A characteristic of all Bedstraws is leaves in a whorl and small 3 or 4-parted flowers in branching clusters. Identification between many of the species is difficult and not obtained from a cursory view. The flowers are more often white but can be pale yellow.
Rough Bedstraw is a native perennial forb that has erect to sprawling stems and if sprawling it may grow to 7 feet. Stems are green with reddish tints, 4-angled and with prickly hairs on the angles. Stems branch frequently.
The leaves on the main stem are in whorls of 6 and roughly hairy also. Side branches may have whorls of 4 or 5 leaves. Leaves are elliptical to lance like with the widest part above the middle and sharply pointed, but not to such an abrupt thin point as in G. triflorum. There is a single main vein.
The inflorescence is composed of clusters of a few flowers that form from leaf axils and from the branch terminal end. Each cluster is only up to 3/4 inch wide and may branch 1 to 3 times. These clusters can appear dense before they elongate.
The flowers are small, 1/8 inch, with white corollas that have four spreading petals (sometimes 5 petals) that are ovate in shape, widest beyond the middle, then taper to a pointed tip. There are 4 stamens with yellowish anthers. These are placed alternately with the petals. The whitish style connects to a 2-celled ovary. The calyx is vestigial, with the 2-celled ovary directly below the corolla. Even though most of the plant has sticky to clinging hairs, the ovary rarely does.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce a dry 2-celled seed capsule that has a smooth (usually) surface. Each cell has one seed.
Habitat: Rough Bedstraw is found in moist grounds in meadows, thickets, wet disturbed areas and riparian edges. It prefers moist conditions and at least partial shade. It grows from a rhizomatous root system which allows it to spread forming colonies. It can also re-seed itself. Should you wish to plant it, (doubtful) root divisions will work best.
Names: The genus name, Galium, is from the Greek word, gala, meaning 'milk' and is a reference to the use of come Galium species to curdle milk. The species name, asprellum, means 'somewhat rough'. The author name for the plant classification, ‘Michx.’, refers to Andre Michaux (1746-1802), French botanist who made many exploring expeditions in the U.S. collecting and cataloging many species. Two important works of his are the Histoire des chênes de l'Amérique septentrionale (1801 - Oaks of North America), and the Flora Boreali-Americana (2 vols., 1803, published posthumously. It was in this volume the classification of Rough Bedstraw appeared). His son Francois, traveled with him and the father’s notes were later used for the 3-volume North American Sylva, for which Thomas Nuttall provided some supplements.
The common name of Bedstraw comes from early use of the leaves in bedding and pillows as the aromas (more fragrant on some species) were said to reply fleas.
Comparisons: See bottom of the page.
Above: Rough Bedstraw sprawling across other plants. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Below: 1st photo - Flower detail. The 4 stamens are placed alternately with the petals. In the center is a two-part ovary with 2-parted style that has blunt tips. 2nd photo - The six leaves of the main whorls have rough edges, hairy surfaces, are widest above the middle and taper to a sharp tip. The 4-angled stem has rough prickles on the angles.
Below: 1st photo - A group of flowers from two 3-part clusters. 2nd photo - The terminal branches of the flower clusters rise from the leaf axils. Clusters will elongate as the plant matures.
Below: 1st photo - The calyx of Rough Bedstraw is vestigial. The 2-parted ovary is placed directly below the corolla. The ovary is usually hairless as is the seed pod (2nd photo).
Notes: Eloise Butler recorded Rough Bedstraw as being present in the Garden, perhaps as early as 1907 when she noted "3 species Galium" on May 25th. Martha Crone listed it on her 1951 Garden Census, but it was not listed in 1986 and then reappeared on the 2009 census. It is native to Minnesota in the eastern side of the state, mostly absent in the drier SW and West. In North America it is restricted to the NE section, from Minnesota south to Missouri on the west and then north of a line from Missouri east to North Carolina. In Canada it is known in the eastern Provinces from Ontario eastward except Labrador.
There are about 60 species of Bedstraw in North America. Twelve species are reported to be found in Minnesota, two of which are considered introductions. Of the ten native species, 6 are found in the Garden: G. aparine, Cleavers; G. asprellum, Rough Bedstraw; G. boreale, Northern Bedstraw; G. concinnum, Shining Bedstraw; G. trifidum, Threepetal Bedstraw; and G. triflorum, Fragrant Bedstraw.
Comparisons: Of the Bedstraws native to Minnesota the common ones are: Galium aparine L.- (Stickywilly aka Cleavers) which has very weak stems, 4-petal flowers, hairy leaves of 6 to 8 and hooked hairs on the seed capsule, grows as an annual; G. asprellum, Rough Bedstraw, has rough stems and leaves (whorl of 6 - 4 or 5 on side branches), is sprawling, and only a few 4-part flowers per cluster, but the clusters fork 1 to 3 times, seed pod is without bristles; G. labradoricum, Labrador Bedstraw, is sprawling, leaves with backward curving tips in a whorl of 4, clusters of only 3 flowers and is found in wet cold places; G. tinctorium, Small Bedstraw, is also sprawling in wet places, leaves of 4 to 6 in a whorl with very small 3-lobed flowers with stalks less than 1/4 inch long; G. trifidum, Three-lobed Bedstraw, is sprawling, leaves in a whorl of 4, small clusters of 1 to 3 3-parted flowers with stalks over 1/4 inch long; and G. triflorum, Fragrant Bedstraw, sprawling, with abruptly pointed leaves in a whorl of 6 with a vanilla odor when crushed, 4 -parted flowers in forked clusters of 3, smooth stem nodes, hair on other parts and leaf edges.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"