18 July 2013

Docks (or Rumex) often go unnoticed as a component of meadow flora. Some species like curled dock (Rumex crispus) and broad-leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius) are considered undesirable in all but the edge of meadows as they can be indicators of poor sward condition and less than ideal management – they readily colonise areas of bare ground created by over-grazing or compaction and reduce the quality of hay.

Wood dock (Rumex sanguineus) as the name suggests, can often be found at the edge of meadows growing in the shade of hedgerows

Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is the most typical meadow dock and is very much part of the open hay sward. Its diminutive cousin, sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella) occurs on drought prone grasslands and heathlands.

At first glance, docks are rather too green or brown to readily catch the eye, but at certain times of year and when looked at in close-up, they really are quite fascinating.

As the seeds ripen they slowly flush from green to red to a rich burnt umber – almost giving the appearance of going rusty. The ‘red seed ’phase is particularly obvious in common sorrel and sheep’s sorrel, both of which can turn a meadow or heathland scarlet in early summer. The seeds of common sorrel are almost translucent hanging like strings of lanterns amongst the grass.

Each species of dock has unique shape and form of fruit. When looked at closely through a lens the ‘architecture’ of the fruit is astonishingly intricate. Some resemble shield bugs or trilobites whilst others look like a green and red fried egg on a string!

So next time you see a dock - take a moment to 'ruminate' on Rumex!


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