Cleavers are in the Rubiaceae family which consists of flowering plants in the coffee, madder, or bedstraw family. In particular cleavers are in the bedstraw family. There are upwards of 3,000 species in the Rubiaceae family. Other names that cleavers are known as include sticky willy, stickybud, stickyweed, kisses, and clivers. Some people may experience a rash when they touch this plant; if so – DO NOT INGEST!
Distinguishing Features: Cleavers are an annual plant that creeps along with straggling stems that branch out. They attach themselves to anything in their way with small hooked hairs that grow out of the leaves and stems.
Flowers: Flowers can be inconspicuous as they are very small (1mm long and 1-2mm across). They are white with four petals and fused together at their base. Flowers are arranged in small spreading clusters (1-9 flowers) on short side branches. They have four tiny yellow stamens and flowers occur mostly late spring into summer.
Leaves: Stalkless leaves are borne in groups of 6-9 at each of the stem joints and they are whorled. Cleaver leaves are narrow (10-80 mm long and 2-10 mm wide) or lance-shaped with pointed tips and tiny backward-pointing prickles along their margins. Upper and lower leaf surface are loosely covered with tiny hooked hairs.
Height: Cleavers typically are creeping plants and do not grow in height unless they attached themselves to a tall plant or tree. The stems can grow up to two metres (6’) in length.
Habitat: Cleavers commonly grow in hedgerows and field margins. They also grow near crops, orchards, waste areas, disturbed areas, pastures, open woodlands and in gardens. This plant is commonly found in temperate environments but it can be found in some sub-tropical areas. Native to Europe and western Asia is has made its way throughout Australia, Canada, U.S., Mexico, Central America, some countries in South America and North Africa.
Edible parts: Cleavers have historically been known as a medicinal plant although it is food too. The leaves and stems can be used as leaf vegetable although it is very sticky so it will not blend well in a salad. It can be used on bread in sandwiches and sautéed. Fruits of the cleavers can be collected and dried, then roasted for use as a coffee substitute. Leaves and stems can be dried and used for tea.
Other name: Goosegrass.
Similar plants: Galium murale, Galium divaricatum.
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