Galium aparine

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(Redirected from Cleavers)

Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Gentianales
Family: Rubiaceae
Genus: Galium
G. aparine
Binomial name
Galium aparine
  • Aparine hispida Moench nom. illeg.
  • Aparine vulgaris Hill
  • Asperula aparine (L.) Besser nom. illeg.
  • Asterophyllum aparine (L.) Schimp. & Spenn.
  • Crucianella purpurea Wulff ex Steud.
  • Galion aparinum (L.) St.-Lag.
  • Galium aculeatissimum Kit. ex Kanitz
  • Galium adhaerens Gilib. nom. inval.
  • Galium asperum Honck. nom. illeg.
  • Galium australe Reiche nom. illeg.
  • Galium charoides Rusby
  • Galium chilense Hook.f.
  • Galium chonosense Clos nom. illeg.
  • Galium hispidum Willd.
  • Galium horridum Eckl. & Zeyh. nom. illeg.
  • Galium intermedium Mérat nom. illeg.
  • Galium lappaceum Salisb. nom. illeg.
  • Galium larecajense Wernham
  • Galium parviflorum Maxim. nom. illeg.
  • Galium pseudoaparine Griseb.
  • Galium scaberrimum Vahl ex Hornem.
  • Galium segetum K.Koch
  • Galium tenerrimum Schur
  • Galium uliginosum Thunb. nom. illeg.
  • Galium uncinatum Gray
  • Rubia aparine (L.) Baill.

Galium aparine, with common names including cleavers, clivers, catchweed, robin-run-the-hedge, goosegrass and sticky willy, is an annual, herbaceous plant of the family Rubiaceae.


Galium aparine is known by a variety of common names in English. They include ' 'sweetheart', 'hitchhikers, cleavers,[2] clivers, bedstraw, (small) goosegrass (not to be confused with other plants known as goosegrass),[2] catchweed,[2] stickyweed, sticky bob,[3] stickybud, stickyback, sticky molly, robin-run-the-hedge, sticky willy,[2][4] sticky willow, stickyjack, stickeljack, grip grass, sticky grass, bobby buttons, whippysticks, velcro plant and sticky plants .[5][6]

Galium is Dioscorides’ name for the plant. It is derived from the Greek word for ‘milk’, because the flowers of Galium verum were used to curdle milk in cheese making.[7] Aparine is a name used by Theophrastus. It means 'clinging' or 'seizing',[7] and is derived from the Greek απαίρω apairo 'lay hold of, seize', itself coming from από 'from' + αίρω 'pull to lift'.[8]


Cleavers are annuals with creeping straggling stems which branch and grow along the ground and over other plants. They attach themselves with the small hooked hairs which grow out of the stems and leaves. The stems can reach up to 3 feet (0.91 m) or longer, and are angular or square shaped.[9] The leaves are simple, narrowly oblanceolate to linear, and borne in whorls of six to eight.[9][10][11]

Cleavers have tiny, star-shaped, white to greenish flowers, which emerge from early spring to summer. The flowers are clustered in groups of two or three, and are borne out of the leaf axils.[12] The corolla bears 4 petals.[13] The globular fruits are burrs which grow one to three seeds clustered together; they are covered with hooked hairs which cling to animal fur and human clothing, aiding in seed dispersal.[12]


The species is native to a wide region of Europe, North Africa and Asia from Britain and the Canary Islands to Japan. It is now naturalized throughout most of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, some oceanic islands and scattered locations in Africa. Whether it is native to North America is a question of some debate, but it is considered to be native there in most literature.[14] It is considered a noxious weed in many places.[15][16]

Effects on the body[edit]

For some people, contact with Galium aparine can cause skin irritation. Although the plant's hairs are small, they can scratch more sensitive parts of the skin.[17] Numerous such scratches can resemble a rash.


Chemical constituents of Galium aparine include: iridoid glycosides such as asperulosidic acid and 10-deacetylasperulosidic acid;[18] asperuloside; monotropein; aucubin; alkaloids such as caffeine; flavonoids; coumarins; organic acids such as citric acid and a red dye; phenolics such as phenolic acid;[19] and anthraquinone derivatives such as the aldehyde nordamnacanthal (1,3-dihydroxy-anthraquinone-2-al).[20]


Galium aparine is edible. The leaves and stems of the plant can be cooked as a leaf vegetable if gathered before the fruits appear. However, the numerous small hooks which cover the plant and give it its clinging nature can make it less palatable if eaten raw.[21][22] Geese frequently consume G. aparine, hence one of its other common names, "goosegrass".[23] Cleavers are in the same family as coffee. The fruits of cleavers have often been dried and roasted, and then used as a coffee substitute which contains less caffeine.[9][24]

Folk medicine[edit]

Poultices and washes made from cleavers were traditionally used to treat a variety of skin ailments, light wounds and burns.[25] As a pulp, it has been used to relieve poisonous bites and stings.[26] To make a poultice, the entire plant is used, and applied directly to the affected area.[27] Making a tea with the dried leaves is most common.[28] It can be brewed hot or cold. For a cold infusion, steep in water and refrigerate for 24–48 hours.

Other uses[edit]

Dioscorides reported that ancient Greek shepherds would use the barbed stems of cleavers to make a "rough sieve", which could be used to strain milk. Carl Linnaeus later reported the same usage in Sweden, a tradition that is still practiced in modern times.[25][29]

In Europe, the dried, matted foliage of the plant was once used to stuff mattresses. Several of the bedstraws were used for this purpose because the clinging hairs cause the branches to stick together, which enables the mattress filling to maintain a uniform thickness.[22][30] The roots of cleavers can be used to make a permanent red dye.[31]

Children in Britain and Ireland have historically used cleavers as a form of entertainment. The tendency for the leaves and stems to adhere to clothing is used in various forms of play, such as mock camouflage and various pranks.


The plant can be found growing in hedges and waste places, limestone scree and as a garden weed.[32][33]

G. aparine prefers moist soils and can exist in areas with poor drainage. It reportedly flourishes in heavy soils with above-average nitrogen and phosphorus content, and prefers soils with a pH value between 5.5 and 8.0. G. aparine is often found in post-fire plant communities in the United States, likely developing from onsite seed and therefore rendering controlled burns as an ineffective means of removing G. aparine in areas where it is considered a noxious weed.[34]

Many insects feed on cleavers including aphids and spittlebugs.

The anthraquinone aldehyde nordamnacanthal (1,3-dihydroxy-anthraquinone-2-al) present in G. aparine has an antifeedant activity against Spodoptera litura, the Oriental leafworm moth, a species which is considered an agricultural pest.[20] The mite Cecidophyes rouhollahi can be found on G. aparine.[35]



  1. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d "Galium aparine". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  3. ^ "Plant Details for a Galium aparine L".
  4. ^ Viney, Michael. "Another Life: Sometimes stickyback is just the weed we need". 24 Aug 2013. Irish Retrieved 18 June 2017.
  5. ^ "Catchweed Bedstraw Management Guidelines--UC IPM".
  6. ^ james. "Cleavers (Gallium aparine) Identification". Totally Wild UK.
  7. ^ a b Gledhill, David (2008). "The Names of Plants". Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521866453 (hardback), ISBN 9780521685535 (paperback). pp 52, 174
  8. ^ "Galium aparine | CLIMBERS".
  9. ^ a b c Duke, James A. (2001). Handbook of Edible Weeds. CRC Press. p. 100. ISBN 9780849329463.
  10. ^ Rabeler, Richard K. (2007). Gleason's Plants of Michigan. University of Michigan Press. p. 299. ISBN 9780472032464.
  11. ^ Webb, D.A., Parnell, J. and Doogue, D. 1996. An Irish Flora. Dundalgan Press (W.Tempest) Ltd. Dundalk. 0-85221-131-7
  12. ^ a b Grieve, Maud (1971). "Clivers". A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs, & Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses, Volume 1. Dover Publications. p. 206. ISBN 9780486227986.
  13. ^ Parnell, J. and Curtis, T. 2012 Webb's An Irish Flora Cork University Press. ISBN 978-185918-4783
  14. ^ US Forest Service
  15. ^ Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  16. ^ Biota of North America Program
  17. ^ Mahr, Susan. "Catchweed Bedstraw, Galium aparine". Wisconsin Horticulture. Archived from the original on 2023-04-03. Retrieved 2023-04-26.
  18. ^ Iridoids from Galium aparine. D Deliorman, I Çalis, and F Ergun, Pharmaceutical Biology, 2001, Vol. 39, No. 3, Pages 234–235, doi:10.1076/phbi.
  19. ^ Rahman, Atta-ur (2005). Studies in Natural Products Chemistry: Bioactive Natural Products (Part L). Gulf Publishing Company. p. 291. ISBN 9780444521712.
  20. ^ a b Antifeedant activity of an anthraquinone aldehyde in Galium aparine L. against Spodoptera litura F. Masanori Morimoto, Kumiko Tanimoto, Akiko Sakatani and Koichiro Komai, Phytochemistry, May 2002, Volume 60, Issue 2, Pages 163–166, doi:10.1016/S0031-9422(02)00095-X
  21. ^ Elias, Thomas S.; Dykeman, Peter A. (1990). Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide. ISBN 9780806974880. Retrieved 2013-08-14.
  22. ^ a b Tull, Delena. "Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest." 1999, p. 145
  23. ^ Dukes, James A. (2002). The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. Macmillan. p. 102. ISBN 9780312981518.
  24. ^ Wood, Matthew (2008). "Galium aparine. Cleavers. Lady's Bedstraw. Goosegrass.". The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books. p. 267. ISBN 9781556436925.
  25. ^ a b Grieve, Maud (1971). "Clivers". A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs, & Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses, Volume 1. Dover Publications. p. 207. ISBN 9780486227986.
  26. ^ Jones, Pamela. Just Weeds: History, Myths, and Uses. Prentice Hall Press, New York. 1991.
  27. ^ Schneider, Anny; Mellichamp, Larry (2002). Wild Medicinal Plants: What to Look For, When to Harvest, How to Use. Stackpole Books. p. 73. ISBN 9780811729871.
  28. ^ "Extend the Benefits of Massage: Part 2 |". 14 May 2012.
  29. ^ Loudon, John Claudius. "An encyclopædia of plants", 1836, p. 93
  30. ^ Runkel, Sylvan T.; Roosa, Dean M. (2009). Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest. University of Iowa. p. 65. ISBN 9781587297960.
  31. ^ Hutchens, Alma R. (1992). A Handbook of Native American Herbs. Shambala Publications. p. 97. ISBN 9780877736998.
  32. ^ Hackney, P. (Ed)1992. Stewart & Corry's Flora of the North-east of Ireland. Third Edition. Institute of Irish Studies, The Queen's University of Belfast. ISBN 0 85389 446 9
  33. ^ Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. and Warburg, E.F. 1968. Excursion Flora of the British Isles. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press.
  34. ^ Gucker, Corey. "Galium aparine". Fire Effects Information System. United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. Retrieved 14 February 2017.
  35. ^ A new species of Cecidophyes (Acari: Eriophyidae) from Galium aparine (Rubiaceae) with notes on its biology and potential as a biological control agent for Galium spurium. Charnie Craemer, Rouhollah Sobhian, Alec S. McClay and James W. Amrine Jr., International Journal of Acarology, 1999, Volume 25, Issue 4, pages 255–263, doi:10.1080/01647959908684162

Further reading[edit]