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Northern Bedstraw

Galium boreale

  • Family: Bedstraw Family – Rubiaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock and subterraneous runners.
  • Height: 25–40 cm (10–16 in.). Stem erect, 4-edged, glabrous, basal part reddish.
  • Flower: Corolla wheel-shaped, white, 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in.) broad, fused, 4-lobed. Calyx lacking. Stamens 4. Pistil of 2 fused carpels, styles 2. Inflorescence a quite abundantly flowered, quite narrow cyme.
  • Leaves: Regular (actinomorphic), 4 whorled leaves, of which one opposite pair is shorter than the other; stalkless. Blade narrowly ovate–elliptic, blunt-tipped, quite thick, clearly 3-veined, with entire margins, edge slightly revolute.
  • Fruit: 2-parted, brown, 2–3 mm (0.08–0.12 in.) broad, normally hook-haired or occasionally glabrous schizocarp.
  • Habitat: Dry meadows, meadows, forest edges, banks, rocky outcrops, dry broad-leaved forests, stream-sides.
  • Flowering time: July-September.

Northern bedstraw spreads efficiently through its rhizomes, and in fact it is so good that it could become a victim of its own success. It is a cross-breeding, self-sterile plant: its pollen doesn’t fertilise its own stigma. Even large stands can be clones of one and the same plant. Other northern bedstraws don’t necessarily grow anywhere nearby and the seed production is unimpressive – thereby increasing the importance of vegetative reproduction.

Many bedstraw plants grow across the ground or are otherwise limp-stemmed. Unlike many of its relatives, northern bedstraw is erect and grows straight. Bedstraw leaves look regular (actinomorphic) around the stem, but in fact there are only two opposite leaves at the node, while the stipules have developed to look like leaves. In some species they have separated into several parts. Northern bedstraw’s real leaf blades are clearly larger than the substitutes in between.

Genus Galium includes many dying plants, and common madder (Rubia tinctoria) has been cultivated in Finland while dyer’s woodruff (Asperula tinctoria) and lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) are feral. The outer layer of northern bedstraw’s reddish brown rootstock has also been dried to make a dying powder. The roots have often stained the pages of old plant collection books.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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