Smooth Bedstraw (Galium mollugo)

Family:

Madder Family (Rubiaceae)

Other Names:

beggar-lice, chicken weed, cleavers, false baby's breath, robin-run-ahead, whip-tongue, white bedstraw, white hedge bedstraw, wild madder.

Origin and Distribution:

Smooth bedstraw is native to Eurasia. It is widespread in eastern Ohio and scattered throughout other areas of the state. Smooth bedstraw can be a persistent weed in lawns, pastures, fields, riverbanks, and along roadsides. It prefers gravelly or sandy loam soils.

Plant Description:

There are at least 30 different bedstraws in North America, and many are perennials like smooth bedstraw that produce sprawling tangled mats from which a few erect stems arise. The typical bedstraw leaf is linear and formed in whorls consisting of as many as 8 leaves at nodes on the stem. Smooth bedstraw is the only white-flowered form with 8 leaves at each node on main stems and 6 to 8 leaves at nodes on branches. Reproduction is by seeds and underground, spreading rhizomes (horizontal underground stems).

  • Stems:

    Stems are smooth, wiry, 4-angled, branched, and up to 3 feet long. Stems initially grow upright, but over time they become spreading and matted.

  • Leaves:

    Leaves are 1/3 to 1 inch long, linear, bright green, and whorled (usually, there are 8 leaves per node on main stems and 6 or 7 leaves per node on branches).

  • Flowers:

    Flowers are about 1/6 inch wide, white, and consist of tiny, 4-lobed petals. Flowers form in branched clusters at the ends of stems and branches throughout the plant.

  • Fruits and Seeds:

    Seeds are kidney-shaped, hairless, and dark brown.

Similar Species:

Smooth bedstraw can be distinguished from other perennial bedstraws that are also found in Ohio such as Clayton's bedstraw (Galium tinctorium), lanceleaf wild liquorice (G. lanceolatum), northern bedstraw (G. boreale), northern marsh bedstraw (G.palustre), shining bedstraw (G. concinnum), small bedstraw (G. trifidum), and yellow bedstraw( G. verum) because it is the only species with white flowers that has 8 leaves per node. Catchweed bedstraw (Galium aparine) is similar in appearance but its life cycle is that of an annual so its roots do not persist for more than one season as it establishes each year from seeds. Also, its stems, leaves, and fruits are prickly and its leaves are larger than those of smooth bedstraw.

Biology:

Plants produce flowers from June through August.

Toxicity:

None known.

Facts and Folklore:

  • The genus name, 'Galium' is from the Greek word for milk and refers to an old use for the plant to curdle milk in making cheese.

  • The common name 'bedstraw' has two possible origins: the dried plant was used to stuff mattresses; it is said that bedstraw was placed in the manger at Bethlehem when Jesus was born.

  • Small chickens get caught in this weed, hence the common name 'chicken weed'.