Cleavers, Catchweed Bedstraw, Goose Grass, Sticky Willy
Synonyms of Galium aparine: Aparine hispida Moench, Aparine vulgaris Hill, Asperula aparine (L.) Besser, Asperula aparine var. aparine (L.) Nyman, Asterophyllum aparine (L.) K.F.Schimp. & Spenn., Crucianella purpurea Wulff ex Steud., Galion aparinum (L.) St.-Lag., Galium aculeatissimum Kit. ex Kanitz, Galium adhaerens Gilib., Galium aparine var. intermedium (Mérat) Bonnet, Galium aparine var. pseudoaparine (Griseb.) Speg., Galium asperum Honck., Galium charoides Rusby, Galium chilense Hook.f., Galium chonosense Clos, Galium hispidum Willd., Galium horridum Eckl. & Zeyh., Galium lappaceum Salisb., Galium larecajense Wernham, Galium parviflorum Maxim., Galium pseudoaparine Griseb., Galium segetum K.Koch, Galium tenerrimum Schur, Galium uliginosum Thunb., Galium uncinatum Gray, Rubia aparine (L.) Baill.
Galium aparine L. is the correct and accepted scientific name of Cleavers (etc.). The genus and species were named and described as such by Carl von Linnaeus in the first volume of the first edition of Species Plantarum in 1753.
Plants of the World Online lists 634 species in the Galium genus (as of 4-6-20 when I am updating this page). It is a member of the Rubiaceae Family with a total of 596 genera. Those numbers could change periodically as updates are made.
The above distribution map for Galium aparine is from Plants of the World Online. Areas in green are where the species is native and purple where it has been introduced. The map on the USDA Plants Database for North America is similar.
There are several links at the bottom of the page for further reading and to help with positive ID.
This page brings back a lot of memories as a kid. As I was writing wildflower pages for this site I was wondering why I hadn’t seen any of these plants for a long time. Undoubtedly, they have been here but I haven’t noticed them. Otherwise, how would I finally see a small clump behind the house to photograph on April 20? Surely it isn’t one of those “ask and you shall receive” deals… Hmmm… As spring progressed I was seeing them in many more areas so it is likely I am so used to them I just ignore them. When I was a kid it was one of the plants I hated because their seeds would get stuck on my socks.
Galium aparine is an annual species that is mainly unbranched or sometimes may have a few branches. The stems are weak and may grow upright or sprawl. The stems and leaves all have stiff downward-facing (retrorse) hairs that give them a sticky feeling which clings to everything. This species has MANY common names such as Cleavers, Catchweed, Bedstraw, Catchweed Bedstraw, Goose Grass, Sticky Willy, Sticky Weed, Sticky Bob, Stickybud, Stickyback, Robin-Run-The-Hedge, Sticky Willow, Stickyjack, Stickeljack, Grip Grass, Sticky Grass, Bobby Buttons, Velcro Plant, ETC.
The 4-angled stems are “furrowed” and hollow. The stems can grow upright to a point but usually become straggly and creep along the ground and can grow up to 3’ long or longer.
Up to eight narrow oblanceolate leaves grow in a whorled pattern along the stems. Of course, they also have retrorse hairs and are clingy.
The tiny 4-lobed flowers mainly grow above the leaf nodes, either solitary or 2-3 together on short peduncles. Flowers are subtended 1-4 leafy bracts.
Flowers consist of 4 white petals, 4 stamens, 2 styles, and a pair of green carpels that join together at the base of the flower. When the petals fall off, the carpels turn brown and contain a single seed.
Some people can develop contact dermatitis on their skin from this plant.
Apparently, Galium aparine is edible but should be cooked because of its clingy hairs. Interestingly, this species is in the same family as coffee and the fruits have been dried, roasted, and used as a coffee substitute with less caffeine.
The common name “bedstraw” comes from dried plants being used to stuff mattresses in Europe. Shepherds used the barbed stems of these plants to make a rough sieve to strain milk. Flowers of Galium verum were used in cheese making to curdle milk.
The roots of Galium aparine can be used to make a red dye.
I will probably add more photos as time goes by but you will have no problem identifying this species…
I have enjoyed photographing and learning about the many wildflowers growing on the farm and other areas. My farm is in Windsor, Missouri in Pettis County (Henry County is across the street and Benton and Johnson aren’t far away). I have grown over 500 different plants and most have pages listed on the right side of the blog. I am not an expert, botanist, or horticulturalist. I just like growing, photographing and writing about my experience. I rely on several websites for ID and a horticulturalist I contact if I cannot figure them out. Wildflowers can be somewhat variable from location to location, so sometimes it gets a bit confusing. If you see I have made an error, please let me know so I can correct what I have written.
I hope you found this page useful and be sure to check the links below for more information. They were written by experts and provide much more information. Some sites may not be up-to-date but they are always a work in progress. If you can, I would appreciate it if you would click on the “Like” below and leave a comment. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. You can also send an email to me at email@example.com. I would enjoy hearing from you especially if you notice something is a bit whacky
NOTE: Plants of the World Online is the most up-to-date database. It is very hard for some to keep with name changes these days so you may find a few discrepancies between the websites. Just be patient. Hopefully, someday they will be in harmony. 🙂