IUCN threat status:

Not evaluated

Comprehensive Description

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Description

This perennial plant is 2-3½' tall. Initially, it consists of a rosette of basal leaves, from which one or more flowering stalks develop. The basal leaves are up to 1' long and 4" across. Their petioles are long and slender, while their blades are oblong-ovate or oblong-cordate, crisped and slightly undulate along the margins, and glabrous. The central vein of each basal leaf is often tinted red, and a reticulated network of fine secondary veins is observable across the upper surface. The leaf base is slightly cordate or well-rounded, rather than tapering or wedge-shaped. The cauline leaves alternate along the flowering stalks. They are similar in appearance to the basal leaves, although somewhat shorter in length and more narrow; their petioles are also shorter. The stalks are round, slightly ribbed, and glabrous; they often have prominent longitudinal veins that are tinted red. Each stalk terminates in a panicle of whorled racemes up to 1' in length. The whorls of greenish red flowers are somewhat interrupted along the length of the racemes. The flowers droop downward from pedicels about ½" in length when they are fully developed. Each flower is about ¼" long, consisting of 6 sepals (3 inner and 3 outer sepals) and no petals. Like other Rumex spp. (Docks), Bitter Dock is monoecious and has staminate (male) and pistillate (female) flowers on the same plant. Both types of flowers are intermingled together on the racemes. The male flowers have 6 stamens and inner sepals that are dull yellow, while the female flowers have a pistil and inner sepals that are often red. As the female flowers develop, their inner sepals become enlarged and surround a single tubercle (hard-coated seed). Each face of this tripartite fruit is oval-cordate or oval-deltoid in shape; its margins are membranous and there are 2-4 spiny teeth along each margin, particularly in the upper half. In bright sunlight, these fruits often turn bright red and are rather colorful. The blooming period usually occurs during the late spring and lasts about 2 weeks, after which the fruits mature slowly during the first half of the summer. The flowers are wind-pollinated and there is no floral scent. The hard-coated seeds are ovoid-oblongoid and rather large in size. Surrounded by the membranous inner sepals, they can float on water or blow about in the wind. The root system consists of a stout taproot. This plant spreads by reseeding itself.

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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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