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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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Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
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Wednesday - June 05, 2013

From: Bethlehem, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of riparian plant in Pennsylvania
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I'm wondering if this is a native plant: the plant is 3-5ft. tall, it has a tough reedy stalk, grows in sunny riparian areas, has whorled leaves with toothed margin, and has elongated clusters of tiny reddish flowers. This plant seems to grow in colonies, and it seems quite common along our spring-fed creek. Does this type of plant seem familiar to you?

ANSWER:

This sounds like one of the docks.  There are several native and introduced species that occur in Pennsylvania.  The one that is the most similar to your description is one of the native ones:

Rumex orbiculatus (Greater water dock)  Here are more photos and information from the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center and University of Michigan Herbarium.

There are three other native species that are candidates:

Rumex altissimus (Pale dock)  Here are photos and more information from Missouri Plants.

Rumex hastatulus (Heart-wing sorrel)  Here are more photos and information from Southeastern Flora and Discover Life.

Rumex verticillatus (Swamp dock)  Here are more photos and information from Plants of Wisconsin and the New England Wildflower Society.

Below are some introduced Rumex species that sound somewhat similar to your description:

Rumex acetosella (Sheeps sorrel)  Here is more information from Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide.

Rumex conglomeratus (Sharp dock)  Here are more photos from CalPhotos, University of California-Berkeley.

Rumex longifolius (Dooryard dock)  Here are more photos and information from New England Wildflower Society.

Rumex obtusifolius (Bitter dock)  Here are more photos and information from Virgina Tech Weed Identification Guide.

If none of the plants above is the plants you are seeing and you have (or can take) photos, please visit our Plant Identification page to find links to several plant identification forums that will accept photos of plants for identification.

 

From the Image Gallery


Greater water dock
Rumex orbiculatus

Heart-wing sorrel
Rumex hastatulus

Swamp dock
Rumex verticillatus

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