Cleavers (Galium aparine) has thousands of infintesimal recurved hooks over its entire surface making it much more likely to cling to passersby than its cousin, sweet-scented bedstraw (Galium triflorum). As can be seen in the one photograph, cleavers cling to hair, clothing – most anything – as though charged with static electricity. Cleavers efficiently reproduce since the foliage and seeds are easily uprooted and carried away to new locations. This efficient method of dispersal causes cleavers to be considered a noxious weed because it causes serious problems in cultivated fields, especially hay and grass fields. Cleavers clings to and tangles with the cultivated crop making harvest difficult.

Cleavers, also known as tangleweed, catchweed bedstraw or sticky-willy, is an annual growing from a taproot and is often seen sprawling over nearby vegetation. The leaf whorls have six to eight flowers. The leaves, compared to the leaves of sweet-scented bedstraw, are more linear and have sharper tip points. The small flowers are white in small stalked clusters rising from the center of the leaf whorls. The fruits are two-lobed burrs. So similar to G. trifolum!

The common name “cleavers”¬† comes from Anglo-Saxon “clife” and Dutch “kleef” meaning “clinging” and from Old English “clivers” meaning “claws” – a most appropriate derivation.

These cleaver plants were growing along the Pit River south of Fall River Mills (CA).

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