The Bedstraw Family

Field Madder Marsh Bedstraw Lady's Bedstraw Heath Bedstraw

What are they?

Worldwide, the bedstraw family (Rubiaceae) is a very variable group of plants, with the tropics being home to many woody trees and shrubs. In our region, members of this family are all herbaceous plants with leaves in whorls of usually four to six on square stems. The leaf margins and sometimes stem edges are often furnished with prickles which help the plants scramble over and through surrounding vegetation. Flowers have four petals, usually with pointed tips, carried in open, terminal clusters.

Where are they found?

Most of our species are annuals of disturbed areas or perennials of open, often grassy places. Some are found in wetlands and others in shade, so habitat can be useful in determining some of the species.

Identification

Flower colour is a good starting point to narrow the field. For the white- and greenish-flowered species, details of prickles on the leaf edges and/or stems and prickles on the fruits should be noted. Leaf detail, especially the shape of the leaf tip is also useful.



Sweet Woodruff      Galium odoratum

Occurs as a native in good quality, ancient woodland on chalk or boulder clay soils; also occasionally as a garden escape or introduction on roadsides or in churchyards. Flowers May to June. Forms low, spreading patches of bright green leaves, topped with flat-headed clusters of white flowers. Leaves vanilla-scented when crushed.

Sweet Woodruff Sweet Woodruff Sweet Woodruff Sweet Woodruff
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Fen Bedstraw      Galium uliginosum

Native. Widespread (though often rather local) in wetlands, most typically in species-rich, tall-herb fens. Flowers June to August. A slender, scrambling species, told from the similar Marsh Bedstraw by the obviously sharply-pointed leaves.

Fen Bedstraw Fen Bedstraw Fen Bedstraw
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Marsh Bedstraw      Galium palustre

Native. Widespread and common in a wide range of wetland habitats. Flowers June to August. A slender, scrambling species, told from the similar Fen Bedstraw by the bluntly-rounded tips to the leaves.

Marsh Bedstraw Marsh Bedstraw Marsh Bedstraw Marsh Bedstraw
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Hedge Bedstraw      Galium album

Native. Widespread and common in grassy places, especially roadsides on boulder clay. Flowers June to September. Formerly recognised as Galium mollugo, the common form has relatively broad, round-tipped leaves and grows into large, straggling plants with much-branched flowering heads. A smaller form, with narrower leaves and less spreading flowering heads occurs on lighter, sandier soils and is sometimes recognised as Galium erectum.

Hedge Bedstraw Hedge Bedstraw Hedge Bedstraw Hedge Bedstraw
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Broad-leaved form
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Heath Bedstraw      Galium saxatile

Native. Common on dry, sandy heaths and a good indicator species of such habitats, both on grassy heath and on areas dominated by mosses and lichens. Flowers June to August. A low species, forming rounded mats of vegetation and becoming low tussocks when in flower.

Heath Bedstraw Heath Bedstraw Heath Bedstraw Heath Bedstraw
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Wall Bedstraw      Galium parisiense

Native. A scarce species nationally and perhaps most frequent in the East Anglian region. Occurs thinly scattered in dry, usually chalky soil in Breckland, as well as growing on the walls of a few ancient monuments. Flowers June to July. An easily overlooked species, being rather slender and fragile with often dull, olive-coloured or reddish foliage and flowers.

Wall Bedstraw Wall Bedstraw Wall Bedstraw Wall Bedstraw
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Common Cleavers      Galium aparine

Native. An abundant species found in a wide range of habitats and, along with Common Hogweed and Common Nettle, a species that does well in the nutrient-enriched habitats of agricultural country. Flowers mostly June to August. The bristly leaves and stems cling readily to clothing and give the plant such familiar names as 'lovegrass' and 'sticky Willy'. Flowers dull, yellowish-white and fruits well furnished with hooked bristles.

Common Cleavers Common Cleavers Common Cleavers Common Cleavers
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Lady's Bedstraw      Galium verum

Native. Common on light, chalky or neutral soils and found in a wide range of open, grassy places including heaths, roadsides and coastal dunes. Flowers July to August. The very narrow, dark green leaves are easily overlooked amongst grass stems, but when in flower, the frothy heads of bright yellow are readily identified.

Lady's Bedstraw Lady's Bedstraw Lady's Bedstraw Lady's Bedstraw
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Common Crosswort      Cruciata laevipes

Native. Widespread though often rather local on heavier soils in grassy places such as roadsides, hedgebanks and woodland rides. Flowers May to June. A distinctive plant with its leaves in whorls of four, greenish-yellow flowers and overall furry look.

Common Crosswort Common Crosswort Common Crosswort Common Crosswort
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Field Madder      Cruciata laevipes

Native. A widespread annual of mostly dry, sandy soils on tracks and other open, bare areas including arable fields. Flowers May to September. A low-growing, mat-forming species, the early leaves being rather broad and later leaves on flowering shoots more pointed. Flowers a distinctive pale lilac colour.

Field Madder Field Madder Field Madder Field Madder
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Squinancywort      Asperula cynanchica

Native. Found in short-grazed grassland on chalk, now much rarer than formerly and more or less confined to Breckland and the Newmarket area. Flowers June to July. A delicate plant with needle-like leaves and flowers in terminal heads that may be white or pink, both forms having deeply grooved veins on the petals.

Squinancywort Squinancywort Squinancywort Squinancywort
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