Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Curled Dock (Rumex crispus) is a robust, upright perennial with a root system that can reach 3 m in depth.
  • It is long-lived and forms a basal rosette of large curly leaves, and then a number of upright leafy stems which branch into clustered inflorescences.
  • It is the tallest dock species found in Australia.
  • It differs from all native species in having valves surrounding its fruit without teeth on their margins.
  • It is an aggressive weed in southern Australia, often in wetter situations than most other docks.
  • It is an agricultural and environmental weed, best controlled through an integrated management program.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Curled Dock (Rumex crispus) is a robust, tap-rooted perennial 50–150 cm high, with numerous stiff branches held more or less upright. The tap-root can reach 3 m in depth. It has a basal rosette of big leaves at ground-level. These basal and the lower stem leaves have a stalk that is shorter than the blade. The leaf blade is puckered or wavy especially near the margins (crisped), narrowly egg-shaped (ovate) to more or less oblong, to 30 cm long and to 6 cm wide, with a pointed tip and a tapered to blunt base. The upper stem leaves are similar but gradually become smaller and narrower towards the tip of a branch.

The numerous flowers are in dense clusters close together along the branches. Flowers have 6 greenish to white perianth segments (commonly called 'valves' in the docks) and are on slender stalks as long as to twice as long as the flower.

The fruiting heads become rusty-brown and conspicuous. Each fruit (a 3-sided nut) is surrounded by 3 persistent, enlarged valves that are 3.5–6 mm long and 3–4 (sometimes to 6) mm wide, without teeth on their margins but with a small lump on the lower back of each valve (Lousley & Kent 1981; Wilson 1990; Wilson, submitted).

For further information and assistance with identification of Curled Dock contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour

White, Red, Green

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Curled Dock is commonly found in seasonally to semi-permanently wet, disturbed places in pastures and cultivation areas, and on roadsides and stream-banks. It occurs from the coast to mountains and inland areas on more fertile soils. It has a wide climatic range from cool temperate to subtropical regions (Page & Lacey 2006). It has become naturalised in natural habitats such as open forests (Kodela 2007, pers. comm.).

Are there similar species?

Curled Dock (Rumex crispus) is the tallest and most robust dock species in Australia. It can be distinguished easily from the native species when in fruit by the untoothed valves that surround the fruit. The introduced Clustered Dock (Rumex conglomeratus) also has untoothed valves but differs in being a lower-growing plant with wide-spreading branches and smaller flowers and fruit whereas Curled Dock is tall, with more or less upright branches. Sorrel (Acetosella vulgaris) [as R. acetosella] also has untoothed valves and upright branches, but is a much shorter, slender rhizomatous plant (Wilson 2007, pers. comm.).

Curled Dock hybridises with Broadleaf Dock. The resulting plants have been called x Rumex pratensis Mertens & Koch, and they look intermediate in features between the parent species (Wilson 1990; Wilson submitted).

Illustrations showing the differences between the fruiting valves of Rumex species (with Rumex acetosella treated as Acetosella vulgaris in the later publications) are provided by Burbidge & Gray (1979), Lousley & Kent (1981), Stanley & Ross (1983), Chorney (1986), Wilson (1990), Auld & Medd (1992), Cunningham et al. (1992), Walsh (1996), Hussey et al. (1997) and Richardson et al. (2006).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Curled Dock is an agricultural and environmental weed. It has a large crown and dense leaf growth that crowds out more desirable species, and it can grow in a wide range of environments. It is a prolific seeder, generating about 60 000 seeds per plant (Page & Lacey 2006). It is an aggressive coloniser, shading out other plants and depleting soil nutrients and moisture through its extensive root system, which can reach 3 m in depth and can become the dominant herbaceous plant, particularly in irrigated production areas (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Forestry Tasmania 1999, DPIW 2007, Kodela & Wilson 2007, pers. comm.).

Agriculture: Dense stands of Curled Dock can obstruct irrigation and drainage channels, reduce grazing capacity and cause yield losses in pasture. It can degenerate lucerne crops, infest irrigated orchards and other plantation crops and its seedlings compete with crop plants (Forestry Tasmania 1999, DPIW 2007, Kodela & Wilson 2007, pers. comm.).

It contains oxalates and is suspected of poisoning stock. However, levels are unlikely to be high enough to kill and it is generally considered to be unpalatable to stock (Everist 1981).

Native ecosystem: Infestations compete for space, light, moisture and nutrients to replace native species in natural wetland, riverbank and other plant communities (Kodela & Wilson 2007, pers. comm.).

How does it spread?

Curled Dock disperses by seed. The mature fruits are attached to the dried branches by slender jointed stalks and are easily broken off (from mid-summer to winter) when the branches are brushed against by humans, animals or equipment. They may be transported by wind (with the valves acting as sails), mud and water (with the tubercles at the base of the valves acting as flotation chambers). The crown and upper taproot can regenerate from fragments created by cultivation equipment (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

What is its history in Australia?

It is not known exactly when or how Curled Dock arrived in Australia. Early herbarium records date back more than a century. It probably came accidentally, possibly as a contaminant of seed or fodder, or in mud attached to equipment (Kodela 2007, pers. comm.).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Non-chemical control: Single plants of Curled Dock can be controlled by deep hoeing or grubbing. For larger infestations, a combination of cultivation and herbicides is effective. Slashing and mowing are not effective.

Chemical control: In pastures, infestation can be reduced by the spray/graze technique (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au

Biological control: Curled Dock has also been recognised as a target for biological control through a cross-jurisdictional government process. This allows activities to be undertaken to develop effective biological controls. The docks biocontrol program which ran from 1982 to 1998 targeted Swamp Dock (R. brownii), Curled Dock (R. crispus), Broadleaf Dock (R. obtusifolius) and Fiddle Dock (R. pulcher). The program resulted in the release of one agent, the Clearwing Moth Pyropteron doryliformis, which has become widely established and provides almost total control in Western Australia and good control in approximately 50% of infested areas in Victoria and New South Wales (Page & Lacey 2006).

For further information on management and control of Curled Dock see Forestry Tasmania (1999) and the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water (2007).

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Established plants of Curled Dock usually start re-growing from the rootstock in winter, and flower and fruit by early summer, when the above-ground branches die and turn brown (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Seed is usually polymorphic (seed from the same population or the same plant differ in their requirements for germination). As a result, germination is intermittent, with major germination periods in both autumn and spring. Young plants overwinter as a rosette; aerial growth is slow until the taproot has developed. Densely crowded plants may not flower until the second year (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?

Found in all Australian states and territories.

What areas within states and territories is it found?

Curled Dock is a widespread weed in temperate regions of all states – south from Yanchep to Esperance in south-western Western Australia, and south from Biloela in Queensland to southern Tasmania and west to the Eyre Peninsula, South Australia. It is found in a few areas farther north, e.g. near Cairns and Maxwelton in Queensland (AVH 2007; Wilson, submitted; Wilson 2007, pers. comm.).

Where does it originate?

There are about 200 species in the genus Rumex and nearly all parts of the world have native species. In Australia there are 7 native species and about as many again introduced. Curled Dock is native to Europe and South-west Asia, but is widely introduced elsewhere, and is considered one of the most important perennial weeds in the world (Zaller 2004).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?

Not declared in any Australian state or territory.

Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Rumex crispus

Other scientific names (synonyms)?


Does it have other known common name(s)?

Curly Dock

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