Dock is a striking roadside sight, especially now as it is in fruit or beginning to die. The tall stalks of red or dark brown stand out in bold contrast to the dry grasses they often grow in. Curly dock likes to grow in damp areas that have standing water in the winter.
I had a lot of trouble telling curly dock (Rumex crispus) from Western dock (Rumex occidentalis) using my key. But I am now pretty sure that I’ve figured out a good seat-of-the-pants way to tell them apart: look at the tiny fan-like fruit. Curly dock, shown here, has a little nub at the center of every one–sort of like a baseball lodged in a mitt (see the photo above). Western dock looks more like a reddish leaf with a thickened vein at the center.
Young leaves are edible in small quantities, and have high levels of oxalic acid which give it a lemony flavor (like redwood sorrel). Eating it may aggravate people with rheumatism, arthritis, gout, or kidney stones so be careful! It also can be used as a gentle laxative.