Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the February 9, 2009 Newsletter, issued from near Natchez, Mississippi:

The other day on the grassy slopes of a big levee next to the Mississippi River I came across several plants consisting of dense tufts or rosettes of foot-long, rabbit-ear-shaped, curly-margined leaves, as shown below:

Curly or Yellow Dock leaves, RUMEX CRISPUS

Immediately I set to work getting what's pictured below:

Curly or Yellow Dock leaves, RUMEX CRISPUS

The plant often is called Curly or Yellow Dock. It's RUMEX CRISPUS, a well-established weed throughout most of North America, originally from Europe, and a member of the Buckwheat Family, the Polygonaceae.

I picked the leaves because lately I've developed a powerful hankering for greens, and Curly Dock's leaves cook up a lot like spinach, and even have a similar taste and texture. Back in Kentucky my grandparents on both sides of the family considered dock-gathering an early-spring tradition as important as Sassafras-root digging, for over the winter they developed a hunger for cooked greens just like I have. In Mexico I had all the bananas and oranges I could eat, but that didn't quieten my appetite for greens.

Fixing dock greens is very easy. Just put them in a pot with a little water in the bottom and cook them over your campfire a few minutes until they're soggy. I pour off the water, even press extra water out, then spritz the greens with vinegar. Eaten with hot cornbread and maybe toped with fresh onion, it's awfully good, and feeds the hunger in you that's beyond that for mere bulk and taste. The healthy body knows what nutrients it needs, and hungers for them whether the stomach is full or not.

Several dock species exist. Curly Dock is distinguished by its curly leaf margins, its long leaf petioles, and the reddish spots developing as the leaves age.

from the June 23, 2013 Newsletter issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

In my life I've eaten a great deal of Curly Dock, RUMEX CRISPUS, picking the leaves early in spring when they're tender and sweet, and cooking them briefly in a pot. All winter a rosette of pretty, eminently edible Curly Dock leaves grew next to one of my raised beds of turnip and mustard greens, but I never picked the leaves, preferring to let the plant flower and fruit, if only as thanks to the species for the many fine side dishes it's provided to my innumerable slabs of hot cornbread. There's just something transcendentally good about hot cornbread accompanied by hot heaps of cooked dock. Well, you can see what's happened to the winter rosette of Curly Dock next to my raised bed below:

Curly Dock, RUMEX CRISPUS, with fruiting head

The rosette is gone, and now a slender, brown item rises above leaves scattered along the stem that rose from the rosette several weeks ago. The brown item is the fruiting head. You can see some mature fruits in the palm of my hand below:

Curly Dock, RUMEX CRISPUS, fruits

Each fruit separates into three "valves," with each valve being one of the flower's modified inner sepals. The egg-shaped bulges on some of the valves are grains or "achenes" grown into their accompanying valves. The wing-like sepals catch in the wind and help the grains disseminate.

Curly Dock is curly because its leaf margins appear as shown below:

Curly Dock, RUMEX CRISPUS, curled leaf

Docks are members of the Buckwheat Family, the Polygonaceae, which normally can be identified by a neat field mark consisting of a structure called the "ocrea," or "stipular sheath." Stipules are modified leaves in some plant families normally found at the base of leaf petioles. Often stipules protect immature leaves or shoots during their most tender early moments of expansion. Our Curly Dock possesses ocreas that are very thin and cellophane-like, and which this late in the season have turned brown and become tattered, as you can see below encircling the stem above each of the two leaf petioles:

Curly Dock, RUMEX CRISPUS, ocreas

Curly Dock is native to Eurasia, but it's become a weedy invasive nearly worldwide. You just have to admire its aggressiveness and adaptability. Maybe with all the changes and extinctions coming with global warming, someday in the future more people than us few present-day weed eaters will be happy that delicious, nutritious Curly Dock grows in a nearby sidewalk crack, or next to a raised bed.