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Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

Sheep Sorrel

Scientific Name: Rumex acetosella L.

Other Names: petite oseille, Field sorrel, Red sorrel, petite oseille des brebis, surette

Family: Buckwheat or Smartweed Family (Polygonaceae)

General Description: Perennial, reproducing by seed and by spreading horizontal roots. These produce whitish buds which grow into leafy above ground shoots and result in very dense patches. The plant may also grow as an annual: germinating from seed, flowering, producing a new crop of seed and dying, all in one growing season.

Habitat: Sheep sorrel occurs throughout Ontario but is more common in the southern parts of the province in pastures, meadows, waste areas and roadsides, rarely persisting in cultivated fields. It is common in sandy and gravely soils, especially in areas which are so low in fertility that they do not adequately support other kinds of plants.


  • Seedling with rosette
  • Leaves alternate
  • Cotyledons are oblong to elongated and fleshy, the underside is often spotted with reddish-purple


  • 10- 60 cm (4- 24 in.) high
  • Slender
  • Tough
  • Wiry


  • Alternate (1 per node)
  • Variable in size and shape
  • Lower leaves:
    • Long-stalked
    • Usually spade-shaped with a pair of slender lobes near the base of the blade, but occasionally very slender and without any lobes
  • Middle leaves:
    • Short-stalked
    • Nearly always with a lateral lobe on each side
  • Upper leaves:
    • Stalkless
    • Usually without lobes
  • Leaf ocrea (a thin membranous sheath arising with the leafstalk):
    • At each node of the stem
    • Colourless or faintly greenish-yellow
    • Quite ragged on older stems


  • Small
  • Clustered in whorls in a branching inflorescence
  • Plants unisexual so all flowers on one plant are either female or male
  • Female flowers greenish
  • Male flowers yellowish
  • The whole plant often with a reddish-green to brownish cast
  • Seeds:
    • About 1.5 mm (1/16 in.) long
    • Triangular or 3-sided in cross-section
    • Smooth
    • Shiny
    • Reddish-brown to golden-brown
  • Flowers from May to July

Often Confused With
Can be distinguished from other weeds by its unique leaf shape and sour taste.

Sheep sorrel seeds Sheep sorrel in flower
Click to enlarge.