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SPECIES:  Rumex acetosella
Common sheep sorrel. Image used with permission of Robert H. Mohlenbrock, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database/USDA NRCS. 1992. Western wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. West Region, Sacramento.



SPECIES: Rumex acetosella
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Esser, Lora L. 1995. Rumex acetosella. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions: On 5 June 2018, the common name of this species was changed in FEIS from: sheep sorrel to: common sheep sorrel. Images were also added.
ABBREVIATION: RUMACE SYNONYMS: Acetosella vulgaris Fourr. NRCS PLANT CODE: RUAC3 COMMON NAMES: common sheep sorrel red sorrel sheep sorrel TAXONOMY: The scientific name of common sheep sorrel is Rumex acetosella L. [29,34,51,95]. It is in the family Polygonaceae. There are no recognized infrataxa [34,44]. LIFE FORM: Forb FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Rumex acetosella
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Common sheep sorrel is a forb of Eurasian origin that has naturalized throughout much of temperate North America [46,75,95].
Distribution of common sheep sorrel. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC [2018, June 5] [88].

   Common sheep sorrel is found in most FRES ecosystems.

     AK  AZ  AR  CA  CO  CT  DE  FL  GA  HI
     ID  IL  IN  IA  KS  KY  ME  MD  MA  MI
     MN  MO  MT  NE  NV  NH  NJ  NM  NY  NC
     ND  OH  OK  OR  PA  RI  SC  SD  TN  TX
     UT  VT  VA  WA  WV  WI  WY  AB  BC  MB
     NB  NS  ON  PQ  SK

    1  Northern Pacific Border
    2  Cascade Mountains
    3  Southern Pacific Border
    4  Sierra Mountains
    5  Columbia Plateau
    6  Upper Basin and Range
    8  Northern Rocky Mountains
    9  Middle Rocky Mountains
   10  Wyoming Basin
   11  Southern Rocky Mountains
   12  Colorado Plateau
   13  Rocky Mountain Piedmont
   14  Great Plains
   15  Black Hills Uplift
   16  Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands


   Common sheep sorrel is found in most SAF Cover Types. 

   101  Bluebunch wheatgrass
   102  Idaho fescue
   103  Green fescue
   108  Alpine Idaho fescue
   110  Ponderosa pine-grassland
   201  Blue oak woodland
   203  Riparian woodland
   204  North coastal shrub
   215  Valley grassland
   216  Montane meadows
   304  Idaho fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
   409  Tall forb
   411  Aspen woodland
   601  Bluestem prairie
   804  Tall fescue
   809  Mixed hardwood and pine

Common sheep sorrel occurs mainly in grassland, mixed-grass prairie, and
montane meadow communities of western North America, but is also common
in forested communities throughout temperate North America. 

Common sheep sorrel is common in floodplain and riparian habitats.  In western
Washington common sheep sorrel is found on gravel bars and floodplains
dominated by Scouler willow (Salix scouleriana).  Other associates
include Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), velvetgrass (Holcus
lanatus), white clover (Trifolium repens), curly dock (Rumex crispus),
and bog rush (Juncus effusus) [20].  In Oregon common sheep sorrel occurs in a
riparian mountain meadow community dominated by cheatgrass (Bromus
tectorum) [45].  In California common sheep sorrel occurs in a freshwater marsh
community dominated by tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), sedge (Carex
spp.), and narrow-leaved cattail (Typha angustifolia) [18].

Common sheep sorrel is commonly found in old fields, annual grassland, and
montane meadow communities.  In Connecticut common sheep sorrel occurs in a
postagricultural little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) grassland.
Associates include redtop (Agrostis alba) and yellow sedge (Carex
pensylvanica) [69].  In New Jersey common sheep sorrel is a member of an
old-field plant community dominated by Canada goldenrod (Solidago
canadensis) [9].  Common sheep sorrel is commonly found in southern Appalachian
grassy bald communities dominated by mountain oatgrass (Danthonia
compressa).  Other associates include thornless blackberry (Rubus
canadensis), hillside blueberry (Vaccinium pallidum), and violet (Viola
spp.) [56,60].  In Indiana common sheep sorrel occurs in a little bluestem
community with hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and smooth horsetail
(Equisetum laevigatum) [81].  In Montana common sheep sorrel occurs in
mixed-grass prairie communities [86].

In California common sheep sorrel is common in annual grassland, montane
meadow, and perennial bunchgrass communities.  Associates include ripgut
brome (Bromus rigidus), soft chess (B. hordeaceus), silver hairgrass
(Aira caryophyllea), Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratense), Sandberg
bluegrass (P. nevadensis), Italian thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus), wild
oat (Avena fatua), and Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum)

At Point Reyes National Seashore, California, common sheep sorrel occurs in a
coastal grassland community with coast rock cress (Arabis
blepharophylla), poison-oak (Toxicodendron diversiloba), California
barberry (Berberis pinnata), and the endangered Sonoma spineflower
(Chorizanthe valida) [11,12].

Common sheep sorrel is a common understory species in forested habitats
throughout North America.  In Pennsylvania common sheep sorrel occurs in
eastern white pine (Pinus strobus)-poverty oatgrass (D. spicata)
communities; associates include Canada goldenrod, fireweed (Epilobium
angustifolium), whorled yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia),
Virginia springbeauty (Claytonia virginica), trout lily (Erythronium
americanum), mountain wood sorrel (Oxalis montana), and violet
[3,49,93].  In Alberta common sheep sorrel is a member of an 80-year-old white
spruce (Picea glauca)-jack pine (Pinus banksiana)-feathermoss
(Pleurozium spp.)  community [21].  In Idaho common sheep sorrel occurs in
grand fir (Abies grandis)/wild ginger (Asarum caudatum), grand
fir/pachistima (Pachistima myrsinites), and grand fir/ninebark
(Physocarpus malvaceus) habitat types [30,53,54,99].  In California
common sheep sorrel occurs in redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), Douglas-fir
(Pseudotsuga menziesii), and Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana)
habitats [22,50,83].

In Montana and Wyoming, common sheep sorrel is found in alpine tundra
environments [94].


SPECIES: Rumex acetosella
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: In Arizona common sheep sorrel is grazed by cattle and sheep, but has little forage value [39].  Common sheep sorrel contains oxalic acid which can be poisonous [46,100]. In California and Ohio common sheep sorrel is grazed by mule deer [50,70].  In Idaho, Montana, and Wisconsin sharp-tailed grouse and ruffed grouse eat common sheep sorrel seed [40,41,76,86].  PALATABILITY: In Utah palatability ratings for common sheep sorrel are fair for cattle and poor for sheep and horses [100].  NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Common sheep sorrel nutritional levels are adequate to meet the requirements of mule deer [50].  Energy and protein content ratings of common sheep sorrel are poor.  Nutritional values are rated as poor for waterfowl and fair for elk, mule deer, upland game birds, small nongame birds, and small mammals [100]. COVER VALUE: In Utah common sheep sorrel cover values are rated as fair for small mammals and small nongame birds and poor for upland game birds and waterfowl [100].  VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: Common sheep sorrel colonizes disturbed sites such as clearcuts, streambanks, and surface mined lands.  It has been used for revegetation of disturbed lands, although it is rated low for erosion control, and short- and long-term revegetation potential [100].  In a mining and smelting region of Sudbury, Ontario, common sheep sorrel established when a thin sprinkling of limestone was applied to the soil [97]. In east-central Texas revegetation of eight unreclaimed mine sites occurred naturally.  These sites and an adjacent unmined site were sampled to determine vegetational changes over time.  The percent frequency of common sheep sorrel was as follows [79]:     3m*    6m    5y    10y    15y    20y    30y    50y    control         0     11     4      6      4      3      0      0       0 *m=months since first sampling, y=years since first sampling In Pennsylvania an attempt was made to transplant rootstocks of sheep sorrel on black waste sites created by anthracite mining.  All emergent vegetation was subsequently heat killed [77]. OTHER USES AND VALUES: Common sheep sorrel leaves are used in salads [4,51].  The Nuxalk Indians of British Columbia eat common sheep sorrel [55].  OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Common sheep sorrel is classified as a noxious weed in 23 states [67].  It is a serious weed in pastures and rangelands.  Control is difficult because of its perennial, creeping rhizomes [4,52].  Common sheep sorrel is a common weed in West Virginia, except in limestone regions; liming the soil may help eradicate common sheep sorrel [82].  Common sheep sorrel presence and abundance are indicative of poor and "sour" soils [82,87].  It reaches peak abundance at low soil nitrogen levels [87].  Common sheep sorrel is potentially poisonous to livestock because of the presence of soluble oxalates [19]; however, it is grazed by sheep and cattle [39].  In Idaho common sheep sorrel is an increaser species under heavy grazing regimes, and a decreaser species under light grazing regimes [54].  In Oregon percent frequency of common sheep sorrel was not affected by late season cattle grazing in a riparian mountain meadow [45]. In Novia Scotia common sheep sorrel is one of the most common weed species in lowbush blueberry fields.  Control with hexazinone was attempted but after the activity of the herbicide decreased, common sheep sorrel grew and produced a large number of seeds [62].  In Pennsylvania in a goldenrod (Solidago spp.)-aster (Aster spp.) community, common sheep sorrel was dominant in 1- and 3-year-old plowed, disked, prometone-treated plots [64].  Control Methods:  Repeat cultivation during dry weather gradually weakens rootstalks of common sheep sorrel [19].  According to Fitzsimmons [19] several herbicides can selectively control common sheep sorrel.


SPECIES: Rumex acetosella
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Common sheep sorrel is an introduced rhizomatous perennial herb that sometimes forms dense colonies by adventitious shoots from widely spreading roots and rhizomes [19,29,35,52,92].  Stems are erect, slender, and 4 to 24 inches (10-60 cm) tall [33,72,95].  Leaves are 0.8 to 4 inches (2-10 cm) long and 0.4 to 0.8 inch (1-2 cm) wide [33,34,72].  The fruit is an achene [25,29,38,72,95].  Roots are slender, almost fibrous and penetrate to a depth of 5 feet (1.5 m) [48]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM:    Hemicryptophyte    Geophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: Sexual:  Common sheep sorrel reproduces by seed.  It is wind pollinated and seed is dispersed by wind and insects [37,91].  Common sheep sorrel regularly colonizes from buried seed following disturbance [14,21,26].  In Massachusetts common sheep sorrel was not present in the ground cover of most eastern white pine and red pine (Pinus resinosa) stands, but seeds were contained in soil samples from 1-to 80-year-old stands.  In the laboratory soil-stored seeds from all stands germinated [57]. Vegetative:  Common sheep sorrel reproduces from creeping roots and rhizomes [2,16,48,77].  Shoots develop from stem buds that arise adventitiously at irregular intervals on horizontal roots.  Adventitious buds are usually found in the top 8 inches (20 cm) of soil [48].  SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Common sheep sorrel is common in fields, pastures, meadows, waste places, and along roadsides [4,29,39,46,72,95].  In Olympic National Park, Washington, common sheep sorrel is commonly found on lower terraces and gravel bars of the riparian zone [1,13,63].  Common sheep sorrel is generally found in open, unshaded areas on disturbed sites [29,92,95].  It thrives on acidic soils with low fertility, but is adapted to a variety of soil types [19,29,96].  Common sheep sorrel is commonly found on sandy loam, fine sandy, silty, and gravelly soils [6,7,14,58,99].  Elevations for common sheep sorrel are as follows:                     feet            meters           Arizona          5,500-8,000     1,650-2,400     [46] California           0-9,900         0-3,000     [34] Colorado        4,000-11,200     1,200-3,360     [33,100] Connecticut      1,020-1,050         310-320     [14] Idaho            2,800-6,000       853-1,830     [65,99] Montana          3,300-6,200       990-1,860     [100] New York           900-1,700         270-510     [85] Oregon                <4,000          <1,200     [66] Utah             4,500-9,100     1,350-2,730     [95,100] Washington            <4,000          <1,200     [66] Wyoming          6,000-9,000     1,800-2,700     [100] SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Common sheep sorrel invades disturbed sites and may move onto undisturbed sites when growing conditions are ideal [1,16,52,77].  It is commonly found on clearcut, burned, and flood-disturbed riparian sites [1,13,27,94].  It colonizes rapidly by seed and may persist for 15 to 20 years through vegetative growth and propagation [16].  Competition from other species on good soils may reduce its abundance [19]. In South Carolina common sheep sorrel is found in the early seral stages of a disturbed old-field broomsedge bluestem (Andropogon virginicus) community [101].  In the Pacific Northwest common sheep sorrel seed generally remains viable in the soil long enough to provide a source of new infestations when the soil is disturbed [19].  In Massachusetts buried common sheep sorrel seed germinated from soil samples from eastern white pine and red pine stands 1 to 80 years old [57].  Common sheep sorrel is moderately shade tolerant.  In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges, California, common sheep sorrel was more abundant under dead blue oak (Quercus douglasii) trees (5.7%) than in open grassland (5.2%) or live blue oak stands (<0.1%) [36]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Common sheep sorrel flowering dates are as follows: California         Mar-Aug      [68] Idaho              May-Sept     [19] Georgia            Mar-Jun      [98] Kansas             Apr-July     [4] Montana            May-Aug      [100] North Carolina     Mar-July     [72,98] North Dakota       May-Jun      [100] Oregon             May-Sept     [19] South Carolina     Mar-July     [72,98] Tennessee          Mar-Jun      [98] Virginia           Mar-Jun      [98] Washington         May-Sept     [19] West Virginia      May-Sept     [82] Great Plains       Apr-Aug      [29]


SPECIES: Rumex acetosella
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Common sheep sorrel probably survives fire by sprouting from rhizomes and roots [47,72].  It probably regenerates from on-site buried seed.  FIRE REGIMES: Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY:    Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil    Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)    Secondary colonizer - off-site seed


SPECIES: Rumex acetosella
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: Common sheep sorrel is probably top-killed by fire. PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: Common sheep sorrel probably sprouts from rhizomes following fire and establishes from on-site seed [14,21,26].  Several studies describe establishment or increase of common sheep sorrel after fire.  Very severe fire may kill common sheep sorrel. In New Brunswick a woodlot was clearcut in the fall of 1949 and prescribed burned in April 1951.  The number of stems of common sheep sorrel per area present in June 1949, 1950, 1951, and 1952 were 0, 0, 18, and 28, respectively [31].  In New Brunswick understory layers of 11 mixed hardwood stands representing an age sequence of 7 to 57 postfire years were examined.  Sampling occurred in July and August 1973 and 1974. Common sheep sorrel was found in stands 7, 10, 13, 17, and 25 years old.  It did not occur in some 7-year-old stands, or in stands 18, 20, 29, and 37 years old [58]. In Idaho seral brushfields in a grand fir/pachistima habitat type were prescribed burned on May 14, 1975, and a portion was seeded on May 15, 1975.  Common sheep sorrel was present on the burn-only area, but did not occur on the burn-and-seed site.  Frequency (out of 10 possible plots) of common sheep sorrel was as follows [53]:                     Prefire          Postfire year                     July 3, 1974        1    2    4 control                1              2    3    3 burn only              0              0    5    4 burn and seed          0              0    0    0   In Idaho a wildfire burned a ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forest and adjacent montane grassland on August 10, 1973 for 43 days.  Fourteen sites were examined in June 1974 and June 1976.  Percent cover and frequency of common sheep sorrel on burned and unburned sites were as follows [65]:                             1974                     1976                      burned     unburned      burned      unburned cover +/- SD        t* +/- 1    t +/- t      2 +/- 3      1 +/- 2 frequency +/- SD    1  +/- t    t +/- 1      2 +/- 4      1 +/- 2 *t = trace In Washington on the Mount Adams huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.)  fields, an experimental area was prescribed burned from October 3-7, 1972. Average understory cover (%) of common sheep sorrel from 1972 to 1977 was as follows [66]:                1972 (before treatment)    1973    1974    1975    1977 unburned, uncut      0.2                   0.2     0.3     0.3     0.2 thin, underburn      0.2                   0.6     0.9     1.2     1.5 clearcut and burn    0.2                   0.9     1.9     1.0     1.6 In Great Britain severe fires in late summer 1976 killed all surface vegetation.  Common sheep sorrel first appeared in burned areas in October 1985, postfire year 9 [59].  DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE: Some research describes no change in cover or frequency in common sheep sorrel after fire.  In California the effects of a late fall burn on a mountain meadow in Grover Hot Springs State Park were evaluated.  Both wet and dry meadow plots were prescribed burned by a low- to moderate-intensity fire in mid-November 1987.  Common sheep sorrel was found only on dry plots before burning and did not increase following fire [8]. In Connecticut experimental tracts were set up in a little bluestem grassland in 1967.  Tract A was prescribed burned annually from 1968-1976, and in 1978, 1980, 1983, and 1985.  Tract B was prescribed burned annually from 1968-1975, and in 1978, 1980, 1983, and 1985. Common sheep sorrel percent cover and frequency in two burns and 2 control plots on each tract were as follows [69]:                      Tract A                        Tract B                1967           1985            1967           1985             cover  freq    cover  freq     cover  freq    cover   freq treatment Burn         <1     9        2     6        <1     29      <1      5    Control      <1     22       0     0         1     65      <1      27      The following Research Project Summaries provide information on prescribed fire use and postfire response of plant community species, including common sheep sorrel, that was not available when this review was originally written: FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Rumex acetosella
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