Rumex acetosella (Common Sheep Sorrel)

Plant Info
Also known as: Red Sorrel
Family:Polygonaceae (Buckwheat)
Life cycle:perennial
  • Weedy
Habitat:sun; dry disturbed soils; fields, roadsides, waste areas, railroads
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:4 to 16 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 3-petals Flower shape: 6-petals Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: panicle Cluster type: whorled

[photo of blooming flowers] Loose branching clusters at the top of the plant, each branch with several whorls of 5 to 8 slender-stalked flowers, with separate male and female flowers on the same or separate plants. Flowers are less than 1/8 inch long, green to yellow to red, with 2 series of tepals (petals and similar sepals). The 3 inner tepals are egg-shaped with distinct venation across the surface (best seen when dry), with or without a minute, papery wing along the edge. The 3 outer tepals of male flowers are narrower than and about as long as the inner tepals, those of the female flowers are rather shorter. Tepals are widely spreading at flowering time, showing creamy yellow to red stamens or styles, and close up after pollination. Flower stalks are very slender and smooth.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are mostly basal or on the lower stem, ¾ to 2½ inches long and up to ¾ inch wide, lance-elliptic, widest near or above the middle, blunt to pointed at the tip, with a pair of narrowly triangular, outward pointing lobes at the base (hastate), on a long stalk, becoming smaller and less lobed as they ascend the stem. Edges are toothless, surfaces are hairless.

[photo of ocrea and stem] At the base of the leaf stalk is a papery sheath (ocrea), brown at the base and whitish above, that surrounds the stem. Stems are erect to ascending, single or multiple from the base, unbranched except in the flower clusters, ribbed and hairless. Plants can form large colonies from creeping rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of fruiting branch] A flower produces a single seed, wrapped in the persistent tepals that form a capsule-like structure.

[photo of seed] Seeds are 3-sided, oval to egg-shaped with pointed tip, brown to dark brown, and about 1 mm long.


Common Sheep Sorrel is a ubiquitous weed in much of North America, found primarily in open, disturbed soils of roadsides and degraded fields and prairies. It resembles the related Green Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), a larger plant with flowers and fruits about twice the size, the tepals with a broad wing around the edge, and much larger leaves with basal lobes that point downward (sagitate) rather than outward (hastate).

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at Carlos Avery WMA and elsewhere in Anoka County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Gwen - Minneapolis
on: 2018-04-25 22:29:43

I've been trying to identify this weed for a couple of years. Now that I have I want to know how to get rid of it. It's become pervasive.

Posted by: Susan N - Across the Mississippi from Winona (in Trempealeau WI)
on: 2018-05-08 08:34:58

I too have been trying to identify this plant for several years and I am also very interested in knowing how to get rid of it. Thank you.

Posted by: Ruth Henriquez Lyon - Duluth, MN
on: 2019-10-14 09:41:20

American Copper butterfly larvae feed exclusively on Rumex species, Sheep Sorrel being one of their mainstays. There is a Minnesota county distribution map for this butterly here: If you are in American Copper territory, it would be courteous to preserve some Sheep's Sorrel for the larvae to feed on. We just had some sprout in our native plant garden, and I'm going to dedicate a patch for it to continue growing.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2019-10-14 10:20:41

Ruth, ask yourself what American copper butterflies hosted on before sheep sorrel was introduced here. Plant that.

Posted by: Jean schreckeis - Forest lake
on: 2022-06-04 10:47:09

I have this growing on my native shoreline-should I pull it

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2022-06-04 15:22:13

Jean, this weed has no particular benefit to insects or wildlife so there is no real reason to keep it.

Posted by: Claudia - H
on: 2023-08-01 01:20:35

This is actually a medicinal plant that has success with cancer treatment, try and eat it from time to time, don't pull it!

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-08-01 09:55:09

Claudia, every time I see a comment like yours I cringe. There are thousands of plants that have some kind of benefit to humans. That is not a valid reason to let them run amok in the wild where they can harm local ecosystems. If herbalists and foragers harvested every single invasive plant I wouldn't object, but they never do so they have minimal effect on controlling these weeds, if any.

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