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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - June 18, 2011

From: Andalusia, AL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Plant identification of Indian Cane
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I live in southern Alabama. We have a plant that is wild but I can not find any info on it. My grandmother called it Indian Cane. The stems are red and you can chew them, they have a sour taste

ANSWER:

I remember as a child in East Texas chewing on the stem of a plant that we called "sourweed".  It could have been either Rumex acetosella (sheep's sorrel, red sorrel or sour weed), a native of Europe or the North American native sour dock or sourweed, Rumex hastatulus (heartwing sorrel).  Both plants grow in East Texas and Alabama and both plants have reddish stems.  I suspect one of these is that plant your grandmother called Indian Cane.  Here is an article that has Indian Cane as one of the common names of Rumex acetosella.   There are several other members of the Genus Rumex (sour docks), some native and some introduced, that you can read about in this article on the webpage of Plants of California: A guide to useful, edible, and medicinal plants of California.  There is a little confusion about the labeling of the pictures on their page since they label R. crispus as an American Native Plant and R. hymenosepalous as a European import; whereas,  according to the USDA Plants Database, Rumex crispus (curly dock) is the introduced species from Eurasia (here are more photos) and Rumex hymenosepalus (Canaigre dock) is a native western North American species. You can check the USDA Plants Database maps of the distribution of Rumex spp. to see those that occur in Alabama, but I would bet that your grandmother's Indian Cane was probably R. acetosella, possibly R. hastatulus.

 

From the Image Gallery


Heart-wing sorrel
Rumex hastatulus

Heart-wing sorrel
Rumex hastatulus

Heart-wing sorrel
Rumex hastatulus

Heart-wing sorrel
Rumex hastatulus

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