Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Sorrel (Acetosella vulgaris) is a native plant of western and central Europe that has widely naturalised in southern and eastern Australia.
  • It is a slender upright, rhizomatous perennial.
  • Plants bear either male or female flowers.
  • It is hard to eradicate because of its extensive rhizomatous root system.
  • It is an agricultural and environmental weed, best controlled through an integrated management program.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Sorrel (Acetosella vulgaris) [as Rumex acetosella] is a slender upright rhizomatous perennial, 10–50 cm high. Plants bear either male or female flowers, or rarely both are on the same plant. Its leaves have a shortish stalk 5–15 mm long and a blade that is 2–7 cm long, usually elongated and spear-head-shaped (with basal lobes 15–25 mm long) or rarely narrowly oblong.

The flowers are in loose clusters spread out along the upper half of the branches. Flowers are inconspicuous, with a stalk are about as long as the flower and they have 6 greenish 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 (but slender, not enlarged), rust-coloured valves that are untoothed, without a lump on the back, slightly longer than or as long as the nut, and frequently glued to the nut by floral secretions (Lousley & Kent 1981; Wilson 1990; Wilson, submitted).

The Australian material is apparently referable to R. acetosella subsp. pyrenaica (Pourret ex Lapeyr.) Akeroyd, which is considered native to north-western Africa and western Europe (Spain to the Netherlands), and is a widespread weed in other parts of the world. However, it is premature to recognise subspecies when the two recent treatments (Löve 1983, den Nijs 1984) of this polyploid complex do not agree (Wilson, submitted).

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

Flower colour

Green, Red

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Sorrel is a widespread weed of pastures, cultivation and around settlements in the cooler high rainfall areas of Australia (Archer & Martin 1979; Archer & Auld 1982). It has become established, often associated with disturbance, in natural areas in woodlands, open forests, grasslands and on riverbanks (Kodela & Wilson 2007, pers. comm.).

Are there similar species?

Sorrel Acetosella vulgaris [as Rumex acetosella] is unlikely to be confused with any other dock species. It is rhizomatous and slender, with more or less upright branches, and flowers unisexual with fruiting valves not toothed – a combination of characters not found in other dock species (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).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Agriculture: Sorrel is strongly competitive in low-growing pastures, crops and other disturbed sites, but it can be out-competed by taller, vigorous-growing crops and pasture species (Hyde-Wyatt & Morris 1975, Sainty & Associates 2003). It is unpalatable and seldom grazed and may become locally dominant in temperate pastures. It contains oxalates and is suspected of poisoning stock although generally levels are unlikely to be high enough to kill stock (Everist 1973; Archer & Martin 1979; Weeds Australia undated). Its numerous small seeds are a common impurity in agricultural seed lots, but can be removed by seed-cleaning equipment (Archer & Martin 1979).

Native ecosystems: It occurs to a limited extent in natural habitats, including alpine herbfields, but has more trouble growing there than in disturbed situations (Pickering et al. 2003). Sorrel invades a wide variety of natural habitats including  dry coastal vegetation, heathlands, heathy woodlands, grasslands, grassy woodlands, dry sclerophyll forests, wetlands, rocky outcrops, and sub-alpine and alpine vegetation (Weeds of Australia 2016).

Urban environments: Sorrel is a troublesome garden weed.

How does it spread?

Sorrel produces numerous seeds, but can also spread rapidly vegetatively, at least locally, thanks to its extensive rhizome system (Archer & Martin 1979).

What is its history in Australia?

Sorrel was an early naturalisation in Australia. The botanist on Matthew Finder's circumnavigation of Australia, Robert Brown collected it at Farm Cove in Sydney between 1801 and 1805. This specimen is now in the Natural History Museum, London. It is next known to have been collected in the Adelaide region in 1847 (Archer & Martin 1979). It is not known how the species was introduced but probably accidentally as a contaminant with seed, fodder or agricultural equipment. The first record of it as a weed problem is around Albury, New South Wales, in 1862 (Archer & Martin 1979).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Non-chemical control: Sorrel can be controlled more effectively by cultivation and grazing practices and selective use of fertilisers and taller-growing pasture species than by use of herbicides (Archer & Martin 1979; Archer & Auld 1982). Manual removal is rarely successful and extremely difficult due to the extensive rhizomatous root system and attempts often lead to greater infestations (Herbiguide n.d.).

Biological control: Sorrel 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.

Chemical control: Sorrel can be reduced by the use of herbicides but most likely not eradicated. Other countries have used a variety of chemicals to various success.

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

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Sorrel usually germinates in autumn or winter. Plants flower spring to early summer (Sainty & Associates 2003).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Sorrel is widely naturalised from Perth to Albany in south-western Western Australia and from Maryborough in south-eastern Queensland to southern Tasmania and west to the Eyre Peninsula of South Australia. It occurs from sea level to near the summit of Mount Kosciuszko (Archer & Martin 1979). There are also isolated occurrences in north Queensland, usually at higher altitude: near Mossman, Eungella and on the Atherton Tableland (AVH 2007).

Sorrel is so widespread that it has probably reached close to its maximum extent in Australia (Wilson 2007, pers. comm.)

Where does it originate?

There are about 200 species in the genus Rumex in the broad sense (including the Sorrels as well as the docks) and nearly all parts of the world have native species. In Australia there are 7 native species and about as many again introduced. Sorrel is native to Europe and north-western Africa; it is very widely introduced around the world, especially in temperate regions (Wilson 1990; Wilson submitted).

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 acetosella

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

Acetosella vulgaris (Koch) Fourr.

Acetosella vulgaris subsp. pyrenaica (Pourret ex Lapeyr.) A. Löve

R. acetosella subsp. pyrenaica (Pourret ex Lapeyr.) Akeroyd

Rumex angiocarpus auct.

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Sheep Sorrel, Sheep's Sorrel

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