Buckwheat Family Polygonaceae

Bistort, docks, wild rhubarb, and the sorrels are all familiar members of the buckwheat family. The stems are often jointed; polygonum means many knees. The leaves are usually entire (not divided or toothed), their base forming an ocrea, or expanded sheath, around the stem. The individual flowers are often very small but so numerous that the whole inflorescence is showy. The three-sided achenes, or single-seeded fruits, are characteristic of the family.

The genus Rumex includes what are commonly called the docks and ^ sorrels, the docks generally being the tall-stemmed (to two feet and more) ce members. They are a confusing group of closely related species, and iden-| tification takes a bit of attention. The docks, and especially the sorrels, are lyg highly delicious plants, well worth getting to know. ft*

Sheep Sorrel

Rumex acetosella L.

Sheep Sorrel

Rumex acetosella L.

Emerging from slender rhizomes, this is a wispy, reddish plant with thin stems usually less than 24" tall. The leaves are glabrous, narrow, and hastate (arrowhead shaped); the blades are oblong to lanceolate with the narrow basal lobes flaring outward. The leaves are mainly clustered near the base of the plant, the lower ones having long petioles, and the upper leaves becoming progressively smaller and having shorter petioles. The flowering stems branch near the top and are covered with a mass of tiny, rusty red flowers. sheep sorrel's tender leaves are deliciously tart and are good nibbled raw or tossed into a salad. The Unan-gan also used the leaves medicinally, steaming and cooling them to place over bruised or irritated skin (Bank 1962). The delicate flowering stems will dry intact for winter bouquets. The plants favor dry stony ground and are often found in dry creek beds and gravel bars or along roadsides.

Range: Northern circumpolar.

Garden or Green Sorrel

Rumex acetosa L.

Garden or Green Sorrel

Rumex acetosa L.

Emerging from a taproot, the flowering stems are stiff and upright, to 40" tall. The leaves are glabrous, broad, and hastate (arrowhead shaped), the basal lobes pointing back or downward. The lower leaves have long petioles. The upper leaves are attached directly to the flowering stem and become progressively smaller upwards. The branched upper stem bears the numerous tiny, purple-tinged flowers. They later develop into a mass of dangling, reddish green, three-sided seed cases.

Garden sorrel, like the similar but smaller sheep sorrel, has deliciously tart and tender leaves. They are wonderful in salads and eaten raw. Early in the season, before the flowering stems shoot up, the plants create a low circle of leaves. They often grow among other Rumex species, favoring damp sites and rocky soil.

Range:

Nearly circumpolar and widespread in western Alaska.

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