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)

  • 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.