellowish in color and the obovate inner tepals measure 1.5-2 mm (0.06-0.08 in.) in size. The female flowers are reddish in color and the tepals are broadly ovate in shape. The flowers appear from late May to June. The shiny, golden brown achenes of this plant are 3-angled and measure around 1.5 mm (0.06 in.) in length. The plant fruits from June to October. Page References Fernald 571, Gleason & Cronquist 130, Holmgren 113, Magee & Ahles 431, Newcomb 402, Peterson & McKenny 310,380. See reference section below for full citations.


Rumex acetosa L. (Garden sorrel), Rumex acetosa is similar in appearance to R. acetosella, but it is a larger plant.


Rumex acetosella can reproduce both vegetatively as well as by seed. Vegetative spread is by means of creeping rhizomes. The seeds are dispersed by both wind and insects.


Rumex acetosella is native to most of Europe, Russia, the Middle East and North Africa. It is known to grow in alls of the United States.


It is not known exactly how this plant made its way to New England. It was listed as one of the "worst weeds" in 1889 by Halstel. In 1890, Rand mentioned the plant travels "in the footsteps of man" when he found it at the Rangely Lakes in Maine. It was mostly found near logging camps in the woods. Likely its seeds came over in the fur of livestock from England or by some other accidental means.


Abandoned Field, Abandoned Gravel Pit, Agricultural Field, Edge, Open Disturbed Area, Pasture, Railroad Right-of-Way, Roadside, Utility Right-of-Way, Vacant Lot, Yard or Garden. This plant prefers areas with very poor, acid soil with low nitrogen. It does not grow well in calcareous soils.


Rumex acetosella has been named a noxious weed in at least 23 states. Its roots can get down 1.5 m (5 ft.), making it difficult to remove. In New England, this plant is not a threat when it is found in heavily disturbed areas such as people's lawns, roadsides and waste areas. However, it can threaten agricultural fields, and if it were to get into a natural area, could form a monoculture that would threaten native plant species. It has been seen on rock outcrops and rocky summits.


Plant Conservation Alliance Fact sheet including management information


Documentation required: Picture of plants in flower or fruit. Best time for documentation: Summer


Integrated Taxonomic Information System Taxonomic information

PLANTS Database General information and map

USDA Forest Service Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) Extensive information about the ecology of this plant

Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide Pictures and description of plant

Arizona Weeds Description of plant


Escarre, J., C. Houssard and J.D. Thompson. 1994. An experimental-study of the role of seedling density and neighbor relatedness in the persistence of Rumex acetosella in an old-field succession. Canadian Journal of Botany-Revue Canadienne De Botanique 72 (9): 1273-1281.

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's Manual of Botany 8th edition. American Book Company, New York.

Gleason, H. A. 1952. The New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York

Gleason, H.A. and A.C. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 2nd ed. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Halstel, B.D. 1889. Our Worst Weeds. Botanical Gazette 14(3): 69-71.

Holm, L.G., J.V. Pancho, J.P. Herberger and D.L. Plucknett. 1979. A Geographical Atlas of World Weeds. John Wiley and Sons, New York, USA.

Holmgren, N.H. 1998. Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Houssard, C. and J. Escarre. 1995. Variation and covariation among life-history traits in Rumex acetosella from a successional old-field gradient. Oecologia 102 (1): 70-80.

Klimes, L. and J. Klimesova. 1999. Root sprouting in Rumex acetosella under different nutrient levels. Plant Ecology 141 (1-2): 33-39.

Magee, D.W and H.E. Ahles. 1999. Flora of the Northeast. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst.

Nijs, J.C. 1984. Biosystematic studies of the Rumex acetosella complex: (Polygonaceae) 8. A taxonomic revision. Feddes Repertorium 25: 43-66.

Newcomb, N. 1977. Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. Little Brown, Boston.

Peterson, R.T. and M. McKenny. 1968. A field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-central North America. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

Rand, E.L. 1890. Some Further Notes on the Flora of the Rangeley Lakes. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 17(2): 32-34.

USDA, NRCS. 2001. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.1. (http://plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.