Being in the vegetable section at the plant store, I was assuming this plant would grow into a messy annual. I was wrong. Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) continues to be a beautiful compact, practically evergreen perennial. What a wonderful surprise!
Vertical stems end in arrow-shaped leaves that angle upward. The red stems blend into red veins of otherwise true-green leaves. A couple of smaller leaves under the main growth are yellow with more prominent red centers. The red color may be an example of aposematism, a built-in warning sign that a plant or animal is toxic.
Toxic? This was another surprise from something sold in the vegetable section. According to the plant information card, it has a lemony taste. I enjoy one or two leaves in an occasional sandwich and salad. I eat less of it and less frequently now that I know more about it.
Snow melts from the top of still green leaves. A few more yellow leaves than normal are hidden under the top layer of leaves.
The high summer sun catches the upward-angled leaves more readily. This extra light makes the leaves seem a bit lighter in color.
The plant continues to look pretty much the same as it has all year long. While the other edible-leaf plants and herbs around it have died, Sorrel thrives into winter.
Each stem stands upright, packed into a compact crowd of arrowheads. The arrowhead leaves face all different directions. The plant spreads as new stems pop out of the ground around the edge of the crowd and then finally make it to the height of neighboring leaves. Mine is currently 6 inches tall. The plant information card suggests it has solid-green leaves and can get up to 30 inches. At this point, I haven’t seen one solid-green leaf and 30 inches hardly seems possible.
Sorrel has the beauty and danger of a femme fatale character. The well-manicured plant with perfect posture wears a flattering shade of green. Complementary red veins warn of danger. Underneath, stems shine like dark red-lacquered soles of stiletto heels.
Pair Sorrel with compact herbs such as Basil and greens such as Lettuce. Sorrel also makes a nice border plant for the taller and ganglier Arugula and Cilantro. Next time I’ll try pairing Sorrel with other perennials, still keeping the overall crop quantities small. Avoid pairing Sorrel with plants that have very similar leaves as it’s good to be able to easily identify the Sorrel.
In an insulated planter, Sorrel remained green the few times I checked throughout the winter. Keep in mind that this past winter was mild by Chicago standards so we’ll see how it handles a harsh one in the future. Transplanting Sorrel twice hasn’t fazed the plant once. Other than water and harvesting an occasional leaf, the plant manages well on its own. Others cut Sorrel back each year.