Docks & Sorrels

Common Sorrel Clustered Dock Golden Dock Common Sorrel

What are they?

Docks are not the most interesting of plants to most people, being often associated with gardens and allotments, where they can become deep-rooted and pernicious weeds. They are related to the knotgrasses and knotweeds and have a similar feature in the sheath-like bases to the leaves that wrap around the stems and are known as an Ocrea.

Most species have relatively large, basal leaves that are often first learned as a source of relief if rubbed onto nettle stings. In most species, the flowers are small and petalless but very numerous and are borne - often in clustered whorls - in a many-branched head, carried well above the main leaves. Sorrels are really just small species of dock and there is no clear, botanical difference between them. Sorrels do tend to have their flowers less clustered or whorled and often carried singly along the branches of the flower spikes.

Where are they found?

There seems to be a dock or sorrel for almost all occasions and the habitat can actually be a useful guide to identification. A number of species are found in wetlands - both coastal and along rivers and other weater courses - while others are generalists, being found on roadsides, disturbed ground and urban areas. Others are woodland plants, or plants of grassy plants, including lawns.

Identification

Telling the docks and sorrels apart is not too difficult for most species, but there are some tricky species, such as telling Golden and Marsh Docks apart. Identification is largely based upon the shape of the seed capsules, especially details of any swollen bumps (tubercles) or spiky extensions that they may have. Also helpful is the habitat, the shape of the base of the leaf and the overall shape of the flowering or fruiting spike.



Sheep's Sorrel      Rumex acetosella

Native. A common species of light, acidic soils, being most frequent in Breckland and in coastal sand areas, where it can form extensive colonies of red flowers and seed capsules in short grass on roadsides, lawns and heaths. Flowers late April to September but mostly spring/early summer. The flowers form masses of red or orange in short turf and can barely be missed when in season. Leaves small, to 4cms in length, with two basal lobes that typically point outwards and away from each other.

Sheep's Sorrel Sheep's Sorrel Sheep's Sorrel Sheep's Sorrel
Habit
Flowers
Flowers
Leaf


Common Sorrel      Rumex acetosa

Native. A widespread species, being least common on dry, sandy soils. Typically a plant of undisturbed, old grasslands and often a feature of churchyards and protected roadside verges. Flowers May to June. Typically grows in longer grass than Sheep's Sorrel, with the branched flower spikes growing to 50cm in height (exceptionally to nearly a metre in long grass). Leaves dock-like, but with two basal lobes that typically point backwards or converge on each other.

Common Sorrel Common Sorrel Common Sorrel Common Sorrel
Flower spike
Leaves
Seed capsules
Seed capsules


Rugose Sorrel      Rumex acetosa ssp. ambiguus

Introduced from mainland Europe and occasonally grown as a salad vegetable. Occasionally found as a garden throw-out and sometimes persisting, such as near the Customs House at Felixstowe Docks. Flowers May to June. Forms larger, basal rosettes of leaves than those of Common Sorrel, while the flower spikes often seem to produce little or no ripe seed.

Rugose Sorrel Rugose Sorrel Rugose Sorrel Rugose Sorrel
Habit
Flowers
Leaves
Leaf


Curled Dock      Rumex crispus

Native. Common and often abundant on all types of soil, especially Nitrogen-rich sites such as long roadsides, around farm buildings and arable corners and all kinds of disturbed and waste places in urban areas. Flowers June to October. Usually easily recognised by the curly or waved margins to the relatively narrow leaves. Seed capsules are smooth-edged without spike-like projections and are broadly heart-shaped; each capsule typically has only one tubercle fully developed and swollen.

Curled Dock Curled Dock Curled Dock Curled Dock
Habit
Flowers
Leaves
Seed capsules


Beach Curled Dock      Rumex crispus ssp. littoreus

Native. Common on coastal sands and shingle. Flowers May to July. A coastal-adapted form of Curled Dock which can be recognised by its particularly narrow, slightly fleshy leaves and its seed capsules that typically have three swollen tubercles.

Curled Dock
Habit


Broad-leaved Dock      Rumex obtusifolius

Native. An abundant species, found on all kinds of soils throughout the region and most common where soils have been enriched by farming or cultivation. Flowers May to October. May grow to 2m in height but often much less - especially where growing on rough grassland that may be cut from time to time, such as tracksides and road verges. The broad, shiny leaves have heart-shaped bases and the roughly triangular seed capsules have short, spiky projections.

Broad-leaved Dock Broad-leaved Dock Broad-leaved Dock Broad-leaved Dock
Habit
Flowers
Leaf
Seed capsules


Clustered Dock      Rumex conglomeratus

A native plant, most often found in wet places along river valleys and around ponds and likes, but also along roadsides in damp ditches and culverts. Flowers June to October. A more delicate species than Curled or Broad-leaved Dock with a much-branched flower spike that has slender arms that bear small, leaf-like bracts between the flower whorls. Seed capsules are small and narrow, each bearing three, well-developed tubercles.

Clustered Dock Clustered Dock Clustered Dock Clustered Dock
Habit
Flower spike
Leaf
Seed capsules


Wood Dock      Rumex sanguineus

A native of shady places, usually on heavier soils that are prone to being damp through the winter. Flowers June to August. A more delicate species than Curled or Broad-leaved Dock and similar to Wood Dock. The much-branched flower spike has slender arms that do not have leaf-like bracts between the flower whorls. Seed capsules are small and narrow, each bearing just one well-developed tubercle.

Wood Dock Wood Dock Wood Dock Wood Dock
Habit
Flowers
Leaf
Seed capsules


Water Dock      Rumex hydrolapathum

Native. Mostly found on the edges of lakes, rivers and other permanently marshy places, typically where the substrate is muddy and nutrient-rich. Flowers July to September. An imposing plant that may grow to two metres in height with leaves often up to a metre in length. Leaves distinctly long-pointed and flowers carried on very stout flower spikes. The seed capsules are carried in dense clusters and are triangular like those of Broad-leaved Dock but do not have spiky projections on the margins.

Water Dock Water Dock Water Dock Water Dock
Habit
Flower spike
Leaves
Seed capsules


Marsh Dock      Rumex palustris

A native of wet ground on heavy soils with a rather scattered distribution, but most frequent in the Fens and towards the coast in the lower sections of the Broadland rivers. Flowers June to August. A fairly tall species, to a metre in height with a much-branched, spreading flower spike and narrow, willow-like leaves. Easily confused with Golden Dock and the two are often found growing together. Marsh Dock tends to turn rusty brown as the seed capsules ripen and the capsules have long but rather stiff projections and relatively large, swollen tubercles.

Marsh Dock Marsh Dock Marsh Dock Marsh Dock
Habit
Flowers
Leaves
Seed capsules


Golden Dock      Rumex maritimus

Native. Scattered throughout the region and largely uncommon and local, but can occur in good number at seasonally wet locations that dry out in summer. Typically found around the margins of damp hollows, shallow ponds and disturbed, muddy places such as beet factory ponds. Flowers June to September. Typically a rather short species, less than a metre in height with a much-branched, spreading flower spike and narrow, willow-like leaves. Easily confused with Marsh Dock and the two are often found growing together. Golden Dock tends to turn golden-brown as the seed capsules ripen and the capsules have very long, flexuous projections and relatively small, swollen tubercles.

Golden Dock Golden Dock Golden Dock Golden Dock
Habit
Flowers
Seed capsules
Seed capsule


Fiddle Dock      Rumex maritimus

Native but uncommon and declining. Mostly now confined to undisturbed grasslands in churchyards, village greens and commons. Flowers June to July. One of our most distinctive docks, this species gets its English name from the shape of the leaves, which have a distinct indent at the sides towards the base and thus bear a vague resemblance to the shape of a fiddle or violin. The flower spike is very distinct, being much branched, with leafy bracts among the flower whorls and often almost as broad as tall in overall shape.

Fiddle Dock Fiddle Dock Fiddle Dock Fiddle Dock
Habit
Flower spike
Leaf
Seed capsules


Hybrid Docks     

Hybrid docks of a wide range of combinations are reported from time to time, although they most often tend to be just single plants among colonies of the parents and are thus easily overlooked. Hybrid docks tend to be sterile, so they can be identified by a combination of leaf characters that appear not to wholly match any one species and by the seed capsules, which typically don't form properly and look deformed, with poorly developed tubercles.

Hybrid Docks Hybrid Docks
Broad-leaved x Clustered Dock
seed capsules
Broad-leaved x Clustered Dock
seed capsules