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Pests in Gardens and Landscapes

Catchweed Bedstraw

In this Guideline:

Catchweed bedstraw stem showing whorled leaves.

Catchweed bedstraw flowers and fruit.

Catchweed bedstraw seedling.

Catchweed bedstraw, Galium aparine, an annual weed belonging to the Madder (Rubiaceae) family, can be found throughout most of the world. The species name “aparine” comes from a Latin word meaning “to seize,” which is very appropriate considering the clinging nature of this weed. Catchweed bedstraw is known by many names around the world including cleavers, bedstraw, stickywilly, and “velcro plant.” Bedstraw is native to North America and can be found throughout California, particularly in moist, shady areas. Bedstraw is often an early colonizer of waste places, roadsides, and other disturbed sites; however, it also can be a major weed of crops such as cereals, hay, rapeseed, and sugarbeet as well as home landscapes and vegetable gardens.

IDENTIFICATION

The cotyledons (seed leaves) of bedstraw are oblong to egg shaped, with slightly notched tips. The cotyledons are smooth, lack hairs, and range in length from 1/2 to one inch. Mature catchweed bedstraw has stems up to 6 feet long that are square in profile, especially near the tips. Bedstraw often forms dense, tangled mats that sprawl on the ground or over other vegetation. Leaves are whorled (usually with six or eight leaves in a whorl), and small, downward-curved prickles cover both the stem and leaves. These hairlike structures are responsible for the characteristic tangled growth habit and attachment of plant parts to clothing and animals; they also aid in dispersal of the species. Small, four-parted, white or greenish-white flowers are borne on short branches originating in the leaf axils on upper parts of the plant.

LIFE CYCLE

Bedstraw is a winter or summer annual in California with peak germination in mid- to late December and secondary germination in February or March when soil is still cool and moist. Seedlings can emerge even if they are buried up to 3 inches deep in loose soil. However, the seed will not sprout on the soil surface, as exposure to light inhibits germination.

Bedstraw has a slender taproot and sprawling stems, and can tolerate freezing temperatures while in the vegetative growth stage. This fast growing weed can flower in as little as eight weeks after germination; the flowers are self-pollinated and usually set seed in late spring to mid-summer months. Two-lobed, spherical or slightly kidney-shaped fruit separate into two nutlets in the summer and fall after the plant senesces (i.e., its leaves dry up and fall off). Individual plants typically produce 100 to 400 seeds, with occasional plants producing 3,000 or more seeds. Bedstraw seeds, which have hooked hairs to aid dispersal, can remain viable in the soil for up to three years.

Catchweed bedstraw is most productive in clay and loamy soils with high nitrogen and phosphorus. Although germination and growth are best in cool, moist soil, bedstraw can tolerate dry soil once established.

IMPACT

Bedstraw is a troublesome agricultural weed as well as an important weed problem in landscapes and home gardens. In agricultural situations, it can reduce yields of cereals by 30 to 60% and become tangled in harvest and tillage equipment; its seeds are extremely difficult to remove from harvested grain, vegetable seeds, and oilseed crops. Bedstraw also can host several nematode, insect, and disease pests.

The weed also impacts animal agriculture, as its seed or vegetative material can contaminate and reduce the value of wool or fur. If livestock ingest bedstraw forage, it can reduce their productivity, since the weed can inflame the animal’s digestive tract or act as a diuretic.

In landscapes and home gardens, bedstraw competes for nutrients, water, and light with desirable plants. Aside from competition, bedstraw can reduce aesthetic quality of the landscape and can be a serious nuisance in some cases by smothering desirable vegetation and causing physical injury to small plants. It makes the harvesting of fruits and vegetables difficult, as the tangled stems weave throughout the garden. For pet owners, bedstraw seed or vegetation often gets caught in the fur of pets and can be difficult to remove.

HERBAL VALUE

Historically, catchweed bedstraw has had several beneficial uses. The roasted seeds make a good coffee substitute (coffee also is a member of the Madder family), and the young leaves can be used as a substitute for tea or steamed with butter and eaten.

As an herbal remedy, it is said to be a diuretic, an anti-inflammatory, and an antispasmodic and was used to treat psoriasis and eczema.

The name itself, bedstraw, comes from use of the plant as a mattress filling; the clinging characteristic of the prickly plants minimizes matting and compaction of the mattress filling.

A filter made of bedstraw leaves and stems has been used to strain cow‘s hair out of milk, and the plant also has been used as feed for geese and other birds. The roots can be used to make a red dye.

MANAGEMENT
Cultural Control

Long-term control of catchweed bedstraw in home landscapes relies on removing existing plants before they flower and produce viable seed. Hand hoeing or weed pulling can be very effective, especially in the early spring when soil is damp. Installing and maintaining mulch (e.g. bark, wood chips, leaf litter, gravel, weed tarps, etc.) can reduce seedling emergence and eases the removal of plants that do become established. Cutting catchweed bedstraw to 2 to 3 inches usually is not effective and has been reported to actually increase biomass production up to 30% compared to uncut plants. The growth of bedstraw can be suppressed by sowing a competitive crop such as a grass and wildflower mixture in some parks or other nonagricultural areas.

Biological Control

No insects or other biological agents are known to control catchweed bedstraw. Although some insects might feed on the plant, bedstraw does not cause enough economic loss to agriculture to warrant the search of a biological control agent.

Chemical Control

Preemergent herbicides containing the active ingredient oryzalin can provide fair control of bedstraw. Once established, bedstraw can be controlled with several postemergent herbicides. Oxyfluorfen, glyphosate, quinclorac, diclobenil, or carfentrazone (available to professional applicators) can control small bedstraw plants, while products containing dicamba, 2,4-D, or MCPA can provide partial control. Organic clove oil-based herbicides such as Matratec or BurnOut will kill young plants if applied early in the season.

REFERENCES

Defelice, M. S. 2002. Catchweed bedstraw or cleavers, Galium aparine L.—A very “sticky” subject. Weed Technology. 16:467–472.

DiTomaso, J. M., and E. A. Healy. 2006. Weeds of California and Other Western States. Oakland: Univ. Calif. Agric. Nat. Res. Publ. 3488.

Guertin, P. 2003. Factsheet for: Galium aparine L. Tuscon: U.S. Geological Survey.

Malik, N., and W. H. Vanden Born. 1988. The biology of Canadian weeds. 86. Galium aparine L. and Galium spurium L. Can. J. Plant Sci. 68:481–499.

Taylor, K. 1999. Galium aparine L. J. Ecol. 87:713–730.

PUBLICATION INFORMATION

Pest Notes: Catchweed Bedstraw
UC ANR Publication 74154

Authors: W. T. Lanini, Plant Sciences, UC Davis; and B. Hanson, Plant Sciences, UC Davis.

Produced by UC Statewide IPM Program, University of California, Davis, CA 95616

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Statewide IPM Program, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California
All contents copyright © 2019 The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

For noncommercial purposes only, any Web site may link directly to this page. FOR ALL OTHER USES or more information, read Legal Notices. Unfortunately, we cannot provide individual solutions to specific pest problems. See our Home page, or in the U.S., contact your local Cooperative Extension office for assistance.

Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California

UC home and landscape guidelines for control of Catchweed Bedstraw.

Weeds of Australia – Biosecurity Queensland Edition Fact Sheet

Click on images to enlarge

infestation in bushland (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

habit in flower (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

spreading habit (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

leaves borne in groups along the stems (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

close-up of hairy leaves (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

four-angled, prickly stems and flower clusters (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

close-up of flowers (Photo: Greg Jordan)

young fruit (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

immature fruit with hooked hairs (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

mature fruit (Photo: Sheldon Navie)

close-up of seeds (Photo: Steve Hurst at USDA PLANTS Database)

close-up of seedling (Photo: Greg Jordan)

Scientific Name

Galium aparine L.

Synonyms

Galium spurium L. var. echinospermum (Wallr.) Hayek Galium vaillantii DC.

Family

Common Names

barweed, bed-straw, bedstraw, burrweed, catch weed, catchweed, catchweed bedstraw, cleavers, cleavers goosegrass, clivers, common bedstraw, common cleavers, everlasting friendship, goose grass, goosebill, goose-grass, goosegrass, grip grass, grip-grass, hayruff, hedge clivers, mutton chops, robin run over the hedge, robin-run-in-the-grass, scratch grass, small goosegrass, stickyweed, sticky-willy, stickywilly, velcro plant, white hedge

Origin

Native to Europe and western Asia (i.e. Eurasia). This species is now very widespread and its exact natural distribution is obscure.

Naturalised Distribution

This species is widely naturalised in Australia and is particularly common in the wetter temperate regions of south-eastern Australia (i.e. it is widespread and common in New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Tasmania and south-eastern South Australia). It is also occasionally naturalised in south-western Western Australia and in the cooler districts of south-eastern Queensland.

Habitat

This species is mostly commonly found growing in temperate environments, but sometimes also inhabits sub-tropical and semi-arid regions. It is a weed of crops, orchards, gardens, waste areas, disturbed sites, pastures, grasslands, open woodlands, closed forests and margins, waterways and wetlands.

Habit

A short-lived (i.e. annual) herbaceous plant with a scrambling or sometimes weakly climbing habit. Its stems grows up to 2 m long and are easily broken off.

Distinguishing Features

  • a short-lived herbaceous plant with a trailing, scrambling or weakly climbing habit.
  • its weak four-angled stems are covered in tiny backward-pointing prickles.
  • its narrow leaves (10-80 mm long and 2-10 mm wide) are borne in groups of six to nine along the stems.
  • its inconspicuous white flowers (about 1 mm long and 1-2 mm across) are borne in small clusters in the leaf forks.
  • its two-lobed fruit (2-6 mm across) are held upright and covered in hooked bristles.

Seedling

The two seed leaves (i.e. cotyledons) are egg-shaped in outline (i.e. ovate) with slightly notched tips (i.e. emarginate apices). They are hairless (i.e. glabrous) and borne on slender stalks (i.e. petioles). The first ture leaves are borne in a group (i.e. whorl) of four to six. They are egg-shaped i.e. obovate) or club-shaped (i.e. clavate) in outline with shortly-pointed tips (i.e. mucronate apices) and hairy surfaces.

Stems and Leaves

The relatively slender (about 2 mm thick) and weak or slightly stiff stems are square in cross-section (i.e. quadrangular). They are rough to the touch and have a covering of tiny backward-pointing (i.e. recurved) prickles along their edges. The stems also have some hairs near their joints (i.e. nodes).

The stalkless (i.e. sessile) leaves are borne in groups of 6-9 at each of the stem joints (i.e. they are whorled or verticillate). These leaves (10-80 mm long and 2-10 mm wide) are narrow (i.e. linear) or lance-shaped (i.e. lanceolate) with pointed (i.e. mucronate) tips and tiny backward-pointing (i.e. recurved) prickles along their margins. Both leaf surfaces, but particularly the upper surfaces, are loosely covered with tiny hooked hairs.

Flowers and Fruit

The inconspicuous flowers (about 1 mm long and 1-2 mm across) are white in colour with four petals that are fused together near their bases. These flowers are arranged in small spreading clusters (containing 1-9 flowers) on short side branches (i.e. peduncles) up to 2.5 cm long that emanate from the leaf forks (i.e. axils). The individuals flowers are borne on shorter stalks (i.e. pedicels) 4-15 mm long and no not have any sepals. However, they do have four tiny yellow stamens and a two-lobed style, each lobe being topped with a rounded stigma. Flowering occurs mostly during spring and summer.

The fruit are two-lobed, kidney-shaped (i.e. reniform), and easily break into two one-seeded parts (i.e. mericarps) when mature. These small fruit (2-6 mm across) are densely covered with hooked hairs. They are green or purplish-green in colour when young, and later turning grey, greyish-brown or brown as they mature. The seeds are rounded, rough in texture, and 2-3 mm across.

Reproduction and Dispersal

This species reproduces by seed. These seeds are spread by water, wind and machinery, and in contaminated agricultural produce (e.g. fodder), soil and dumped garden waste. Because of the hooked hairs on the fruit, seeds also very easily become attached to clothing and animals.

Environmental Impact

Cleavers ( Galium aparine ) is regarded as an environmental weed in Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. It invades a variety of native habitats including dry coastal vegetation, coastal sand dunes, rocky sites, open woodlands, temperate rainforests, wetlands and riparian areas.

This species is thought to pose a very serious threat to one or more vegetation formations in Victoria (e.g. riparian forests and riverine escarpment scrub). Cleavers ( Galium aparine ) is present on numerous local environmental weed lists (e.g. in Nillumbik Shire, Monash City, Knox Shire, City of Banyule, Baw Baw Shire and the Goulburn Broken Catchment) and has invaded several conservation areas in this state (e.g. Phillip Island Nature Park, Rutherglen Nature Conservation Reserve, Organ Pipes National Park, Dreeite Nature Conservation Reserve and Pomborneit North Nature Conservation Reserve). It is also one of several weeds that are considered to be a major threat to the long-term survival of the threatened Strzelecki gum ( Eucalyptus strzeleckii ) in grassy woodlands in the Strzelecki Ranges in south-eastern Victoria. It and other weeds dominate the ground layer underneath populations of Strzelecki gum ( Eucalyptus strzeleckii ), especially on private land, and may prevent seedling recruitment of this species.

Cleavers ( Galium aparine ) has also been recorded in conservation areas in Tasmania (e.g. Greens Beach/Kelso Coastal Reserve, Don Reserve and Clayton Wetland) and South Australia (e.g. Cleland Conservation Park, Brownhill Creek Recreation Park, Onkaparinga River National Park, Mount Magnificent Conservation Park, Horsnell Gully Conservation Park and Cudlee Creek Conservation Park). It is also listed as a common environmental weed of moist sites in the Hunter Catchment and is a weed of internationally significant (i.e. Ramsar listed) wetlands in the Murray River catchment in New South Wales.

Other Impacts

Cleavers ( Galium aparine ) is a common weed of crops, orchards, gardens, and pastures in southern Australia. In pasture situations its prickly stems can cause injury, and so are not readily grazed by livestock. The fruit may also contaminate fleece, increasing vegetable fault in wool.

Legislation

This species is declared under legislation in the following states and territories:

  • Western Australia: P1 – trade, sale or movement into the state prevented, and P2 – to be eradicated (throughout the entire state).

Management

For information on the management of this species see the following resources:

  • the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food information page on this species, at http://www.agric.wa.gov.au.

Similar Species

Cleavers ( Galium aparine ) is very similar to false cleavers ( Galium spurium ), three-horned bedstraw ( Galium tricornutum ), slender bedstraw ( Galium divaricatum ) and small bedstraw ( Galium murale ). These species can be distinguished by the following differences:

  • cleavers ( Galium aparine ) has relatively slender (up to 2 mm thick) and somewhat stiff stems that are often more than 50 cm long. Its relatively large (10-80 mm long) leaves are arranged in groups (i.e. whorls) of six to nine along the stems. Its white flowers are arranged in relatively loose clusters and its relatively large fruit (2-6 mm across) are densely covered in hooked bristles.
  • false cleavers ( Galium spurium ) has relatively thick (1-4 mm thick) and stiff stems that that are often more than 50 cm long. Its relatively large (12-62 mm long) leaves are arranged in groups (i.e. whorls) of six to ten along the stems. Its greenish-yellow flowers are borne in small dense clusters and its relatively small fruit (less than 3 mm across) are densely covered in hooked bristles.
  • three-horned bedstraw ( Galium tricornutum ) has relatively slender (up to 2 mm thick) and somewhat stiff stems that are often more than 50 cm long. It relatively large (10-50 mm long) leaves are arranged in groups (i.e. whorls) of six to eight along the stems. Its white flowers are arranged in small, relatively dense, clusters and its relatively large fruit (3-5 mm across) are turned downwards (i.e. deflexed) do not have any hairs or bristles (instead they are covered in small lumps known as tubercules).
  • slender bedstraw ( Galium divaricatum ) has very slender (about 1 mm thick) delicate stems that are usually less than 30 cm long. Its very small (less than 10 mm long) leaves are usually arranged in groups (i.e. whorls) of six to eight along the stems (except on flowering branches). Its white to yellowish-red flowers are borne singly or in pairs and its tiny fruit (0.5-1 mm long) are not covered in hairs or bristles (instead they are covered in small lumps known as papillae).
  • small bedstraw ( Galium murale ) has very slender (about 1 mm thick) delicate stems that are usually less than 15 cm long. Its very small (less than 10 mm long) leaves are arranged in groups (i.e. whorls) of three to six along the stems. Its white or yellowish-green flowers are borne singly or in pairs and its very small fruit (1-1.5 mm long) are covered in small hairs or bristles (particularly towards their tips).

Cleavers ( Galium aparine ) is also similar to some of the native bedstraws ( Galium spp.), but these native species generally have leaves in groups (i.e. whorls) of three to five. It is also relatively similar to field madder ( Sherardia arvensis ) and Indian chickweed ( Mollugo verticillata ). However, field madder ( Sherardia arvensis ) has lilac to white stalkless (i.e. sessile) flowers that are borne in small dense clusters and Indian chickweed ( Mollugo verticillata ) is a mostly hairless plant that has flowers with five petals.

Fact sheets are available from Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) service centres and our Customer Service Centre (telephone 13 25 23). Check our website at www.biosecurity.qld.gov.au to ensure you have the latest version of this fact sheet. The control methods referred to in this fact sheet should be used in accordance with the restrictions (federal and state legislation, and local government laws) directly or indirectly related to each control method. These restrictions may prevent the use of one or more of the methods referred to, depending on individual circumstances. While every care is taken to ensure the accuracy of this information, DEEDI does not invite reliance upon it, nor accept responsibility for any loss or damage caused by actions based on it.

Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved. Identic Pty Ltd. Special edition of Environmental Weeds of Australia for Biosecurity Queensland.

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Weeds of Australia – Biosecurity Queensland Edition Fact Sheet Click on images to enlarge infestation in bushland (Photo: Sheldon Navie) habit in flower (Photo: Sheldon Navie)