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 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)

  • Wildlife
    • Browsed by mammals
      • Horses, sheep, pigs, chickens, geese, and dogs will eat large quantities of goose grass, apparently for its diuretic benefits (Thompson 2015)
    • Deer will bed down on large patches
  • Human
    • 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
    • Seeds were sometimes boiled to make a coffee-like drink (“a poor man’s instant coffee,” Gucker 2005)
    • 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) and, if eaten raw, hooked hairs can irritate the throat (Evanoff 2013)

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
  • Goose-grass – refers to its traditional use as fed for geese and chickens
    • Galium aparine has around 80 other common names


  • 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. Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

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

Thompson, P. 2015. Cleavers (Galium aparine). Species of the Month – July. Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.