Thursday, October 4, 2012

Stalking The Bloody Dock

Rumex sanguineus - Bloody Dock

One summer during college, I was short on cash and food, but adventurous. Euell Gibbons's books on stalking wild edible plants inspired me to forage. The first greens on my hunt list included sorrel (Rumex spp.) and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). They were delicious when boiled like spinach. I never imagined that one day I'd promote a Rumex as an ornamental plant.

It's called Rumex sanguineus (pronounced ROO-mex san-GWIN-ee-us). Common names include Bloody Dock, Red-veined Dock, Bloodwort because blood-red veins accentuate the wavy, rich green leaves. The specific name, sanguineus, obviously refers to the blood-red veins. Always curious, I'd like to know the derivation of the name, Rumex. I've found no authority for that. But I wouldn't be surprised if some species of sorrel was known to be a favorite of ruminates.

Bloody Dock is grown primarily for the foliage, though tall flower spikes bear small blooms and fruit. Flowers bloom spring to mid-summer. Mature height is 8 inches to 12 inches.

Rumex sanguineus is a perennial plant native to Europe, northern Africa, and southwest Asia. It prefers full sun in USDA climate zones 4 to 9. Plant in average, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.5.

Before planting, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing. The results will specify any necessary soil amendments.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 10 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. If your soil sample report indicates the need for fertilizer, avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 12 inches to 18 inches apart. Small plants may be planted closer together. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Water the plants in the pots, then drain. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep.

Bloody Dock is marvelous in perennial borders and container gardens. It self-sows readily. In addition to its ornamental value, Bloody Dock is also edible. The young leaves are best. Use them as cooked greens or for extra color in salads. Rumex sanguineus should have a place in your vegetable garden, too. You'll soon enjoy stalking the Bloody Dock for dinner.

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