Galium aparine L.
April to July N Family: Rubiaceae
Flower: Tiny eighth of an inch across white, four-petaled flowers sit in the leaf nodes on short stalks. The petals come out of a green cup of sepals and fold open. The ends of the petals are pointed. One to several flowers form whorls around the leaf nodes starting about half way out the stem.
Leaf: Whorls of six leaves surround the stems at intervals. The leaves lie flat, are long and narrow, widest just before rounding into a sharp point. Each leaf has a midvein. The midvein and leaf edges are lined with stiff barbs.
Stem: Several green, ridged, stiff stems come from a common root. The base of the stems is very thin. The rest of the stem is about a quarter inch thick, branching, lined with hooked barb hairs so the plant forms a dense mat. The barbs can cling to other objects and plants letting them climb upward three to four feet.
Root: The root is an annual fibrous one.
Fruit: Usually two joined seed capsules form from each flower. The capsules are ovate and covered with stiff barbs long enough to double the apparent size of the capsule.
Habitat: This plant likes sunny, disturbed areas but will grow readily in ravines, pastures, gardens and edges of woods.
Annual Bedstraw, Goose Grass
Every stem, leaf and fruit of Cleavers or Bedstraw is covered with short, stiff, curved barbs. These join the various stems together into mats. They attach to objects and plants so the stems can grow up three to four feet. They attach to anything passing by holding on tenaciously, resisting al attempts to dislodge them, stems snapping to leave portions still attached.
The fruits caught in hair are soon wrapped in the hair. Removal with the least pain is pulling one hair out at a time until the fruit is free. As any given Cleavers stem is lined with double fruits, numerous fruits must be removed in this time consuming way but impatient tugs threaten to pull clumps of hair out with the fruits.
Each root system has numerous stems growing from it. The stems can branch but those I’ve seen do so rarely. The single stems joined together by their barbs bury nearby plants.
The name of bedstraw refers to pioneers using the plentiful plant as mattress stuffing.
There are several kinds of Galium plants. All have similar flowers although the size differs. The easiest way to recognize Cleavers is from the leaves. These are usually in whorls of six. Each leaf is long, round tipped and narrow. The other six leaf whorled Galium is a small plant about eight inches tall.
Cleavers or Bedstraw grows readily in disturbed areas such as along lawn edges and gardens. The best time to pull it out of these areas is before to just as it comes into bloom. The fruits form quickly and are a nuisance later.