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Zones A1-A3, 1-11, 34-45
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Leaves are poisonous if ingested. Eat cooked stems only.


Perennials, Vegetables

Huge, heart-shaped, crinkled leaves are carried on rhubarb’s thick, typically red-tinted stalks. These deciduous plants, which are as showy as many ornamentals, easily grow to 3 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide, and develop very large roots. Leafstalks have a delicious, tart flavor and are typically used like fruit in sauces and pies. Flowers are insignificant, but spikelike white (or red and white) bracts are big and showy, appear in midspring. Preferred varieties include ‘Cherry’ (‘Crimson Cherry’) and ‘MacDonald’, both with red stalks; and ‘Victoria’, which produces greenish stalks.

Rhubarb is probably a hybrid between Rheum rhaponticum and R. palmatum, both from China. For strictly ornamental kinds, see Rheum.

Needs some winter chill for thick stems, good red color (if you grow a red variety). Plant divisions (containing at least one bud) 3–6 ft. apart in late winter or early spring. In Zones 10 and 11, treat as an annual, planting in fall for cool-season harvest (plants tend to rot in heat of late spring, summer). Elsewhere, delay harvest until the third season, when you can pull off leafstalks for 4 or 5 weeks in spring; older, huskier plants can take up to 8 weeks of pulling. Harvest by pulling stalks sideways and outward; don’t cut, since the remaining stub would decay. Never remove all the leaves from a single plant; stop harvesting when slender leafstalks appear. After harvest, feed and water freely; cut out any blossom stalks that appear. In the mildest areas, plants won’t die back completely in winter.


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