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Plants of the Western Slope July 5, 2017

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Photo by Evelyn Horn Curly Dock on Grand Mesa

Curly Dock

And here is my plant, Curly Dock. It's an alien weed from Eurasia that has become naturalized throughout the North American continent except for the extreme northern regions of Canada.

It occurs from Hart's Basin to the high country, at 3,500 to 8,500 feet. The alternate leaves may be nearly a foot long and more than three inches wide. Their wavy edges provide the name of "curly dock."

I've long wondered, "Why the term "dock"? It turns out that Middle English "dock" meant a bundle or tuft of something or other. So? Curly Dock is a member of the Buckwheat family, Polygonaceae (meaning many knees or joints), and many plants in this family have their small stems in bundles or clusters.

Also, there are many species of "dock" going by the botanical label of "Rumex," in fact there are six given in Weber's "Colorado Flora: Western Slope." The family is of considerable use as a food source. The leaves can be eaten raw (the younger the better), cooked as a potherb, the seeds ground into meal, and the root produces yellow dye. There are many medicinal uses as well. Michael Moore's "Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West" gives nearly two pages of information. The group Rumex contains oxalates which produce a bitter taste, such as in our cultivated rhubarb. Note the brown seed-heads at the top of the plants. These are the source of identification. Their characteristics are the key. If there are seeds within the "valves" or not and the number of them determines the species. Our mountain species is Rumex crispus with "grains" or swellings on each valve (the inner tepals).

I've met this plant on the Front Range when Allen and I visited with our folks in the Denver area, in the mountainous regions of Colorado and even in the high country. We met it again, many times, in mountainous Utah and even in California. A neat plant, but sad to say, this is one of the families that I never fully explored. I never got beyond the tepals! I do know that each winter season, there are large patches of brown stalks at Hart's Basin. As the season progressed, the green turned to brown. It seems that there is always a need to look again!

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