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Leslie Derrenbacker


Dear Gardener Gal: What can you tell me about the plant that looks red in many fields in the area? I see it along the side of the road as well, but just not as thick as in fields or pastures. Is it a crop? It looks nice from a distance. — Mark

Dear Mark: I believe what you are seeing is red sorrel (Rumex acetosella). Like so many weeds, we don’t notice them until they bloom or we have millions of them. When viewed from a distance in a rolling pasture, the reddish-tinted stems and blooms are kinda pretty.

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Bucolic scenery aside, this is considered a non-native weed. Red sorrel does have some positive attributes, but let’s trash talk it first.

Red sorrel is what is known as an indicator plant. This is means it can be used to get information about the soil in which it is growing. The landowner with reddish pastures may want to do some research before doing any type of planting. The presence of this weed indicates an acid soil and low fertility.

Blueberries might be happy there, but many crops might not.

Getting rid of this weed is no easy feat due to the aggressive system of rhizomes. Liming and nitrogen fertilization are recommended for control.

Now your average homeowner needn’t worry about all this. This is not a yard weed per se. If you have it in your pasture, contact the IFAS Extension Office for details on control and affects on livestock.

Now the positive: This is considered an edible and even a desirable plant/herb by some folks. A member of the buckwheat family and closely related to rhubarb, its tart flavor is similar sour apples. As a kid — ok, I still do it — my brother and I couldn’t walk past a red sorrel without plucking a piece and chewing down the length of the stem to extract the tart juice.

As always: Make darn sure you know what plant you are putting in your mouth before trying it yourself. Thanks for writing.

Dear Gardener Gal: What is wrong with this poor tree? The tree isn’t ours, but we saw it while driving and had to pull over and get a picture. Any ideas? — Henry and Mary

Dear Henry and Mary: That “poor tree” will probably be just fine. It has several burls, and I agree, it is quite a sight! A burl (callus tissue) is the tree’s reaction to a stress of some kind. It is sort of like a non-malignant tumor. In general, it doesn’t hurt the tree’s longevity, though where they occur on the trunk, how large, etc., could be a factor.

Burls are highly sought after by woodworkers for their beautiful designs and patterns. Tree trimmers keep an eye out for them and usually have buyers ready and waiting.

While the burl itself might not harm the tree, trying to cut one out of a living tree is definitely asking for trouble. Any removal of bark and tissue is an invitation to pests and disease.

Thanks for sharing this impressive sight.

“Gardener Gal” Leslie Derrenbacker is a Master Gardener and native Floridian. Send your questions to

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