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 DYE
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.