Goose Grass

Goose Grass © AFengler

Bedstraw, Cleavers, Stickywilly, Catchweed Bedstraw
Galium aparine

Description (Jepson,

    • Eudicotyledon
      • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
    • Madder / Coffee Family (Rubiaceae)
    • Annual herb
    • Stem has tiny hooked prickles
      • Square in young plants (true of all Galium species)
    • Leaves
      • Whorls of 6-8 narrow leaves
      • Covered with tiny, hooked prickles (extensions of the epidermis)
    • Flowers
      • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) of 2-3 flowers on longish stalks arising from the leaf axil (branching point)
      • Tiny, 4-petaled, white flower
      • Ovary inferior (below the attachment of other flower parts)
    • Fruit is a burr containing 2 nutlets (a small, dry fruit that does not split open, derived from a multi-chambered ovary), covered with hooked hairs
    • Height to 3 ft.


      • Native to California
        • Grows in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, forests, meadows, and fields, in natural and disturbed areas with sufficient moisture
        • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
      • Outside California, grows in Alaska and throughout the United States; introduced in Europe
      • Grows at elevations between 100 and 4,900 ft.
      Leaves and Flower (L) and Fruit (R)
      © DSchiel (L), KKorbholz (R)

      Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

        • Dried plants of some Galium species were used to stuff mattresses, hence the name bedstraw
        • Roots were used to make a red dye (Gucker 2005)
        • Plant can be cooked as a green; if eaten raw, hooked hairs can irritate the throat (Evanoff 2013)
        • Seeds were sometimes boiled to make a coffee-like drink (“a poor man’s instant coffee,” Gucker 2005) which, like coffee, is an appetite suppressant
        • Matted clumps have been used to strain liquids
        • European and Native people used goose grass for a variety of medicinal purposes, such as treating dermatitis, gonorrhea, and kidney problems, and as a laxative
        • CAUTION – May cause contact dermatitis (a skin rash)

        Name Derivation

          • Galium (GAY-lee-um) – from the Greek for “milk” because the seeds of Galium verum were used to curdle milk for making cheese (Charter 2015); shepherds would also use matted clumps to strain curds (Evanoff 2013)
          • aparine (ap-ar-EYE-nee) – the Greek name for this plant


            • This plant has several adaptations for seed dispersal
              • Fruit with hooked hairs is a burr, which clings to passing animals (including humans)
              • Brittle stems, also with hooked hairs, easily break off and cling to passing animals
              • Hooked hairs may have been an inspiration for Velcro (Breckling 2008)
            • Grows in both the old and new world, and is “fairly ubiquitous” in the US, where its native status is debated (Gucker 2005)
            • In some environments, it grows exuberantly over low vegetation, using its barbed hairs to grasp and clamber over other plants, creating dense, tangled mats
            • Sale of Galium seed is prohibited or restricted in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont as it easily colonizes disturbed sites (Gucker 2005)
              • Common contaminant of crop seed, i.e. cultivars of rapeseed (Brassica napus), used for canola oil (Caple 2013)
            • Goose grass is more common in mid-successional stages of woodlands: “in coast live oak woodlands of Berkeley Hills, California, stickywilly [goose grass] frequency was 5% to 52%, while frequency was 1% to 9% in San Francisco Bay woodlands considered successionally older” (Gucker 2005)

            ID Tips

              • May be confused with climbing bedstraw (G. porrigens var. porrigens)
                • Goose grass at Edgewood is single-stemmed, with larger leaves in whorls of 6-8
                • Climbing bedstraw grows in tangled clumps of long stems, with small leaves in whorls of 4

              At Edgewood

                • Found in woodlands
                • Flowers March – August

                See General References

                Specific References

                  Breckling, B. 2008. Spring Wildflowers of Henry W.
                  Coe State Park and the Inland San Francisco Bay Area
                  . Pine Ridge Association.

                    Caple, M. 2013, July 29. Galium aparine. Climbers: Censusing Lianas in Mesic Biomes of Eastern Regions.

                      Evanoff, K. 2013, Jul. 1. Bedstraw is a Weed That Bites Back. Tribune Chronicle.

                        Gucker, C.L. 2005. Galium aparine. Fire Effects Information System. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.