Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Rumex acetosella
(sheep's sorrel)



Rumex acetosella (sheep's sorrel)


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Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); habit.
CaptionSheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); habit.
Copyright©David R. Clements
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); habit.
HabitSheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); habit.©David R. Clements
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); rosette.
CaptionSheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); rosette.
Copyright©David R. Clements
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); rosette.
RosetteSheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); rosette.©David R. Clements
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); leaves.
CaptionSheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); leaves.
Copyright©David R. Clements
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); leaves.
LeavesSheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); leaves.©David R. Clements
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); inflorescence.
CaptionSheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); inflorescence.
Copyright©David R. Clements
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); inflorescence.
InflorescenceSheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); inflorescence.©David R. Clements
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); close-up of florets.
CaptionSheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); close-up of florets.
Copyright©David R. Clements
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); close-up of florets.
FloretsSheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); close-up of florets.©David R. Clements
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); seeds.
CaptionSheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); seeds.
Copyright©David R. Clements
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); seeds.
SeedsSheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella); seeds.©David R. Clements


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Rumex acetosella L.

Preferred Common Name

  • sheep's sorrel

Other Scientific Names

  • Acetosa acetosella (L.) Mill.
  • Acetosa acetosella (L.) Small
  • Acetosa hastata Moench
  • Acetosella tenuifolia (Wallr.) A.Löve
  • Acetosella vulgaris (Koch) Fourr
  • Rumex angiocarpous Murb.
  • Rumex tenuifolius (Wallr.) A.Löve

International Common Names

  • English: common sheep sorrel; cow sorrel; field sorrel; horse sorrel; mountain sorrel; sheep sorrel; small sorrel; sorrel; sour weed
  • Spanish: acedera; acedera menor; cizaña; hierba de cristo; hierba roja; lengua de vaca; pactilla; romacilla; romacilla aceitosa; vinagrerita; vinagrillo
  • French: oseille; oseille de brebis; oseille sauvage; oseillette; patience petite-oseille; petite oseille; rumex petite oseille; sûrette; vinette sauvage
  • Chinese: xiao suan mo
  • Portuguese: azedinha; erva-azeda

Local Common Names

  • Argentina: vinagrita
  • Australia: common sorrel
  • Brazil: azeda-de-ovelha; azeda-miúda; azedinha-aleluia
  • Colombia: barrabacillo; lenguilla; sangre de toro
  • Germany: Kleiner Ampfer; Kleiner Sauerampfer; Kleiner Wiesensauerampfer
  • Italy: acetosa minore; acetosa piccola; acetosella; romice acetosella
  • Japan: himesuiba
  • Netherlands: zuring, schape-
  • Sweden: bergsyra
  • Turkey: kuzu kulagi
  • USA: red sorrel

EPPO code

  • RUMAA (Rumex acetosella)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Holm et al. (1997) listed Rumex acetosella as one of the world’s worst weeds, infesting 45 different crops in 70 countries. In 1891, the government of New South Wales pronounced R. acetosella to be one of the worst weeds introduced into Australia (Holm et al., 1997). Although R. acetosella is not shade tolerant, it still may be competitive in forage situations where grazing opens up the canopy (Leege et al., 1981). Its ability to recover quickly from grazing or clipping impacts also aids in its persistence in grassland and pasture habitats (Val and Crawley, 2004). Another aspect increasing the invasiveness of R. acetosella is its relatively large seedbank (Frankton and Mulligan, 1987).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Polygonales
  •                         Family: Polygonaceae
  •                             Genus: Rumex
  •                                 Species: Rumex acetosella

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The derivation of "Rumex" is either the classical Latin name for sorrel, "rumo" meaning to suck, in reference to the practice of sucking the leaves to relieve thirst (Mosyakin, 2005), or from Pliny’s name for sorrel (Gledhill, 2002). The common name "sorrel" is from the old French "surelle", or "sorele", from the diminutive "sur" meaning sour or acid, as in "little acid plant" (Grigson, 1974) and "acetosella" is from the Latin for "slightly acid" (Gledhill, 2002).

Efforts have been made to identify various subspecies based on morphology and ploidy (Mosyakin, 2005). Four subspecies were recognised by den Nijs (1984)acetosella; pyrenaicus (Pourret ex Lapeyrouse) Akeroid [= angiocarpous (Murb.) emend. den Nijs]; multifidus (L.) Arc.; and acetoselloides (Bal.) den Nijs. To separate these subspecies, den Nijs (1984) employed morphological characteristics of angio- versus gymnocarpy and multifidity (the dissection of the basal leaf lobes), with the subsp. acetosella being gymnocarpous and nonmultified, pyrenaicus angiocarpous and non-multified, multifidus angiocarpous and multified, and acetoselloides gymnocarpous and multified (den Nijs, 1984).

Löve (1944) referred to Acetosella as a subgenus rather than a species, encompassing four species based on ploidy, within the R. acetosella complex. Löve (1983) revised this classification somewhat suggesting that Acetosella should be recognized as a genus including: Acetosella vulgaris (Koch) Fourr. (2n=42) with subsp. vulgaris being gymnocarpus and subsp. pyrenaica (Pourret) À.Löve being angiocarpous; A. multifida (L.) À.Löve (2n=28) being mainly gymnocarpous; A. graminifolia (Rudolph) À.Löve (2n=56); and A. angiocarpa (Murbeck) À.Löve (2n=14) appearing as both angiocarpous and gymnocarpous depending on geographic location. Although the distributions of subspecies are largely unknown, it is likely that the angiocarpous non-multified R. acetosella subsp. pyrenaicus (Löve’s Acetosella vulgaris subsp. pyrenaicus) is the most common in North America, while the others occur but are relatively rare (Mosyakin, 2005). Korpelainen (1995) reported less genetic variation in North American populations of subsp. pyrenaicus (angiocarpous) than in European populations.


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R. acetosella is perennial, reproducing by both creeping roots and seed. It has relatively shallow, extensive slender roots. Early growth is as basal rosettes of leaves. Leaves are 1-8 cm long, smooth, variable in shape but primarily consisting of three lobes, primary lobe is linear to egg-shaped terminating in a point; two secondary lobes appear at the base of the primary lobe and point outwards giving an arrowhead-shape appearance to the leaves which are sour in taste. It has long basal leaf stalks and short-stalked to sessile leaves on the upper stem; a membranous sheath (modified stipules) surrounds the stem above the leaf base. Multiple stems can appear from a single crown growing upright, 15-40 cm in height, slender, branching near the top to form a loose leafless panicle. Flowers are unisexual with male and female appearing on separate plants (dioecious). Males have six stamens on short filaments, females have three styles with branched stellate stigma. Flowers consist of three inner and three outer tepals, appearing red to yellowish, borne on raceme near the top of the stem. Flower stalks are jointed close to the flower. Seeds are three sided (achenes), ca. 1.5 mm in length, shiny reddish brown in colour. A reddish brown hull often adheres to the seed and is rough in texture (Buchholtz et al., 1954; Hitchcock and Cronquist, 1981; Gleason and Cronquist, 1991; Pojar and MacKinnon, 1994; Douglas et al., 1999).

Plant Type

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Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated


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R. acetosella is native to Europe and southwestern Asia but has been introduced and spread throughout many regions of the world. R. acetosella is reported from 70 countries, including most agricultural areas except for equatorial regions of South America and Africa (Holm et al., 1997).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Last updated: 17 Feb 2021
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes


Saint HelenaPresentIntroduced
South AfricaPresentIntroduced


French Southern TerritoriesPresent
South Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsPresentIntroduced


ChinaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Inner MongoliaPresentNative
IndiaPresentNativeNot native throughout India
IndonesiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
North KoreaPresentNative
South KoreaPresentNative
Sri LankaPresentIntroducedInvasive


Bosnia and HerzegovinaPresentNative
Faroe IslandsPresent
North MacedoniaPresentNative
RussiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Central RussiaPresentNative
-Eastern SiberiaPresentNative
-Northern RussiaPresentNative
-Russian Far EastPresentNative
-Southern RussiaPresentNative
-Western SiberiaPresentNative
Svalbard and Jan MayenPresentNative
United KingdomPresentNative

North America

CanadaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-British ColumbiaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-New BrunswickPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Newfoundland and LabradorPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Nova ScotiaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-OntarioPresentIntroducedInvasiveFirst reported: 1820s
-Prince Edward IslandPresentIntroducedInvasive
-QuebecPresentIntroducedInvasiveFirst reported: 1820s
Costa RicaPresentIntroduced
Dominican RepublicPresent
El SalvadorPresentIntroduced
Saint Pierre and MiquelonPresentIntroducedInvasiveFirst reported: 1816-1819
United StatesPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-CaliforniaPresentIntroducedInvasiveFirst reported: 1820s
-ConnecticutPresentIntroducedInvasiveFirst reported: 1700s
-District of ColumbiaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-New HampshirePresentIntroducedInvasive
-New JerseyPresentIntroducedInvasive
-New MexicoPresentIntroducedInvasive
-New YorkPresentIntroducedInvasive
-North CarolinaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-North DakotaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Rhode IslandPresentIntroducedInvasive
-South CarolinaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-South DakotaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-West VirginiaPresentIntroducedInvasive


-New South WalesPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Northern TerritoryPresentIntroducedInvasive
-South AustraliaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroducedInvasive
French PolynesiaPresentIntroducedInvasive
New ZealandPresentIntroduced1867Invasive

South America

-Easter IslandPresentIntroduced
Falkland IslandsPresentIntroduced

History of Introduction and Spread

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R. acetosella is widely distributed globally, having become naturalized in many regions and found in every continent, even Antarctica (Holm et al., 1997; Mosyakin, 2005). It was probably introduced to North America as an agricultural contaminant or a medicinal herb at multiple times during the European settlement. European "wild sorrel" was reported by Josselyn (1672) in New England, and pollen records from Linsley Pond, Connecticut, indicate early establishment of European Rumex spp. around 1700 in association with the establishment of European farming operations (McAndrews, 1988). The introduction of R. acetosella to the west coast of the USA is likely to have been linked to the Mexican settlement of California and the development of cattle ranches, with first occurrences noted in pollen records from the 1820s (Mudie and Byrne, 1980). A. Holm collected and observed R. acetosella as common around Montreal in 1821, marking the first Canadian records (Rousseau, 1968). Other early Canadian evidence of R. acetosella comes from the Crawford Lake, Ontario with pollen record of with R. acetosella first appearing in the 1820s in association with the historical settlement of the area from 1822 to 1864 (McAndrews, 1988).


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Canada Europe 1820-1850 Crop production (pathway cause) Yes No McAndews (1988); Rousseau (1968)
USA Europe 1650-1700 Crop production (pathway cause) Yes No Josselyn (1672); McAndews (1988)

Risk of Introduction

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Due to its broad range of environmental tolerances and large seedbank, there is a risk that R. acetosella could become established in new areas following introduction as a seed contaminant.


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R. acetosella is common in grasslands, pastures, rangelands, waste areas, forest clear cuts and along roadsides (Fowler, 1981; Leege et al., 1981; Alex, 1992; Anon., 2002), where it successfully competes under poor soil conditions, but its impact is reduced on good soils (Fitzsimmons and Burrill, 1993) and in cultivated fields (Alex, 1992). Stopps et al. (2011) list a number of plant communities that play host to R. acetosella in Canada including Douglas-fir forests, cedar-hemlock forests, Garry oak ecosystems, white spruce communities, jack pine communities, hardwood forests, cereal crops and lowbush blueberry fields. R. acetosella colonizes acidic tussock grasslands in New Zealand (Harris, 1970b). In the Pacific Islands, R. acetosella is primarily seen as an invasion risk at high elevations (PIER, 2013).

Habitat List

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Terrestrial ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedManaged forests, plantations and orchards Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedManaged grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedIndustrial / intensive livestock production systems Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Principal habitat Natural
Terrestrial ManagedRail / roadsides Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedUrban / peri-urban areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural grasslands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural grasslands Principal habitat Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalCold lands / tundra Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalScrub / shrublands Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
LittoralCoastal areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)

Hosts/Species Affected

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R. acetosella has been listed among the world’s worst weeds, infesting 45 different crops in 70 countries (Holm et al., 1997). It is a serious pest of lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) in Eastern Canada  (McCully et al., 1991; Stopps et al., 2011). R. acetosella impacts blueberry yield via reduced floral bud numbers that result in considerably lower yields (Kennedy et al., 2010).

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContextReferences
Hordeum (barleys)PoaceaeOther
    Poaceae (grasses)PoaceaeWild host
      Trifolium (clovers)FabaceaeMain
        Vaccinium angustifolium (Lowbush blueberry)EricaceaeMain

          Growth Stages

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          Flowering stage, Fruiting stage, Vegetative growing stage

          Biology and Ecology

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          R. acetosellacan be diploid, tetraploid, hexaploid or octoploid with chromosome numbers of 2n=14, 28, 42, 56 (Löve, 1944; Mulligan, 1959; Harris, 1969; Gleason and Cronquist, 1991). R. acetosella populations in North America are hexaploid with 2n=42 (Farris and Schaal, 1983), while European and Asian populations are primarily hexaploid, with some being diploid (2n=14), tetraploid (2n=28), or octoploid (2n=56) (Löve, 1944; Mulligan, 1959; Harris,1969).

          R. acetosella is highly variable, encompassing a large number of genotypes with relatively specific ecological tolerances (Korpelainen, 1992a) likely determined by geographic origin (Korpelainen, 1993). High levels of phenotypic plasticity have also been observed in R. acetosella (Farris and Schaal, 1983; Houssard and Escarré, 1995), which may decline in long-term stable populations (Escarré et al., 1985).

          Reproductive Biology

          R. acetosella is primarily dioecious (Proctor et al., 1996) with andromonoecious intersexes occurring occasionally (Singh and Smith, 1971). Sex determination in R. acetosella and its subspecies is characterized by an XY sex mechanism that utilizes a strong male determinant in the Y-chromosome (Löve, 1983). Löve (1983) reported that the strong X-suppressant features of the Y-chromosome allow these polyploids to remain dioecious up to at least the dodecaploid level in experimental material. Sexual dimorphism in R. acetosella with respect to various morphological features is likely due to the higher reproductive effort in females (Fujitaka and Sakai, 2007).

          R. acetosella is wind pollinated (Houssard and Escarré, 1991). Friedman and Barrett (2009) reported that pollen limitation was rare. Seeds are usually produced by allogamy but Löve (1944) reported that pseudogamy may occur in some hexaploids, and agamospermy may occur in some diploids. 

          Female plants produce one three-sided seed (achene) per flower with seed production ranging from 124 to 247 seeds per flowering shoot in lowbush blueberry fields in Nova Scotia, Canada (Kennedy, 2009). Stevens (1932) observed 250 seeds per stem in Pennsylvania, USA; and as many as 1622 seeds per ramet were observed in France (Escarré and Thompson, 1991). Seed weight per 1000 seeds varies from 0.450 g to 0.525 g depending on location (Stevens, 1932). Escarré and Thompson (1991) observed a decrease in mean weight of filled seeds as ecological succession progressed at a site in France, involving genetically-based differences in resource allocation among different populations of R. acetosella.

          Pakeman and Marshall (1997) reported that seeds of R. acetosella persisted in the seed bank of British heathlands; Granström (1987) observed viable seed buried for at least 5 years under coniferous forests in Sweden. Livingston and Allessio (1968) observed germination by R. acetosella seeds taken from soil of 80-year-old stands of eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) even though R. acetosella had never been observed in the ground cover.

          Optimal germination of R. acetosella occurred between 17.5 and 30ºC in Belgium (Assche et al., 2002). Seed germination appears to be inhibited by plant canopies (Harris, 1972). Putwain and Harper (1970) reported increased seedling populations upon removal of associated grass and broadleaf vegetation. Seedling emergence tends to occur throughout the spring, summer, and autumn in lowbush blueberry fields in Nova Scotia, with high seedling mortality (SN White, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada, unpublished results).

          In investigations into the effects of fire, exposure to temperatures over 70ºC greatly reduced seed viability, with pre-wetted seeds showing greater sensitivity (Granström and Shimmel, 1993). Immersion in concentrated sulfuric acid for 2-10 min stimulates germination (Andersen, 1968).

          R. acetosella reproduces vegetatively via adventitious root buds arising from creeping roots (Kiltz, 1930; Escarré et al., 1994; Klimeš et al., 1997). R. acetosella is classified as “root sprouting” and not stoloniferous or rhizomatous because the buds arise directly from horizontal roots (Klimeš and Klimešová, 1999; Klimešová and Martínková, 2004). These buds develop into aerial shoots, i.e., true stems with scale-like leaves below the surface of the soil (Kiltz, 1930). Colonization by seed produces populations of individuals that may persist via vegetative propagation for at least 15-20 years (Escarré et al., 1994).

          Physiology and Phenology

          Production of root buds from horizontal creeping roots in autumn allows R. acetosella to overwinter under harsh conditions (Hoeg and Burgess, 2000). The base temperature for ramet emergence from creeping roots in Nova Scotia, Canada is approximately 5ºC, and optimal temperatures for ramet emergence range from 20 to 25ºC (SN White, unpublished results). Ramets fail to emerge at 40ºC or higher (SN White, unpublished results). In spring, root buds sprout to produce new basal rosette growth. In areas with mild winters such as southern British Columbia, Canada, the species is known to grow continuously through the winter (Anon., 2009).

          Leaf size and shape remain constant under drought stress (Farris, 1983). Under dry conditions (c. 10% soil moisture), the photosynthetic rate declined to 10 mg CO2/g dry weight and leaf conductance declined to 0.05 cm/s; optimal rates at 40% soil moisture were 30 mg CO2/g dry weight and 0.15 cm/s, respectively (Zimmerman and Lechowicz, 1982). Supraoptimal soil moisture levels (e.g., 60%) decrease photosynthetic rate and conductance (Zimmerman and Lechowicz, 1982). Houssard et al. (1992) reported a differential response to moisture stress in male and female plants collected from 2- and 15-year-old successional sites. Males from both sites had reduced transpiration and water consumption rates under drought conditions. Females from the 2-year-old site responded similarly to water stress, but females from the 15-year-old site maintained high rates of transpiration and water consumption.

          In greenhouse studies, Harris (1972) found photosynthates were transported among ramets of R. acetosella but not mineral nutrients. Similarly, Klimeš and Klimešová (1999) observed that ramets grown in a nutrient-rich soil failed to transport nutrients to connected ramets grown in nutrient deficient soil. Leaf tissues of R. acetosella contain large amounts of oxalic acid, but produce exudates with only moderate levels of oxalates (Tyler and Ström, 1995).

          In terms of phenology, germination occurs through a broad span of time, from February to October in British Columbia, Canada (Anon., 2009). In the same region, bolting, flowering, and seed production occur from May to September (Anon., 2009) and from May to July in Ontario (OMAFRA, 2009). Very few ramets of R. acetosella flower in the first year in cooler regions such as eastern Canada; flowering in these populations appears to be induced by vernalization (SN White, unpublished results). Plants produced from seed either bolt and produce flowers or remain vegetative in the first year (Harris, 1970a). Bolting and flowering of first-year as well as mature plants is thought to be induced by long photoperiods (Carlson, 1965; Harris, 1970a). R. acetosella ramets flower in early June in lowbush blueberry fields in Nova Scotia (Kennedy, 2009). Esser (1995) provided a comprehensive listing of the flowering times of R. acetosella in various US states.


          Increased herbage yield of R. acetosella was obtained when nitrogen and potassium were applied separately, but not together (Harris, 1971) but other tests have recorded increased density (Kennedy et al., 2003) or increased panicles per plant or biomass (Fan and Harris, 1996) with higher NPK fertilizer concentrations (Kennedy et al., 2010). The species appears to exhibit a high demand for phosphorous (Fransson et al., 2003). With fertilizer application, Kennedy et al. (2011) observed a shift from away from allocation to vegetative growth towards more allocation to reproduction.

          Population Size and Structure

          R. acetosella tends to colonize disturbed sites as an early successional species, quickly colonizing disturbed sites and waste places. As succession progresses R. acetosella declines rapidly in abundance, particularly on good-quality soils (Fitzsimmons and Burrill, 1993). As populations age R. acetosella allocates relatively more resources to vegetative propagation; younger populations that invest a greater proportion of resources to aerial biomass production and flowering (Escarré et al., 1994). 

          In competitive situations, such as grass swards, R. acetosella populations may be maintained primarily by vegetative reproduction (Putwain et al., 1968). Putwain et al. (1968) observed that the number of vegetative shoots increased in the spring until flowering, and then declined through the remainder of the season. Removal of associated species within the sward resulted in a rapid increase of the mature R. acetosella population through vegetative reproduction (Putwain and Harper, 1970). In contrast, R. acetosella populations were not found to increase significantly following grass removal in lowbush blueberry fields in Nova Scotia (White, 2007). Ramet populations in lowbush blueberry seem to be regulated by a constant cycle of ramet emergence and mortality, but mortality of ramets tends to occur primarily in lateautumn (SN White, unpublished results).

          Female plants tend to produce more vegetative shoots than male plants, but mortality of female shoots is generally higher (Lovett Doust and Lovett Doust, 1987). This higher mortality can be compensated for somewhat by renewed vegetative reproduction after flowering (Lovett Doust and Lovett Doust, 1987).

          Female plants often suffer from reduced clonal growth following flowering, which can also result in male-biased sex ratios (Houssard et al., 1994). Korpelainen (1991) observed high variability in sex ratios of spatially segregated populations of R. acetosella, with some populations composed entirely of male or female plants. A male-biased sex ratio may be promoted under drought conditions because of greater tolerance of males to water stress (Houssard et al., 1992). Males also devote more resources to vegetative reproduction than females which by contrast allocate more energy into sexual reproduction growth in height (Fujitaka and Sakai, 2007). Males senesce earlier in the season than females (Putwain and Harper, 1972; Lovett Doust and Lovett Doust, 1987; Korpelainen, 1992b).


          R. acetosella is reported to be a non-mycorrhizal species (Wang and Qiu, 2006) in North America (Medve, 1984; Dhillion and Friese, 1994), South America (Fontenia et al., 1998), and Europe (Harley and Harley, 1987; Pawlowska et al., 1996). Eriksen et al.(2002) observed the presence of internal fungal hyphae without arbuscules or vesicles in R. acetosella roots from Norway.

          Environmental Requirements

          R. acetosella is a cosmopolitan species well adapted to a broad range of climate conditions including temperate, subtropical and polar regions. Altitude ranges from  sea level to 1800 m in Sri Lanka (Harris, 1969), with extensive stands occurring as high as 1100 m in New Zealand (Moore, 1953). In interior regions of Canada, R. acetosella is capable of surviving both the harsh cold winters and the relatively hot dry summers, although it tends to be more abundant in temperate coastal regions.  

          R. acetosella grows on a variety of soil types, thriving on silty loam (Zimmerman and Neuenschwander, 1984), sandy loam (Biswell, 1956; Wilson and Tilman, 1991), heavy clay soils (Moore, 1953) or gravelly soils (DeFerrari and Naiman, 1994) including acidic soils (Harris, 1969; Esser, 1995) but rarely on calcareous soils (IPANE, 2009) and is considered a calcifuge (Tyler and Ström, 1995). In acidic soils in Lithuania, 300-500 R. acetosella seeds per square metre were observed, whereas no seeds were found in limed soil (Ciuberkis et al., 2006). R. acetosella is more often associated with light soil texture and low soil fertility than low pH (Archer and Auld, 1982). R. acetosella grows on serpentine soils and on mine tailings and can persist with high nickel concentrations (Bagatto and Shorthouse, 1999; Wenzel et al., 2003).


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          As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
          Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
          BS - Steppe climate Tolerated > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
          Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
          Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
          Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)
          Df - Continental climate, wet all year Preferred Continental climate, wet all year (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, wet all year)
          Ds - Continental climate with dry summer Tolerated Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)
          Dw - Continental climate with dry winter Tolerated Continental climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry winters)
          ET - Tundra climate Tolerated Tundra climate (Average temp. of warmest month < 10°C and > 0°C)

          Soil Tolerances

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          Soil drainage

          • free
          • impeded

          Soil reaction

          • acid
          • alkaline
          • neutral

          Soil texture

          • heavy
          • light
          • medium

          Special soil tolerances

          • infertile
          • other
          • shallow

          Natural enemies

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          Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
          Aphis fabae Herbivore Leaves not specific
          Bonasa umbellus not specific
          Lagopus lagopus scoticus not specific
          Lycaena phlaeas Herbivore Leaves to species
          Macrosiphum euphorbiae Herbivore Leaves not specific
          Meloidogyne arenaria Parasite Roots not specific
          Meloidogyne incognita Parasite Roots not specific
          Tomato spotted wilt virus Pathogen Leaves not specific
          Tympanuchus cupido cupido Herbivore not specific
          Tympanuchus phasianellus campestris Herbivore not specific
          Xiphinema americanum Parasite Roots not specific
          Xiphinema rivesi Parasite Roots not specific

          Notes on Natural Enemies

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          Sheep, cattle and deer (Esser, 1995) graze leaves and shoots, but R. acetosella plants can recover fully, with the number of shoots potentially increasing following grazing (Leege et al., 1981). The plant is grazed by various grouse species in North America including the sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus campestris) the greater prairie chicken or pinnated grouse (Tympanuchus cupido cupido) and the ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) (Johnson, 1928; Schmidt, 1936; Brown, 1946; Treichler et al., 1946; Stafford and Dimmick, 1979). The red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) feeds on R. acetosella seeds in the UK (Schmidt, 1936).

          R. acetosella is host to over 30 lepidopteran species (Robinson et al., 2007) including the American copper (Lycaena phlaeas), one of the world’s most widespread temperate zone butterflies (León-Cortés et al., 2000). It is also host to at least 16 species of aphid, including the black bean aphid (Aphis fabae) and the potato aphid (Macrosiphum euphorbiae; Holman, 2009).

          Nematode species associated with R. acetosella include Xiphinema americanum and X. rivesi, in apple and peach orchards of Indiana, New York and Pennsylvania (Powell et al., 1984), and Meloidogyne arenaria and M. incognita, in tobacco crops of South Carolina (Tedford and Fortnum, 1988).

          R. acetosella hosts more than 40 fungal species (Farr et al., 2010). Many of these such as Cercospora spp., the cause of leaf spot (Farr et al., 2010), are pathogenic to agricultural crops. Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) has been detected on R. acetosella plants collected from commercial farms in southwestern British Columbia (Bitterlich and MacDonald, 1993). The Tomato ring spot virus (TmRSV), transmitted by nematodes, is associated with R. acetosella in apple and peach orchards of Indiana, New York, and Pennsylvania (Powell et al., 1984). Hughes (2012) found that the incidence of botrytis blight, a major disease in wild blueberry (caused by Botrytis cinerea) was increased in the presence of R. acetosella.

          Means of Movement and Dispersal

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          Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)

          The seeds of R. acetosella do not have any morphological structures to facilitate long-distance dispersal, and thus most seeds simply fall off the plant and disperse for short distances, assisted by wind or water (Houssard and Escarré, 1991).

          Vector Transmission (Biotic)

          Seeds are dispersed by insects (ants) (Houssard and Escarré, 1991) or through the digestive tract of domestic birds and animals (Anon., 2006).

          Accidental Introduction

          The plant may be transported on agricultural implements (Boyd and White, 2009) and occasionally as a contaminant in forage seed such as clover (Mudie and Byrne, 1980; McAndrews, 1988; Fitzsimmons and Burrill, 1993).

          Intentional Introduction

          There are no specifically reported cases of intentional introduction, although in former times it was occasionally introduced as a medicinal herb.

          Pathway Causes

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          CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
          Animal production Yes Leege et al. (1981)
          Crop productionOn agricultural machinery and as a seed contaminant Yes Yes Boyd and White (2009); Josselyn (1672); McAndews (1988); Rousseau (1968)
          Digestion and excretion Yes
          Disturbance Yes Putwain and Harper (1970)
          ForageAs a seed contaminant Yes Fitzsimmons and Burrill (1993)

          Pathway Vectors

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          VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
          Host and vector organismsTransport by ants Yes Houssard and Escarré (1991)
          Livestock Yes Leege et al. (1981)
          Water Yes Houssard and Escarré (1991)
          Wind Yes Houssard and Escarré (1991)

          Impact Summary

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          Economic/livelihood Negative
          Environment (generally) Negative

          Economic Impact

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          R. acetosella is known to infest 45 different crops in 70 countries (Holm et al., 1997). Despite the widespread presence of R. acetosella and other sources of notoriety such as the declaration in 1891 by the government of New South Wales of R. acetosella as the “worst weed ever introduced into Australia” (Holm et al., 1997), the economic damage by R. acetosella is not generally too great. Chief among its economic impacts are competition with forage crops, when conditions favour its growth (Harris, 1972; Leege et al. ,1981). Although R. acetosella is susceptible to shading, grazing can reduce competition and thus elevate the impact of R. acetosella on forage crops (Leege et al., 1981). Its ability to recover quickly from clipping also helps make it competitive (Val and Crawley, 2004). The presence of R. acetosella in clover can contaminate seeds because its seeds are similar (Fitzsimmons and Burrill, 1993). Large R. acetosella soil seed banks can also result in clover crop failure (Frankton and Mulligan, 1987).

          Environmental Impact

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          Impact on Habitats

          The greatest impacts on natural habitats by R. acetosella generally occur in the wake of disturbance by biomass removal or fire, whereby R. acetosella is capable of rapid colonization as an early successional species (Escarré et al., 1994). If disturbance over time is reduced, however, R. acetosella tends to decrease in response to competition (Fitzsimmons and Burrill, 1993).

          Impact on Biodiversity

          Habitats with high levels of plant diversity and relatively frequent disturbance, such as Garry oak ecosystems in western North America are vulnerable to invasion by R. acetosella (Anon., 2009).

          Social Impact

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          As a widespread garden weed, R. acetosella is encountered by many homeowners around the world, although it is relatively benign compared to other weed species.

          Risk and Impact Factors

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          • Proved invasive outside its native range
          • Has a broad native range
          • Abundant in its native range
          • Highly adaptable to different environments
          • Is a habitat generalist
          • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
          • Pioneering in disturbed areas
          • Fast growing
          • Has high reproductive potential
          • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
          • Reproduces asexually
          • Has high genetic variability
          Impact outcomes
          • Damaged ecosystem services
          • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
          • Modification of successional patterns
          • Negatively impacts agriculture
          • Negatively impacts animal health
          • Negatively impacts livelihoods
          • Reduced native biodiversity
          • Threat to/ loss of native species
          Impact mechanisms
          • Competition - monopolizing resources
          • Competition (unspecified)
          • Pest and disease transmission
          • Interaction with other invasive species
          • Rapid growth
          Likelihood of entry/control
          • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant


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          R. acetosella is well-liked as a green for salads in Europe and North America and has also been used in herbal medicines (Stopps et al., 2011).

          Uses List

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          • Research model

          Human food and beverage

          • Leaves (for beverage)
          • salad


          • Chemicals

          Medicinal, pharmaceutical

          • Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
          • Traditional/folklore

          Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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          Rumex acetosella may commonly be mistaken for R. acetosa L. (common or garden sorrel). R. acetosella and R. acetosa may have been used interchangeably or together in herbal medicines and foods (Pieroni, 2000), as both contain oxalic acid, conferring a sour taste and poisonous properties if consumed in large quantities (Cooper and Johnson, 1984). Rumex acetosa is distinguished by its larger size (up to 90 cm in height with leaves up to 10 cm in length) (Cooper and Johnston, 1984; Frankton and Mulligan, 1987), the presence of a distinct joint at the midpoint of the pedicel (Frankton and Mulligan, 1987), and the presence of valves that have expanded into broad reticulate wings surrounding the achenes (Gleason and Cronquist, 1991). 

          R. acetosella may also be mistaken for R. rugosus Campd. (syn: R. ambiguous Gren.) and R. thyrsiflorus Fingerh. (Frankton and Mulligan, 1987). Both R. rugosus and R. thyrsiflorus are similar to R. acetosa and can likewise be distinguished from R. acetosella on the basis of their large size and the presence of a distinct joint near the middle of the flower stalk (Frankton and Mulligan, 1987).

          Another similar species is Rumex hastatulus, which can be distinguished by the presence of broad expanded valves that form reticulate wings around the achenes (Gleason and Cronquist,1991). Leaves of R. hastatulus are often arrow-shaped, but they also appear entire (Gleason and Cronquist,1991), unlike those of R. acetosella. Rumex acetosa and R. hastatulus also differ from R. acetosella in chromosome number, with 2n=14 (females) or 15 (males) in R. acetosa, and 2n=26 (female) or 27 (male) in R. hastatulus (Gleason and Cronquist, 1991).

          Prevention and Control

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          Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.


          Cultural control and sanitary measures

          As R. acetosella prefers poor soils with low pH, liming to raise soil pH may inhibit its growth relative to other species (Clark and Fletcher, 1923; Juska, 1960; Fitzsimmons and Burrill, 1993; Anon., 2006). The application of lime and 2,4-D improved control of R. acetosella from 40.9% (2,4-D only) to 73.1% (2,4-D + lime) (Juska, 1960). Combining lime with nitrogen fertilizer is also recommended to shift competition in favou rof other species over R. acetosella (Clark and Fletcher, 1923; Fitzsimmons and Burrill, 1993). 

          Prescribed burning has been suggested for R. acetosella control, but it is unlikely to provide satisfactory control unless fires are extremely severe (Esser, 1995). Following burning of wild blueberry fields, a large increase of R. acetosella was observed (Penney et al., 2008), though subsequent burnings did reduce the occurrence of R. acetosella, likely due to destruction of seed in the seed bank. 

          Physical/mechanical control

          Attempts to eradicate R. acetosella through cultivation may be possible but creeping rootstalks and long-lived seeds may hinder such efforts. A 3- to 4-year rotation of crops with clean cultivation, followed by a grain and/or a cover crop, and finally a return to pasture or perennial crop is effective at reducing R. acetosella infestations (Clark and Fletcher, 1923; Fitzsimmons and Burrill ,1993). Infested areas should be cultivated at regular intervals allowing for some regrowth before re-cultivation to exhaust food reserves in root fragments (Fitzsimmons and Burrill, 1993). 

          Movement control

          As R. acetosella can be a contaminant in forage seed (Mudie and Byrne, 1980; McAndrews, 1988; Fitzsimmons and Burrill, 1993), it is imperative that measures are in place to prevent long-distance dispersal via that pathway. Boyd and White (2009) recommended reducing the movement of R. acetosella seeds in blueberry crops through harvesting by avoiding high density patches or adjusting harvest times, as well as cleaning of harvest equipment and other agricultural implements.

          Biological control

          Biological control has not been attempted for R. acetosella; neither have potential biological control agents been clearly identified (Stopps et al., 2011). 

          Chemical control

          R. acetosella is seldom completely controlled by 2,4-D (Juska, 1960; Harper, 1977; Burrill et al., 1990; Smith, 1995), but mixtures of 2,4-D with dicamba, dichlorprop, triclopyr or glyphosate can provide a high level of control (Lorenzi and Jeffery, 1987; Smith, 1995). Dicamba alone was shown to provide 85-100% control (Burrill et al., 1990; Smith, 1995). Other effective chemicals include paraquat (Burrill et al., 1990) or picloram (Harper, 1977). Hexazinone has been used in wild blueberry fields in eastern North America for more than 30 years (Li, 2013) and hexazinone-tolerant R. acetosella may be present in some areas (McCully et al., 2005). Li (2013) showed that hexazinone in combination with either rimsulfuron or nicosulfuron provided a good alternative to hexazinone alone. Other suggested candidates for chemical control of R. acetosella include mesotrione, sulfentrazone and atrazine (Hoeg and Burgess, 2000; Graham and Melanson, 2007).

          Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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          Much is known about the biology of R. acetosella, although some notable gaps still exist. For example, more could be done to understand the apparent lack of mycorrhizal associations. Much of its basic phenology or physiology in certain environments, such as blueberry fields is unknown (Kennedy et al., 2011). A lengthy list of herbivores and pathogens found on R. acetosella is available but the actual impacts of most of these species on growth and reproduction are largely unknown. A better understanding of its life history, especially with respect to seed banks could be helpful in developing management strategies. In areas where it is a serious pest, such as in blueberry crops in eastern North America (McCully et al., 1991; Boyd and White, 2009; Stopps et al., 2011), there is a need for extensive research into management. Considerable research is in fact being pursued in this region (SN White, personal communication), which may prove useful for management of R. acetosella in other world regions.


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          11/10/13 Original text by:

          David R Clements, Trinity Western University, 7600 Glover Road, Langley, British Columbia V2Y 1Y1, Canada

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