Red sorrel (Rumex acetosella) is a type of perennial broadleaf weed native to Eurasia and Great Britain. However, it has also been introduced to a large proportion of the northern hemisphere. It is particularly common throughout California and Ohio, as it prospers in dry environments like deserts and dunes.
It is also known, variously, as sheep sorrel, red sorrel, sour weed, and field sorrel. Like many other broadleaf weeds (common purslane, for example), red sorrel is safe to eat. In some regions of the world, it is used as a garnish or salad ingredient. However, it offers little nutrition and can be toxic in large amounts.
The species is a common sight on disturbed land. It can take hold on roadsides, fields, gardens, cultivated ground, and around former mining sites, as long as the soil is not too acidic. The plants are particularly familiar to blueberry farmers, as they favor similar conditions.
While red sorrel is a vital food source for the American Copper butterfly, it still treated as a noxious weed by gardeners. It can be challenging to control and remove because its creeping rhizome root structure is capable of producing new plants if divided or split.
If you need a suitable weed control or lawn maintenance strategy for the red sorrel in your garden, make sure that you positively identify the species first. One of its most distinctive features is the dense patches of above-ground roots which form when the plant is mature. These roots are yellow but may have a pinkish tinge.
The plant has arrow-shaped leaves with two small lobes at the base. It grows close to the ground, so rarely climbs to a significant height (0.4 m at the most). Its stems are a red or rust-brown color, and the flowers are very small. They grow in clusters right at the top of the stems. The female flowers are green and the male flowers yellow or red, but both can exist on the same plant, at the same time.
The best way to control this weed is with careful pulling. As long as the entire plant and its rhizome root structure are removed, it should not grow back or threaten your lawn. It is best to destroy or isolate the roots after removal. Always consider hiring a lawn service to take care of this weed for you.