Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a perennial vegetable that is famous for its reddish stalks and sour taste. Though it’s used as the sweetened fruit in pies, jams, and tarts.
You might be surprised to encounter this quick establishment plant outside of your garden as it needs no or less care.
Rhubarb has medicinal uses as it is rich in antioxidants that have anti-bacterial, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties to protect you from health issues like heart diseases, diabetes, and cancer.
But rhubarb can be poisonous for you if you have mistaken the rhubarb with the wild or poisonous weeds that are similar to rhubarb.
Yes, you read it correctly. There are many weeds that look like rhubarb and have many toxic effects on human health if consumed or touched by their toxic leaves.
Before harvesting the rhubarb looking plant, make sure to identify that it is truly a rhubarb or a weed. The other confusion that arises in identification is that some of these weeds include the word “rhubarb”.
In this guide, I share some information on weeds that look like rhubarb, their identification techniques, and control method.
Let’s get started.
- 1 Weeds that look like rhubarb
- 2 How to identify Wild Rhubarb
- 3 How to get rid of Wild Rhubarb
- 4 FAQ’s
- 5 Summary
Weeds that look like rhubarb
Many weeds have phenotypic resemblance with true rhubarb and a lot of people confused these weeds with rhubarb. These weeds have poisonous effects on human health and can cause serious problems.
Here are the weeds that look like rhubarb:
- Burdock Weed
- Prickly Rhubarb
- Skunk Cabbage
- Poison Hemlock
Wild Rhubarb is known with many names like Common Burdock, Wild Burdock, Burdock Weed, Clotbur, Rhubarbe Sauvage, and Lesser burdock.
Burdock (Arctium minus) is named as wild rhubarb and sometimes mistaken for rhubarb for its resemblance to true rhubarb but thanks to the word “wild”.
Its leaves resemble the rhubarb and have reddish stalks along with large heart-shaped leaves. It is a prolific weed that finds its way to your garden easily.
Common burdock is not edible and has dangerous effects like skin irritation and allergic reaction to the consumers. It also has diuretic effects on consumers.
Identification of Wild Rhubarb
- Firstly go for checking the stalks by cutting them. Wild rhubarb/Burdock has hollow stalks whereas the rhubarb does not.
- If the prickly burrs are protruding from the top of the plant then it would be Burdock or Wild Rhubarb while instead of burs rhubarb it produces white or red flowers.
- Burdock or wild rhubarb grows up to 6 feet while the rhubarb grows to 4 feet only.
- If the plant is less than 4 feet and hasn’t produced burs then go for checking leaves, if the fuzz coat is present on the underside of the leaf then it’s burdock but if it is smooth, it’s rhubarb.
Note: Make sure to clean or cover hands while checking for leaves as the fuzz beneath the leaves can cause irritation to the skin.
Prickly Rhubarb (Gunnera spp.) does create much confusion for people to mistake it for rhubarb due to the word “rhubarb” inclusion in its name. Furthermore, it does have a resemblance with the rhubarb in terms of leaves and stalks.
Prickly rhubarb are perennial plants that include giant rhubarb. It has large waxy leaves as well as thick stalks like rhubarb but is inedible.
Plants of prickle rhubarb are most commonly found along the watersides like lakes, ponds, and bogs.
Identification of Prickly Rhubarb
- Leaves of prickle rhubarb are larger in size than rhubarb.
- Its stems can grow 5 to 8 feet in height and leaves from 6 to 10 feet across.
- Prickle rhubarb produces red prickles that are bigger in size and are absent in rhubarb.
Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is a weed plant that is commonly confused with rhubarb. It has spade-shaped leaves that grow from the centre of the rosette-like rhubarb but its leaves stay on the smaller side.
This weed grows in boggy and marshy places and that makes the major clue for understanding that you are looking at is not rhubarb.
Identification of Skunk Cabbage
- Skunk cabbage grows in marshy places while the rhubarb loves the well-drained soils.
- Skunk cabbage’s stem does not have any color on them while the rhubarb has a reddish stalk.
- Notice the stalk of skunk cabbage by breaking it and smell it. Original rhubarb smells fruity and fresh while the skunk cabbage smells like skunk.
Note: according to the organic gardener, all the rhubarb does not have red stems while some rhubarb stalks remain green.
Pokeweed is a weed plant that is mistaken for rhubarb most of the time. It has red stalks/stems that create confusion for gardeners.
Pokeweed is a poisonous plant that can cause serious health problems if consumed. So make sure to identify the plant completely and then eat them.
Identification of Pokeweed
- Pokeweed has a distinct growth pattern than rhubarb.
- Rhubarb grows multiple stems from the same rosette while the pokeweed has a central stem and it produces further black bunches of berries each fall.
Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is an invasive weed plant that resembles the rhubarb due to its long stalks. It produces fern-like leaves. Being an invasive weed, it can thrive in your garden with less care.
You must get an idea from its name of how poisonous it is. It is a deadly plant and has toxic effects so take care to touch or eat them.
Ingesting the Hemlock will cause dizziness and slows down the heart rate and eventually death of consumers.
To get rid of this plant, wear gloves and a mask and pull or dig up the plant and dispose of the reach of children and pets.
Identification of Poison Hemlock
- Poison hemlock has longer and hollow stalks while rhubarb has short and non-hollow stalks.
- Stalks of hemlock have purple spots on the stem while the rhubarb has red-colored stalks.
How to identify Wild Rhubarb
Wild Burdock or common burdock can be identified simply by looking at the phenotypic appearances with trained eyes.
Here are some things that distinguish Wild Rhubarb from true Rhubarb:
- Wild Rhubarb grows commonly along the roadsides, pastures, waste areas, and ditch banks.
- Wild rhubarb has dark green and woolly leaves on the hollow stalks while the rhubarb has smooth leaves on non-hollow stalks.
- Leaves of burdock are less curly than rhubarb and the undersides of leaves are hairy or woolly, unlike rhubarb.
- Burdock plants grow to a height of 6 feet unlike rhubarb at 4 feet.
- Stalks of burdock are hollow while the rhubarb has solid stalks.
- Burdock has purple thistle-like flowers that are surrounded by hard hooked bristles.
How to get rid of Wild Rhubarb
Wild Rhubarb or Common Burdock is an invasive weed plant that can grow in your garden as it needs very little care. It is a low maintenance plant and needs less attention.
Wild Rhubarb enters your garden through any dirt means and establishes the weed plants among the true rhubarb.
So make sure to identify and remove them immediately by following the steps below.
- Firstly remove the rhubarb stalks and leaves with pruning shears.
- Dig the base of rhubarb stalks with a trowel and dig it out and discard the stalk.
- Now dig 4 feet area around the rhubarb plant to get rid of all the visible roots. You can’t remove all the roots but the more you remove it will be effective.
- Mix any lawn weed killer and make the solution by following the manufacturer’s instructions. It will surely kill rhubarb. Any broadleaf weed killer, having Dimethylamine salt, is effective for spraying over the rhubarb weeds.
- Spray the weed killer solution onto the 4 feet area you dig where the rhubarb was present. Let the area undisturbed for some time and give time to chemicals for action. Refrain from using sprinklers and watering for the next 24 hours.
- If any rhubarb sprouts come up, remove them and reapply the weed killer if more number of sproutings appear.
What is the plant that looks like a huge rhubarb?
Giant Rhubarb is a perennial plant that is huge in size and resembles the rhubarb in terms of physical appearance. Giant rhubarb is a plant that looks like a huge rhubarb.
When should you not eat rhubarb?
The best time to eat rhubarb is spring and early summer but it doesn’t mean that it becomes toxic or poisonous in late summer. It is advised to not eat rhubarb during summer because it tends to get woody in summer with no good taste.
How can you tell if a plant is a rhubarb?
Any plant resembling the rhubarb can be distinguished by looking at the stalks. Rhubarb has solid and shorter stalks as compared to the hollow stalks of resembling weed plants. There are purple spots on stems of weeds unlike the reddish stalks of rhubarb.
Is rhubarb hard to kill?
Rhubarb is a low-maintenance plant and thrives in the garden with little care but it doesn’t mean that it can be killed easily. It needs special action to kill rhubarb. Gardeners follow special techniques to prevent the re-sprouting of rhubarb in the garden.
Many weed plants resemble the true rhubarb vegetables in terms of leaves and stems. Only a technical person having the true knowledge to distinguish them can identify the rhubarb among the weeds.
Wild rhubarb, Prickly rhubarb, Skunk cabbage, Poison Hemlock, and Pokeweed are the weeds that look like rhubarb. They have resemblances with rhubarb for leaves and stalks. But there are some differences for purple spots, height, and leaves phenotype helps the gardeners to distinguish them.
If you identify any of the above-mentioned weeds in your garden, make sure to get rid of them immediately by following the steps described in the guide.
Usman is an aspiring writer and Agronomist from Pakistan. He certified with Masters in Planting and growth behaviour. His research on vegetable growth and fertilizer supply is published in many research papers.