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Dry redwood sorrel shows signs of drought stress at Armstrong Redwoods.
Dry redwood sorrel shows signs of drought stress at Armstrong Redwoods.

I recently walked with a childhood friend through Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, one of the only old coast redwood forests left in Sonoma County. It certainly felt like fall, with the sunlight low in the sky as midday approached. Along the trail I saw patches of redwood sorrel, the common herbaceous plant that looks so much like clover.

This unassuming species has always appeared hardy to me as it toughs it out in the shadow of the redwoods, but on this walk I saw signs of stress. Patches of redwood sorrel had curling leaves that appeared crispy. Not all the sorrel was affected, but I was surprised to see such sad sorrel in many places. We’ve had such a dry year in California and in the redwood forest, it’s been way to many months since sustained rainfall soaked the woods. I suspect this has left redwood sorrel dehydrated and without enough water to avoid the warm sunlight that filters down through the forest canopy.

Typically, sorrel avoids the sun by intentionally lowering its leaflets like a folding umbrella to prevent heatstroke when bright sun flecks pass across the forest floor. This sun-avoidance strategy usually protects the plant well, but is only effective when the plant is well hydrated. Instead of sun salutations, the Armstrong redwood sorrel has simply dried out and curled up. Hopefully the rains will come soon and the lovely redwood sorrel will recover. Everybody do a rain dance!

For another observation about of how redwood sorrel reacts to the weather, read Seen Sorrel Cry?


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About Emily Burns

Emily joined Save the Redwoods League as the Director of Science in 2010 after studying redwood forest ecology for seven years.


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2 Responses to “Too dry for redwood sorrel?”

  1. Emily Burns

    Teresa, you’re asking great questions! One thing that has puzzled me for years is why some coast redwood forests don’t have redwood sorrel or only have a little. We think that sorrel is fairly sensitive to disturbance, so places that are trampled now or were trampled in the past are tricky for sorrel to thrive. It’s a very shallowly rooted plant with roots growing above the soil and intertwined in the fallen leaves on the forest floor. Since there is a patch of sorrel that is hanging on near your family cabin, that’s a great sign and I imagine it will spread over time if the reason it’s limited now is because of past land use. Minimizing compaction near the plants is probably the best thing you can do.

    Reply
  2. Teresa

    We are fortunate enough to have a rickety 1940s family cabin in the Mendocino County redwoods, and I noticed this summer that the sorrel was quite sparse up there.

    How do you propagate it/help it spread/survive? Can you buy redwood sorrel somewhere and plant it? Are there sorrel seeds? How do you make it happy and encourage it to bounce back?

    I know it’s really a wild forest… …but I’d like to help our little patch of it stay healthy as much as possible.

    ?

    Reply

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