Stalkin’ the Truth: Exposing the Tart Truth Behind Plants That Look Like Rhubarb


Rhubarb is a beloved plant for its deliciously tart and tangy taste, but did you know that several plants out there look like rhubarb but are actually imposters?

These Rhubarb doppelgangers can easily be mistaken for the real deal, but they can have severe consequences if consumed. Whether you’re a gardening enthusiast or simply enjoy cooking with rhubarb, it’s crucial to be able to distinguish the wheat from the chaff when it comes to these look-alike plants.

Hold onto your stalks and get ready to learn about some wild and tall plants as well as burdock, that may have you fooled into thinking they are rhubarb.

How do I Identify Rhubarb?

Rhubarb Plant

Rhubarb plants are the real McCoy when it comes to adding a tangy twist to your recipes. This stalky superstar is a piece of cake to grow in your backyard and can be used in several culinary dishes.

First things first, you should keep your eyes peeled for some telltale signs. Rhubarb is a perennial plant that has large, heart-shaped leaves with long thick stalks that are usually reddish-green in color. It can grow to 3 feet (91cm) tall, so it’s hard to miss!

One way to distinguish rhubarb from other plants is to give it the smell test. Rhubarb has a distinct tart odor that is undeniable. You can also gently rub the stalks between your fingers- if they feel slightly fuzzy or hairy, you’re likely dealing with rhubarb.

So now you know how to identify the real deal; let us look at the wild plants that look like rhubarb.

Wild Plants that Look Like Rhubarb

Pokeweed (Phytolacca decandra)

Pokeweed (Phytolacca decandra)

Pokeweed and rhubarb may look alike at first glance because of their long thick stems that are used for cooking. However, pokeweed stems are much wider and more fibrous than rhubarb.

Additionally, while rhubarb stems are usually reddish-green, pokeweed stems are generally a darker shade of green. Another significant difference between the two plants is the foliage. Rhubarb has large heart-shaped leaves that are relatively smooth, while pokeweed has smaller, more jagged, darker leaves. Pokeweed leaves also contain a toxin that can be harmful if ingested, so be careful if you’re foraging for these plants!

Despite their differences, both pokeweed and rhubarb have some exciting characteristics. Pokeweed is a tall bushy plant that can sometimes grow up to 10 feet (305cm) tall. It’s native to the eastern United States and has been used for centuries by Native American tribes for medicinal purposes.

While pokeweed is uncommon in modern cooking, it has some interesting uses. You can use the roots and berries of the plant to make a red dye; some people still use the leaves and stems to make a traditional southern dish called poke salad.

On the other hand, Rhubarb is a perennial plant native to Asia but has been cultivated in Europe and North America for centuries. It has a tangy, slightly sour flavor and is perfect for making pies and pastries. 

Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum)

Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum)

First of all, both Poison Hemlock and Rhubarb have long leafy stalks that can grow quite tall. However, that’s pretty much where the likeness finishes. Poison hemlock has fern-like leaves that are much more petite than Rhubarbs’ broad heart-shaped leaves.

Additionally, Poison Hemlocks stems are much thinner and more delicate than Rhubarbs’ sturdy thick stalks. One fundamental way to tell the difference between the two plants is to look for the purple spots on the stems. Poison Hemlocks’ branches are covered in purple spots, while Rhubarbs are usually a solid reddish-green.

Now let us talk about the characteristics and uses. Poison Hemlock is a biennial plant that is native to Europe. It has been naturalized in North America. It is highly toxic (hence its name) and can be deadly if ingested. So be sure to keep your distance from this plant!

Interestingly Poison Hemlock has a storied history- it is said to have been the plant used to poison the philosopher Socrates in Ancient Greece. In terms of size, Poison Hemlock can grow up to a staggering 10 feet (305cm) tall in some cases, but it usually stays closer to 5-6 feet (152-182cm). It prefers growing in moist, shady areas like ditches and along riverbanks.

Beetroot (Beta Vulgaris)

Beetroot (Beta Vulgaris)

Next up on the list of plants that look like rhubarb is Beetroot. Ok, this one doesn’t look identical, but I can see why some might need clarification, especially if they are new to gardening.

The differences between Beetroot and Rhubarb lie in the foliage of the plants. Beetroot has more slender stems and smaller rounder leaves than rhubarb, with long thick stalks that we harvest. Not only are beetroot slender, but they are reddish purple instead of rhubarbs that are more reddish green.

The main similarity between these two plants is that both beetroot and rhubarb are edible! However, while rhubarb is usually used in sweet desserts, Beetroot is more commonly used in savory dishes like salads or roasted vegetables.

Beetroot is a biennial plant that is native to the Mediterranean region. It’s a hardy crop that is easy to grow in the garden and can be harvested multiple times throughout the growing season.

Beetroot is a bit of a troublemaker in the kitchen! Its vibrant red color stains your hands, clothes, and countertops, so be careful if you plan to cook with it.

American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa)

American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa)

This North American perennial might be a far cry from rhubarb, but it does have a strong earthy smell that some people love and others… well, not so much.

American Spikenard has much thinner stalks than Rhubarb, and its leaves are much more delicate and feathered. On top of that, the American Spikenard has small white flowers that grow in clusters which is quite the opposite of Rhubarbs’ large heart-shaped leaves.

There is one similarity between the two plants, though- Both American Spikenard and Rhubarb have been used in traditional medicine. American Spikenard was historically used to treat various ailments and is still used today in herbal medicines.

Size-wise, the American spikenard can grow up to 6 feet (182cm) tall, and its hefty root system is that part that’s harvested for herbal remedies for respiratory issues and stress.

All in all, while American Spikenard and Rhubarb might not look too similar, they both have unique qualities and can be used for various purposes. So, whether you’re using American spikenard to treat a cold or Rhubarb to make a pie, just enjoy the plants for what they are!

Tall Plants that Look Like Rhubarb

Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera tinctoria)

Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera tinctoria)

This plant may look like your average rhubarb, but it’s not your grandma’s variety. Let me tell you, this plant has a whole different ball game!

First things first- its size. The Giant rhubarb makes regular rhubarb look like a puny sprout. This bad boy can grow up to 10 feet (305cm) tall with its leaves that can reach up to 6 feet (182cm) wide! This plant is not for the faint of heart.

When it comes to similarities of rhubarb, both plants belong to the same family, and they both have edible stalks. But that’s where the resemblance stops. Unlike rhubarb, the Giant rhubarb stalks are not commonly eaten as they taste bitter and can even be toxic in large quantities.

Regarding the difference between these two plants, Giant rhubarb leaves are so huge they look kind of prehistoric. They are covered in tiny white hairs that can irritate your skin, so be careful when handling them. Additionally, the Giant rhubarb prefers wet soil and thrives in boggy areas, whereas Rhubarb can tolerate drier soil conditions.

About the uses of the Giant rhubarb, its massive size and its impressive leaves make it a popular choice for landscaping and garden decoration.

Overall, the Giant rhubarb may look similar to rhubarb, but it’s a whole different beast. With its gigantic size, unique leaves, and ornamental value, this plant is a true showstopper. Just be sure to handle it with care and keep it away from the pie crust!

Chinese Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum)

Chinese Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum)

You may be thinking, isn’t that just regular old rhubarb?! And while they do share some resemblances, there are some key differences to note.

First of all, Chinese Rhubarb is a perennial plant that belongs to the family Polygonaceae, just like regular rhubarb. It is native to China, but it’s now grown in many parts of the world. The plant can grow up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) tall and has heart-shaped leaves that are large and green.

While regular rhubarb is primarily used for its stems, a popular ingredient in jams and desserts, Chinese rhubarb is prized for its roots. Yes, the root. In fact, Chinese rhubarb root has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment for several issues, including constipation, diarrhea, and liver problems. It’s also been used as a laxative (so if you’re feeling a little backed up, you know what to do!)

But back to the differences- Regular rhubarb has a bright red stalk, whereas Chinese rhubarb has a brownish red stalk with a yellow center. The Chinese rhubarb leaves are also much more significant and have a distinctive wavy edge to them, unlike the smooth edge of regular rhubarb leaves.

Regarding the size differences, Chinese rhubarb can grow to be much larger than its western counterpart. In fact, the root can grow up to 3 feet (1 meter) long and weigh a heavy 6.6 lbs. (3 Kg)- That’s a lot of rhubarb root!

One important aspect to note regarding Chinese rhubarb is that although it has many medicinal benefits, it’s essential to use it in moderation. Too much of a good thing can be bad for you, as we know. And just like regular rhubarb, the leaves of Chinese rhubarb are toxic and should not be consumed.

Rhubarb Burdock (Arctium minus)

Rhubarb Burdock (Arctium minus)

The last plant that looks like rhubarb is Rhubarb Burdock which is not part of the same family. You might wonder if it is just another type of rhubarb or if there is more to it.

Unlike regular rhubarb and Chinese Rhubarb, Rhubarb burdock belongs to the Asteraceae (Daisy) family. And you can see some critical differences between the two.

For a start, Rhubarb burdock is native to Europe and Asia. Like Rhubarb, Rhubarb burdock has edible stalks that are used in cooking.

However, the stalks are longer and thicker than those of regular rhubarb and have a distinct flavor that is described as earthy and slightly sweet. The taste is commonly compared to the flavor of artichokes or asparagus.

Moving on to the size of this plant. Rhubarb can grow up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall, with stalks reaching a mighty 5 feet (1.5 meters) length! Both plants have large green leaves, but the shapes are a bit different. Regular rhubarb leaves have a slight curve at the base, while Rhubarb Burdock leaves are much more rosette shaped and have a distinctive point at the end.

Some people say Rhubarb Burdock leaves look a bit like large elephant ears!

While it may not be as well-known as regular rhubarb, Rhubarb Burdock has been used in traditional medicine to treat various illnesses. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and has been used to treat everything from sore throats to digestive issues.

Now before you go running to your nearest grocery store in search of this magical vegetable, it’s worth knowing that it’s tricky to find outside of Asia. But fear not, my friend, as you can always try growing your own! Just be prepared for some long stalks and earthy flavors.

Resembling Rhubarb: Facts Explored

While all these plants may look similar to the untrained eye, they each boast unique qualities. Regular Rhubarb is primarily used for cooking and baking, and the other species are mainly used for medicinal or ornamental uses at the very most. It seems that over time we have weeded out the tastiest rhubarb plant, which is now a popular ingredient.

It’s essential to correctly identify these plants before using them, as they can have toxic properties if consumed improperly. With proper knowledge, these rhubarb lookalikes can be a great addition to your cooking and wellness routines.

FAQ About plants that look like Rhubarb

Is there a plant that looks like rhubarb but it’s not?

Rhubarb burdock is a plant that looks like rhubarb. It belongs to a different family known as Asteraceae (Daisy). It is often mistaken for garden rhubarb due to its name and edible parts.

What plants look like rhubarb leaves?

Burdock, Poison Hemlock, Pokeweed, and Chinese Rhubarb are all plants that look like rhubarb.

What large plant looks like rhubarb?

Rhubarb Gunnera (Giant Rhubarb) is a large variety of Rhubarb belonging to the same family. It has edible stalks like garden Rhubarb but should not be eaten excessively as it can be toxic in large quantities.

What vegetable looks like rhubarb?

Swiss Chard and beetroot are both vegetables that can often look like rhubarb due to their colorful stalks.

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