SHEEP'S SORREL

Rumex acetosella

Dock & Knotweed Family [Polygonaceae]

month8apr month8april month8may month8jun month8june month8jul month8july

status
statusZnative
flower
flower8green
inner
inner8yellow
morph
morph8actino
petals
petalsZ3
type
typeZclustered
type
typeZtieredwhorls
type
typeZspiked
stem
stem8round
stem
stem8ribbed
toxicity
toxicityZlowish
sex
sexZdioecious

19th July 2012, path, Watendlath, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
At 20cm it is shorter than Common Sorrel.


19th July 2012, path, Watendlath, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Slenderer than Common Sorrel.


19th July 2012, path, Watendlath, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Grows on heathy places, on bareish ground, avoiding lime, here on a main mountain path in a water-deflection ditch.


19th July 2012, path, Watendlath, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Not as branched as is Common Sorrel. Leaves not wrapped around stem as are those of Common Sorrel.


19th July 2012, path, Watendlath, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Flowers and fruits closer to stem than those of Common Sorrel.


19th July 2012, path, Watendlath, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Like Common Sorrel and French Sorrel, it is dioecious, having male and female flowers on separate plants. Here the flowers have six elongated creamy turning red anthers?, so it must be male.


19th July 2012, path, Watendlath, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Six creamy anthers? splaying out. Like Common Sorrel, there are three inner 'petals' (actually tepals) and three outer sepals, all green. Stems are ribbed.


19th July 2012, path, Watendlath, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD


19th July 2012, path, Watendlath, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Un-like Common Sorrel, the stem leaves never have auricles that wrap around the stem. Instead, leaves are stalked and are either linear with slight a slight lobe on each side or have a pronounced lobe on each side, either facing forwards, or outwards.


19th July 2012, path, Watendlath, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Basal leaves are either lanceolate or dart-shaped with winged stems.


19th July 2012, path, Watendlath, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Basal leaves mostly arrow-head shaped.


Not to be semantically confused with : Sheep-laurel or Sheepsbit [plants with similar names]

Easily mistaken for : many other Docks, which belong to the same Rumex Genus, until it is closely inspected.

Although many docks hybridize with each other, Sheep's Sorrel does not participate.

Two sub-species exist, all under the same common name, Sheep's Sorrel:

  • Sheep's Sorrel (Rumex acetosella subsp. acetosella) where a loose cover around the fruits (achenes) is easily rubbed off between finger and thumb. A variety of this sub-species exists calledRumex acetosella subsp. acetosella var. tenuifolius which grows in sand, is smaller and has only linear leaves.
  • Sheep's Sorrel (Rumex acetosella subsp. pyrenaicus) where the cover around the fruits (achenes) is NOT able to be rubbed off between finger and thumb.
Since the distribution of the above two sub-species is un-known, it is not known whether the above photos represent any of these two sub-species. Some similarities to : Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) but that has stem leaves with auricles that wrap around the stem, whereas the two lobes on Sheep's Sorrel just stick out sideways never getting near the ste main stem. See photo captions for other identifying features.

Called Sheep's Sorrel because it typically grows where sheep roam. It has a tough rhizome by which means it spreads, sometimes un-controllably. Since it cannot tolarate lime, infestations of Sheep's Sorrel on arable land are indicative of it needing lime.

It inhabits grassy places with some bare soil both in lowlands and on acidic heathland hills, but not usually at the summit of high mountains.

Like other Docks and Sorrels Common Sorrel has an acid taste due to the presence of poisonous Oxalic Acid, specifically the calcium salt, Calcium Oxalate, which forms extremely tiny needle-shaped and extremely sharp crystals called raphides, which, when consumed, cause mechanical damage to cells puncturing the membranes and allowing things out and foreign substances in. That said, like other Sorrels, the leaves are still used in salads (not many leaves are used in salads). It is only fatal when great quantities are consumed.

It also contains Tartaric Acid, which also imparts a tart taste to the leaves. An anthraquinone called Chrysophanol (aka Chrysophanic Acid) (1,8- dihydroxy-3-methyl-9,10-anthracenedione) is present and can be extracted as a yellow dye.


  Rumex acetosella  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Polygonaceae  

Distribution
 family8Dock & Knotweed family8Polygonaceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Rumex
Rumex
(Docks)

SHEEP'S SORREL

Rumex acetosella

Dock & Knotweed Family [Polygonaceae]