Rubiaceae: Madder Family — Bedstraw & Madder

Bedstraws are characterized by very small, 4-lobed, rotate flowers (the united petals radiate from a central point, like the spokes of a wheel).  They have small, whorled leaves, mostly in 4s but occasionally in 6s (a few exceptions have 5 or 8).  Many are small and low-growing, a few are larger.  Some are climbing or sprawling, with or without woody stems.  Identification can be difficult at first, but persistence and attention to detail will be rewarded.

Phlox-leaved Bedstraw – Galium andrewsii subsp. andrewsii

Blooms:

Mar–July

Plant Height:

Stems < 16 cm

Flower Size:

Very small

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Open woodland, high chaparral, often serpentine, above 250 m

Notes:

This bedstraw is distinguished by its linear, bristly to awl-like leaves and creamy-yellow flowers.  The plant is low-growing but upright, typically congested and matted.  There are three subspecies, with subtle differences in their growth habits, and in the size of the internodes (gaps between the leaf whorls).  This one is dense and cushion-lik,e with leaves longer than the internodes.

Narrowly-leaved Bedstraw – Galium angustifolium subsp. angustifolium

Blooms:

Apr–June

Plant Height:

15–100 cm

Flower Size:

Very small

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Dry slopes & brushy places

Notes:

This bedstraw has a shrubby appearance, with stout, much-branched stems.  Leaves are in whorls of 4, linear to oblong.  Flowers are creamy-yellow to reddish. Fruits are distinctive, with 2 nutlets covered in spreading white hairs, which are longer than the fruits themselves.

Goose-grass – Galium aparine

Blooms:

Mar–July

Plant Height:

Stems 30–90 cm

Flower Size:

Very small

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Grassy, shaded places

Notes:

A very common bedstraw, this has whorls of 6–8 narrowly oblanceolate leaves.  It makes small clusters of tiny white flowers, on short stems in the leaf axil.  Fruits are nutlets with many short, hooked hairs.  The leaves and stems have many small, hooked prickles, by which the plant attaches itself to other plants (or to clothes).

California Bedstraw – Galium californicum subsp. californicum

Blooms:

Mar–July

Plant Height:

Stems 8–32 cm

Flower Size:

Very small

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Woodland, chaparral, sea cliffs, hillsides

Notes:

This common bedstraw occurs in two subspecies.  Both have leaves in whorls of 4, ovate to elliptic, and creamy-yellow flowers.  This one has obtuse or acute leaf tips and coarse hairs.   Stems can be woody at the base.  It can grow in low tufts, or in taller tangled masses (on sea cliffs).

California Bedstraw – Galium californicum subsp. flaccidum

Blooms:

Mar–July

Plant Height:

Stems 6–61 cm

Flower Size:

Very small

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Open or dense non-coastal woodland

Notes:

This common bedstraw occurs in two subspecies.  Both have leaves in whorls of 4, ovate to elliptic, and creamy-yellow flowers.  This one has obtuse, short-pointed leaf tips and dense, soft hairs.   Stems are not woody.

Wall Bedstraw – Galium parisiense

Blooms:

Apr–Aug

Plant Height:

Stems 15–68 cm

Flower Size:

Very small

Origin:

Europe

Habitat:

Dry rocky waste places, grassy hillsides

Notes:

One of the few non-native bedstraws found in the county, this has leaves in whorls of 6, (ob)lanceolate and generally reflexed in age. Flowers are whitish to purple. Fruits are nutlets with short hooked hairs.

Climbing Bedstraw – Galium porrigens var. porrigens

Blooms:

Apr–June

Plant Height:

Stems 10-150 cm

Flower Size:

Very small

Origin:

Europe

Habitat:

Dry slopes

Notes:

A common bedstraw with woody stems, found sprawling or climbing in other plants. Leaves are in whorls of 4, broadly oval to oblong, often tinged reddish. Leaf tips are acute to obtuse and hairs are weak, not sharp to the touch. Flowers are yellowish to reddish. Fruits are translucent-white and glabrous.

Field Madder – Sherardia arvensis

Blooms:

Mar–July

Plant Height:

7–16 cm

Flower Size:

Very small

Origin:

Mediterranean

Habitat:

Grassland

Notes:

At first sight, this appears very different from the bedstraws.  But the similarities become apparent on closer examination, as the flowers are 4-lobed and the leaves are in whorls of 5–6.  The flowers are in fact salverform (with a slender tube and abruptly spreading lobes), pinkish to pale lilac in color, and surrounded by leafy bracts. This is a common lawn weed, also found in open fields.