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Statewide IPM Program, University of California

Curly dock  (Rumex crispus)

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Life stages of Curly dock seedling mature plant taproot fruiting headfruit and flower partsolder seedling

Curly dock, a perennial broadleaf plant, usually grows in wet areas and is frequently associated with overwatering or standing water in low areas. It is found throughout California up to an elevation of 8200 feet (2500 m). Curly dock inhabits agricultural land and other disturbed areas. Plants may be poisonous to livestock when ingested in quantity.


Ditches, roadsides, wetlands, pastures, agronomic crop fields (especially those in perennial crops like alfalfa), orchards, disturbed, unmanaged sites, and disturbed moist places.


Curly dock seedlings vary in color, from entirely green to red tinged in cooler months. The succulent cotyledons (seed leaves) are three times longer than they are wide, have a somewhat rounded tip, and a stalk about as long or longer than the leaf blade. The first few leaves are egg shaped to football shaped with a rounded tip and a tapered base. Leaves are alternate to one another along the stem forming a rosette.

Mature plant

Curly dock stands erect and grows 2 to 5 feet (0.6 to 1.5 m) tall. As a member of the buckwheat family, the plant has a characteristic membranous sheath at the leaf base and usually swollen stem joints (nodes). Leaves are hairless. Stems are often unbranched below the flower head. Leaves are alternate to one another along the stem. The fruiting stem dies back in mid to late summer, and the fruits and stems turn a distinctive rusty brown. New basal rosettes of leaves form in early winter. Although similar to red sorrel, Rumex acetosella, the mature plant has stout stems, whereas red sorrel has slender red stems. Curly dock leaves are lance shaped; those of red sorrel leaves are arrow shaped.


Flowers are visible nearly year-round. The flowering stem is loosely branched and green, non-showy flowers cluster along its upper portion in a whorl.


Fruits are covered with a papery, three-winged membrane with veins. The one-seeded fruit (achene) is triangular in cross-section, smooth, glossy, and reddish brown. Flower parts that adhere to the fruit of curly dock can be toothed or have tubercles. However, in the similar looking red sorrel plant, the flower parts do not have teeth or tubercles.


Seeds may be dispersed by wind and water.


Reproduce primarily by seed.

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