Galls and Rusts List 
categoryZClimbers Climbers List 



Galium aparine

Bedstraw Family [Rubiaceae]

month8apr month8april month8may month8jun month8june month8jul month8july month8aug month8sep month8sept


27th June 2009, Blackleach Country Pk, Walkden, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
Scrambles and clambers its way through other plants using its backwardly directed curved hairs to help it stay there. Reaches up to 3m in length!

25th April 2005, Lancaster Canal. Photo: © RWD
Leaves in whorls of 6 to 8 all the way up the square stem.

4th April 2007, Bridgewater Canal, Appley Bridge, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Whorls almost the same diameter across except for those near the very top of the plant where more whorls are being produced. Emerging from each whorl there may be one (sometimes two) much shorter branches terminating in another whorl of leaves.

3rd April 2009, Ken's Boat Crawl, Lancaster Canal. Photo: © RWD
Leaves have short hairs or bristly prickles on the edge; those nearer the tip pointing forward, whilst those nearer the main stem pointing backwards. Each leaf is tipped with a longer bristle which reddens. Leaves 10-60mm long. The widest part of the otherwise linear leaf is just before it narrows to a point at the end.

27th June 2009, Blackleach Country Pk, Walkden, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
The square stem has stiffer and backwardly curved bristly prickles on each edge (none on the flats). Tiny white flowers adorn the extremities of the plant in May to September.

12th June 2008, Wye Dale, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Flowers are white with 4 petals and 4 stamens bearing cream coloured anthers. The reddish spikes at the top are the terminal bristles on the new developing whorl of leaves. Spent flowers have a pair of tiny very hairy (the hairs being curved) balls at their base (the fruits) - these could be the why it has the nick-name 'Sticky Willy' - the curved hairs on the ball pairs ensure they cling to clothing and animal fur.

27th June 2009, Blackleach Country Pk, Walkden, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
Each flower has 4 tiny heart-shaped petals, 4 stamens with first yellow (then cream) anthers and a central white discoidal stigma.

6th July 2007, Little Langdale, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The edges of the leaves have short bristly hairs, some forwardly directed, others backwardly.

17th Aug 2007, Cromford Canal, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
Gone to fruit. like a pawnbrokers shop, three balls are dangled to latch onto the fur or clothing of any passing animal. The balls are actually in close-pairs, but in this photo most of the smaller ones must have failed to be pollinated?

12th June 2008, Wye Dale, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
The pairs of hairy spherical fruits below each flower, some developing, others nearly ripe. The curved hairs on them cling to fur.

3rd April 2009, Ken's Boat Crawl, Lancaster Canal. Photo: © RWD
Forwardly directed curved bristles on the ends of leaves, backwardly directed nearer the square main

1st June 2011, conduit, Rushton Spencer, Staffs. Photo: © RWD
The bristles on the 4 edges of the main stems are more substantial and all directed downwards. The edges of the square stems have ridges - which is where the bristles are attached.

1st June 2011, conduit, Rushton Spencer, Staffs. Photo: © RWD
The bristles are transparent and have a bulbous base which is absent in those of the shorter (only 1m long) False Cleavers (Galium spurium).

Cecidophyes rouhollahi

 Galls and Rusts Menu

28th May 2011, Penryn Bay, North Wales. Photo: © RWD
The mite Cecidophyes rouhollahi invades the leaves of Cleavers causing them to swell and curl inwards to thereby enclose the mites in a mass of hairs. They turn pale-green at first.

28th May 2011, Penryn Bay, North Wales. Photo: © RWD
Infected leaves later turn pinkish-red. It was previously thought to be caused by the mite Cecidophyes galii but this was later proved wrong for all Cleavers galls in the UK. They are potentially a biological control agent against the spread of Cleavers.

Easily mistaken for : Hedge Bedstraw (Galium album) (along with the even smaller leaved [5-11mm long] Heath Bedstraw (Galium saxatile)) which have smooth stems (but hairs on the edges of the leaves) but that has shorter leaves [at 5-30mm long] than those of Cleavers [at 10-60mm long].

Easily mis-identified as : False Cleavers (Galium spurium) but that is shorter (only 1m as opposed to 3m), has narrower leaves, the curved bristles on the stem lack the bulbous base and the fruits are blackish and lack bristles. This is found in far fewer hectads, only in 7 hectads in the 2000-2009 decade.

Some similarities to : Corn Cleavers (Galium tricornutum) but that is now very rare, so rare it was found in only one hectad in the 2000-2009 decade, having greatly decreased as an arable weed during the 1980's and 1990's. It is even shorter at only 60cm, has creamy-white flowers which are on common stalks and which are shorter than the leaves and like False Cleavers lacks prickles on the fruits.

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature : The stems cling to clothing by minute backward-pointing prickles on the edges of the stems.

No relation to : Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa), Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana), Red Goosefoot (Chenopodium rubrum) [plants with similar names belonging to disparate families].

The genus Galium derives from the Greek γαλα meaning 'milk'; the specific epithet aparine from the Greek αδραξε meaning 'to seize': Greek shepherds used Goosegrass to strain or filter-out (seize particles from) milk. Also, it seems the fluid squeezed from the stems from another Galium species, Lady's Bedstraw (Galium verum) has in the passed been used to curdle milk in the making of cheese.

The plant, like many others that are stiff, accumulates silicon as silicon dioxide as it grows, being quite unpalatable when old.

Geese and other farmyard fowl love to eat this plant, hence one of its common names of 'Goosegrass'. Your Author thinks that the other common name Cleavers may reflect the tendency of the small spherical prickly fruit to cleave into two.

It contains several chemical compounds. Some iridoid gycosides such as Asperulosidic Acid, Asperuloside, Monotropein and Aucubin. Because they also contain the purine alkaloid Caffeine Cleavers have in the past been used, dried and roasted, as a coffee substitute on account of it containing less caffeine than does coffee. And like many in the Bedstraw family, it also contains Coumarins.


 A red anthraquinone aldehyde dye, NorDamnaCanthal (being 1,3-Dihydroxy-Anthraquinone-2-al), can be extracted as orange crystals from both Cleavers, Lady's Bedstraw (Galium verum), Wild Madder Rubia peregrina and Madder Rubia tinctorium (both are members of the same Bedstraw family) for use as a permanent red dye. It also acts as a insect and moth repellent for those insects want to feed on the plant. This compound is cytotoxic to Breast Carcinoma and T-lymphoblastic Leukaemia. It is possible that NorDamnaCanthin, like the Alizarin and Purpurin dyes in Madder, are actually present as colourless glycosides.

  Galium aparine  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Rubiaceae  

 family8Bedstraw family8Rubiaceae
 BSBI maps



Galium aparine

Bedstraw Family [Rubiaceae]