Galium circaezans Michx.

Forest Bedstraw


CC = 4
CW = 5
MOC = 78

© SRTurner

Family - Rubiaceae

Habit - Perennial forb.

Stem - Ascending or erect, to 50 cm, sometimes from a spreading base, 4-angled, glabrous or moderately to densely pubescent on and between the angles with fine, straight, soft, spreading to somewhat upward-curved hairs.

Galium_circaezans_stem.jpg Stem and node.

© SRTurner

Leaves - In whorls of 4 per node, spreading in orientation, simple, sessile. Blades 5-42 mm long, 2-22 mm wide, elliptic to ovate or lanceolate, angled to a bluntly or less commonly sharply pointed tip, angled to somewhat rounded at the base, the undersurface with impressed, linear glands (appearing as small streaks or lines), otherwise glabrous or with short, fine to stiff, straight hairs, the venation palmate with 3 veins visible, the margins flat, with short, stiff, prickly hairs.

Galium_circaezans_whorl.jpg Leaf whorl.

Note wide leaves with 3 veins per leaf.

© SRTurner

Galium_circaezans_leaf1.jpg Leaf adaxial.

© SRTurner

Galium_circaezans_leaf2.jpg Leaf abaxial.

© SRTurner

Inflorescence - Terminal and sometimes also axillary from the upper leaves, positioned over the leaves, consisting of small open panicles (1-4 cm long) with mostly 1-3 branch points, or reduced and appearing as unbranched spikes, the branches very short to relatively long, mostly spreading.

Galium_circaezans_inflorescence.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Flowers - Sessile. Calyces essentially absent, occasionally represented by a minute rim at the flower base. Corollas 1.0-1.5 mm long, with a minute tube, deeply 4-lobed, the lobes spreading, not overlapping in bud, pale yellowish green. Stamens 4, attached in the corolla tube, the anthers exserted. Style 2-lobed, the stigmas 2, capitate. Ovary inferior, 2-locular, the ovules 1 per locule.

Galium_circaezans_flowers.jpg Flowers.

© SRTurner

Fruits - Small schizocarps, 2-3 mm long, 3.5-4.0 mm wide, 2-lobed, dry, glabrous to tuberculate, the surface densely pubescent with short (ca. 1 mm long), hooked hairs, separating into 2 indehiscent mericarps at maturity.

Galium_circaezans_fruits.jpg Fruits.

© SRTurner

Flowering - May - July.

Habitat - Forests, bluffs, sinkhole ponds, glades, prairies, streambanks.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Lookalikes - Other species of Galium, especially G. pilosum.

Other info. - This inconspicuous plant with tiny flowers is found in good-quality woodlands across Missouri. Its wider distribution encompasses most of the eastern continental U.S. and parts of eastern Canada.

Many people pay little attention to the bedstraws, as they are not showy plants, and there are several with a generally similar appearance. This one is characterized by four relatively wide leaves at each node, with the leaves having three midveins each. The close relative G. pilosum has only a single midvein in each leaf. The flowers of Galium circaezans are tiny and greenish, and the fruits are covered with hooked hairs. These little bristles anchor the fruits in fur and clothing, serving as a dispersal mechanism and a nuisance to hikers.

Some authors have subdivided the species into varieties, but these tend to intergrade extensively, making their assignment difficult and uncertain in many cases. The species name circaezans means "resembling the genus Circaea" (enchanter's nightshade), which in turn was named after Circe of Greek mythology who reportedly used enchanter's nightshade in her magic. The "licorice" part of the common name refers to the sweetly flavored roots.

Photographs taken at Onondaga Cave State Park, Crawford County, MO, 6-9-2014, and at Glassberg Conservation Area, Jefferson County, MO, 5-26-2017 (SRTurner).