Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Fiddle Dock (Rumex pulcher) is a tap-rooted perennial with widely spreading stiff branches and dense flower clusters spreading out along the branches, each flower with a shortish, thickened stalk.
  • Its valves surrounding the fruit have 2–5 teeth on each side.
  • It is a widespread weed in southern Australia, more of a problem in Western Australia than in south-eastern Australia.
  • It is an agricultural, garden and environmental weed, best controlled through an integrated management program.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Fiddle Dock (Rumex pulcher) is a perennial, tap-rooted herb 20–60 cm high, with wide-spreading (to 90 degrees) stiff branches. It has a rosette of leaves at ground level. These basal and lower stem leaves have a fiddle-shaped (more or less oblong but narrowed below the middle) blade, with a pointed tip and round-lobed base, to 12 cm long and 2–5 cm wide. The leaf stalk (petiole) is usually shorter than or occasionally as long as the blade. The leaves further up the stems are smaller and without a petiole.

Flower clusters are dense, well spread out along the branches, and mostly with a leafy bract (modified leaf) that is inconspicuous towards the tip of a branch. The flowers are on thickened jointed stalks shorter than or as long as the flower, and have 6 greenish to white perianth segments (commonly called 'valves' in the docks).

The fruiting heads become rusty-brown and conspicuous. Each fruit (a 3–sided nut) is surrounded by 3 persistent, enlarged valves that are variable in shape, narrowly egg-shaped (ovate) to broadly egg-shaped or broad-triangular. The tip of the valve is tongue-shaped to broadly pointed, 4–6 mm long, 2.5–4.5 mm wide, with 3–8 short, often with irregular teeth on each side and with a lump on the lower back of each valve (Lousley & Kent 1981; Wilson 1990: Wilson, submitted).

Rechinger (1984) suggested that two subspecies were naturalised in Australia but the distinctions between the two are not clear-cut (Wilson, submitted).

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

Flower colour


Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Fiddle Dock grows in warm to cool temperate regions on a wide range of moist soils in agricultural and other disturbed habitats (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Page & Lacey 2006). It can grow in somewhat drier situations than the other introduced docks. Fiddle Dock is found in pastures, roadsides, other wasteland areas, lawns, gardens, on riverbanks and sometimes in natural communities such as eucalypt woodland (Kodela & Wilson 2007, pers. comm.).

Are there similar species?

Fiddle Dock (Rumex pulcher) differs from native species that have toothed valves in having relatively broad, fiddle-shaped basal leaves (2-3 times as long as wide, compared to 4-20 times as long as wide and more or less oblong in native species) and in having widely spreading stiff branches that are more or less straight, not curling. It differs from Broadleaf Dock (Rumex obtusifolius) in having its flower clusters more widely spaced along the branches and each usually with an obvious leafy bract. Fiddle Dock flowers are on stalks that are thickened and about as long as the valves while in Broadleaf Dock, the stalks are slender and about twice as long as the valves (Wilson, submitted; Wilson 2007, pers. comm.).

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). Illustrations of seedlings (Grob 1978) and also mature plants and comparison of cotyledon and first leaf characteristics with other dock species are given in Hyde-Wyatt & Morris (1975).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Agriculture: Fiddle Dock is most serious in south-western Western Australia, where it has been the dominant weed species on 80% of properties in some districts. It is scattered in south-eastern Australia. It can become a serious competitive weed in pastures and can seriously reduce agricultural productivity (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; DPIW 2002; Page & Lacey 2006).

It contains oxalates and is suspected of poisoning stock although generally levels are unlikely to be high enough to kill stock (Everist 1981).

Urban environments: Fiddle Dock also invades and becomes a weed in lawns, gardens and recreational areas (DPIW 2002; Department of Agriculture & Food 2007).

How does it spread?

Fiddle Dock disperses by seed. The mature fruits are attached to the dried branches by jointed stalks and are easily broken off (from mid-summer to winter) when the branches are brushed against by humans, animals or equipment. The toothed valves around the fruit are well equipped for dispersal by wind, water, animals and humans (Wilson 2007, pers. comm.).

The crown and upper taproot can regenerate from fragments dragged by cultivation equipment (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Page & Lacey 2006).

What is its history in Australia?

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

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Non-chemical control: Single plants of Fiddle 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. In pastures, infestation can be reduced by the spray/graze technique (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Chemical control: For up-to-date information on which herbicides are registered to control Fiddle Dock and the best application methods and dosages, contact your state or territory weed management agency or local council.

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

Biological control: Fiddle 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), Bitter 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 a good level of control: 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 Fiddle Dock see references Forestry Tasmania (1999) and the DPIW (2002).

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Fiddle Dock usually starts growing from its underground rootstock in autumn or winter, and flowers and fruits by summer, when the above-ground branches die and turn brown (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Its seeds have little dormancy, and germinate throughout the growing season, with a major flush in autumn (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Fiddle Dock is a weed in temperate Australia. It is most serious in south-western Western Australia (Cuthbertson & Parsons 2001; Page & Lacey 2006), from Perth to near Mount Barker, and is widespread but sporadic in south-eastern Australia from Sydney in New South Wales south to Hobart, Tasmania, and west to the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia (Wilson, submitted).

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. Fiddle Dock is native to the Mediterranean region and South-west Asia (Wilson, submitted; Wilson 2007, pers. comm.).

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 pulcher

Other scientific names (synonyms)?


Does it have other known common name(s)?

Red Dock, Fiddleleaf Dock (USA)

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