1. Family: Rubiaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Galium L.
      1. Galium aparine L.

        This climber is well known by children for its 'stickiness', owing to its covering of hooked hairs. There is a rather cruel Scottish children's game involving this plant. The trick is to persuade somebody to allow a piece of it to be put in their mouth - then pull it out fast. The hooks being rather sharp, the game is called 'bleedy tongues'! Galium aparine is also well known by herbalists for its medicinal properties.


    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    Cleavers is a botanical hitchhiker with a medicinal past, present and future.

    This climber is well known by children for its 'stickiness', owing to its covering of hooked hairs. There is a rather cruel Scottish children's game involving this plant. The trick is to persuade somebody to allow a piece of it to be put in their mouth - then pull it out fast. The hooks being rather sharp, the game is called 'bleedy tongues'! Galium aparine is also well known by herbalists for its medicinal properties.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Galium aparine is naturally widespread throughout Europe, North America and some parts of Asia, and occurs as far north as Alaska and Greenland. It has been introduced as far south as Australia, New Zealand, and the sub-Antarctic Islands. It can be a troublesome weed of cereal crops (especially in Europe and North America). Heavy infestation can cause significant yield losses, and its seeds can be difficult to separate mechanically from those of crops such as oilseed rape (canola). It is found throughout the British Isles (except in some places in the far north) and appears to be increasing in abundance in recent years despite the use of species-specific agricultural herbicides. Galium aparine can be found growing naturally on scree slopes and shingle banks.


    This species is a straggling climber, growing up to 3 m long, with slender 4-angled stems. Its narrow leaves can reach 7 cm long and are arranged in groups (whorls) of 6-8 (rarely 4) around the stem. The whole plant is covered in minute hooked hairs, and can cling to skin, fur and clothing. The flowers are tiny, white, 4-petalled tubes, developing into small round fruits, often borne in clusters of two or three. These fruits are also covered in hooked hairs which catch in the fur of passing animals or the clothes of humans. This is an efficient distribution mechanism that has contributed to the plant’s wide geographical range.


    The whole plant is edible, though not particularly tasty, and in China, for example, it is eaten as a vegetable. Its seeds can be roasted to prepare a sort of coffee substitute. It is also reputed to have a number of medicinal properties, having been used in traditional medicine (usually as an infusion) to treat kidney problems, skin disorders and high blood pressure among other ailments. Archaeological evidence suggests that it may have been used in this way for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Cleavers is still used by medical herbalists today, although scientific evidence regarding its effectiveness is still lacking. 

    Britain's wild harvest

    Kew’s Sustainable Uses of Plants Group undertook a survey of commercial uses of wild and traditionally managed plants in England and Scotland for the Countryside Agency, English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage to determine the economic role of wild plants and to assist in their sustainable use. Despite the revival of interest in herbal remedies in UK most plant material used in herbal products is imported. However, there are exceptions. In Norfolk, for example, cleavers is gathered from hedgerows and used in herbal products.

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

    Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank:EightSeed storage behaviour:Orthodox (the seeds of this plant survive drying without significant reduction in their viability, and are therefore amenable to long-term frozen storage, such as at the MSB)Germination testing:SuccessfulComposition values: Oil content 3.1%, Protein 12.7%


    This weedy species is an annual that can be grown in temperate regions, in parts of the garden managed for wildlife, as either a summer or winter annual (or occasionally as a biennial). The seed is thought to be viable for around 2-6 years unless frozen. Seeds should be sown in moist soil, preferably a rich loam, with above-average fertility and pH of 5.5-8.0. Seeds must be buried to germinate, ideally at a depth of 2-10 mm. Seeds that have passed through the gut of a herbivore are thought to have a higher germination rate. Development is rapid with flowers appearing as soon as eight weeks after germination. Ripe seeds develop from summer through to autumn, depending on the region in which plants are grown. Supports such as pea sticks can be provided, as this plant likes to scramble. Plants will die down after the fruits are released at which point seeds must be collected for next year’s plants.

    Note that this plant can be invasive. In some parts of the world it is a serious weed of crops and native vegetation, where it can out-compete indigenous species. For this reason, if cultivating cleavers, care should be taken to prevent its spread into farmland or sensitive areas of conservation importance. 

    Common in hedgerows and field margins, native on scree slopes and shingle, and as a weed in gardens and wasteland.
    Not threatened - this species is widespread and often considered a weed.

    The sap and hooked hairs (which are bristly to touch) can cause contact dermatitis.

    The whole plant is edible, though not particularly tasty; it is also reputed to have a number of medicinal properties.



    Found In:

    Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Austria, Azores, Baleares, Baltic States, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary Is., Central European Rus, China North-Central, China South-Central, China Southeast, Corse, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, East Aegean Is., East European Russia, East Himalaya, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Gulf States, Hungary, India, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kirgizstan, Korea, Kriti, Krym, Lebanon-Syria, Libya, Madeira, Manchuria, Mongolia, Morocco, Nansei-shoto, Nepal, Netherlands, North European Russi, Northwest European R, Norway, Pakistan, Palestine, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sardegna, Saudi Arabia, Selvagens, Sicilia, South European Russi, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tibet, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkey-in-Europe, Ukraine, Vietnam, West Himalaya, Yugoslavia

    Introduced Into:

    Alabama, Alaska, Alberta, Aleutian Is., Argentina Northeast, Argentina Northwest, Argentina South, Arizona, Arkansas, Bermuda, Bolivia, British Columbia, Burundi, California, Cape Verde, Chatham Is., Chile Central, Chile North, Chile South, Colombia, Colorado, Connecticut, Crozet Is., Delaware, District of Columbia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Florida, Føroyar, Georgia, Greenland, Haiti, Hawaii, Iceland, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Juan Fernández Is., Kansas, Kentucky, Labrador, Louisiana, Maine, Manitoba, Maryland, Masachusettes, Mexican Pacific Is., Mexico Northeast, Mexico Northwest, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Brunswick, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New South Wales, New York, New Zealand North, New Zealand South, Newfoundland, Nigeria, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nova Scotia, Ogasawara-shoto, Ohio, Oklahoma, Ontario, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Peru, Prince Edward I., Québec, Rhode I., Saskatchewan, South Australia, South Carolina, South Dakota, Svalbard, Tasmania, Tennessee, Texas, Tristan da Cunha, Uruguay, Utah, Vermont, Victoria, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Zaïre

    Common Names


    Galium aparine L. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Jan 1, 1980 Darwin, C. [s.n.], Chile K000470472 holotype
    Jan 1, 1980 Lechler [1207], Magellanes K000470473 isotype
    Cope, T.A. [RBG 64], United Kingdom K000914390
    s.coll. [s.n.], China K000772588
    Robertson [s.n.], Australia K000349174
    Robertson [412], Australia K000349175
    Wallich, N. [Cat. no. 6213], Nepal K001123318
    Wallich, N. [Cat. no. 6213], Nepal K001123319
    Govan, G. [Cat. no. 6213], India K001123320
    Oldfield, A. [s.n.], Australia K000349192
    Drummond, J. [727], Australia K000349193
    Oldfield, A., Australia K000349194

    First published in Sp. Pl.: 108 (1753)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] (2014) Annalen des Naturhistorischen Museums in Wien, B 116: 119-151
    • [2] Chang, C.S., Kim, H. & Chang, K.S. (2014) Provisional checklist of vascular plants for the Korea peninsula flora (KPF) . DESIGNPOST
    • [3] (2013) Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 5: 1-451. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève
    • [4] Dimpoulos, P., Raus, T., Bergmeier, E., Constantinidis, T., Iatrou, G., Kokkini, S., Strid, A., & Tzanoudakis, D. (2013) Vascular plants of Greece. An annotated checklist . Botanic gardens and botanical museum Berlin-Dahlem, Berlin and Hellenic botanical society, Athens
    • [5] (2012) Bishop Museum Occasional Papers 113: 1-102
    • [6] (2012) Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192
    • [7] Borhidi, A. (2012) Rubiáceas de México , ed. 2: 1-608. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest
    • [8] (2011) Bishop Museum Occasional Papers 110: 23-35
    • [9] (2011) Flora of China 19: 1-884. Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis
    • [10] (2011) Norrlinia 24: 1-166
    • [11] (2011) Willdenowia 41: 179-190
    • [12] (2009) Muelleria 27: 36-112
    • [14] Castroviejo, S. & al. (eds.) (2007) Flora Iberica 15: 1-449. Real Jardín Botánico, CSIC, Madrid
    • [18] (2004) Journal de Botanique Société de Botanique de France 24: 67-78
    • [20] Mendoza, H., Ramirez P., B.R. & Jimenez, L.C. (2004) Rubiaceae de Colombia: guia ilustrada de generos . Instituto de Investigacion de Recursos Biologicos Alexander von Humboldt, Bogota, Colombia
    • [23] Govaerts, R. (2003) World Checklist of Selected Plant Families Database in ACCESS . The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [27] (1988) Flora of New Zealand 4: 1-1365. R.E.Owen, Government Printer, Wellington
    • [28] Hultén, E.O.G. (1960) Flora of the Aleutian Islands and westernmost Alaska Peninsula: with notes on the flora of Commander Islands , ed. 2: 1-376. Weinheim : J. Cramer ; New York : Hafner Pub. Co.


    • [13] Bown, D. (2008). The Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses. Dorling Kindersley, London.
    • [15] Borhidi, A. (2006) Rubiáceas de México . Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest
    • [16] Gucker, C. (2005). Galium aparine. Fire Effects Information System [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
    • [17] Ruhsam, M. (2005) Survey of all the Rubiaceae specimens at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [19] Allen, D.E. & Hatfield, G. (2004). Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition: an Ethnobotany of Britain and Ireland. Timber Press, Portland.
    • [21] Milliken, W. & Bridgewater, S. (2004). Flora Celtica –Plants and People in Scotland. Birlinn, Edinburgh.
    • [22] Prendergast, H.D.V. & Sanderson, H. (2004). Britain’s Wild Harvest: The Commercial Uses of Wild Plants and Fungi. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and The Countryside Agency, London.
    • [24] Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. & Dines, T.A. (eds) (2002). New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora: an Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
    • [25] H?, P.-H. (2000) Câyc? Vi?tnam. An Illustrated flora of Vietnam , ed. 2, 3: 1-1020. Pham-hoang Ho, Montréal
    • [26] (1996) Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences 19: 1-190
    • [29] Britton, N. (1918) Flora of Bermuda . Charles Scribner's Sons, New York


    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
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    Kew Species Profiles
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