Ontario Weeds: Sheep sorrel

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Excerpt from Publication 505, Ontario Weeds, Order this publication

Table of Contents

  1. Name
  2. Other Names
  3. Family
  4. General Description
  5. Stems and Roots
  6. Leaves
  7. Flowers and Fruit
  8. Habitat
  9. Similar Species
  10. Related Links

Name: Sheep sorrel, Rumex acetosella L.,

Other Names: petite oseille, Field sorrel, Red sorrel, petite osielle des brebis, surette

Family: Buckwheat or Smartweed Family (Polygonaceae)

General Description: Perennial, reproducing by seed and by spreading horizontal roots. These produce whitish buds which grow into leafy above ground shoots and result in very dense patches. The plant may also grow as an annual: germinating from seed, flowering, producing a new crop of seed and dying, all in one growing season.

Photos and Pictures

Sheep sorrel.

Sheep sorrel.

Sheep sorrel. A. Horizontal root with 4 above ground shoots. B. Stem with inflorescence.
Sheep sorrel. A. Horizontal root with 4 above ground shoots. B. Stem with inflorescence.

Stems & Roots: Stems 10 - 60 cm (4 - 24 in.) high, slender, tough and wiry

Leaves: Leaves alternate (1 per node), variable in size and shape; lower leaves long-stalked, usually spade-shaped with a pair of slender lobes near the base of the blade, but occasionally very slender and without any lobes; middle leaves short-stalked and nearly always with a lateral lobe on each side; upper leaves stalkless and usually without lobes; leaf ocrea (a thin membranous sheath arising with the leafstalk) at each node of the stem, colourless or faintly greenish-yellow, quite ragged on older stems.

Flowers & Fruit: Flowers small, clustered in whorls in a branching inflorescence; plants unisexual so all flowers on one plant are either female (seed-producing) or male (pollen-producing); female flowers greenish, male flowers yellowish, the whole plant often with a reddish-green to brownish cast; seeds (tiny fruits) about 1.5 mm (1/16 in.) long, triangular or 3-sided in cross-section, smooth, shiny, and reddish-brown to golden-brown. Flowers from May to July.

Habitat: Sheep sorrel occurs throughout Ontario but is more common in the southern parts of the province in pastures, meadows, waste areas and roadsides, rarely persisting in cultivated fields. It is common in sandy and gravelly soils, especially in areas which are so low in fertility that they do not adequately support other kinds of plants.

Similar Species: It is distinguished by its usually low stature, its spade-shaped leaf blades that usually have 1 or 2 slender lobes near the base of the blade, its membranous ocrea surrounding the stem just above each leaf, its inflorescence of two types - one producing seed and the other producing only pollen - and its frequently reddish or brownish colour.

Related Links

... on general Weed topics
... on weed identification, order OMAFRA Publication 505: Ontario Weeds
... on weed control, order OMAFRA Publication 75: Guide To Weed Control

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