Madder family (Rubiaceae)
Description: This adventive perennial plant is 1–2½' long and unbranched, except near the inflorescence. The lower stem is often decumbent along the ground, while the upper stem and inflorescence are more or less erect. In the absence of support from adjacent vegetation, this plant has a tendency to sprawl. The central stem is glabrous, 4-angled, and often furrowed; it becomes slightly swollen where the whorls of leaves occur. Each whorl has 6-8 leaves; these whorls of leaves become rather widely spaced as the central stem elongates. Each leaf is up to 1" long and ¼" across (or slightly larger). It is oblong or oblanceolate, glabrous, and smooth along its margin; sometimes this margin is slightly ciliate. There is a single prominent vein along its upper surface. The foliage of this plant lacks any stiff or clinging hairs.
The central stem terminates in a panicle of cymes up to 1' long. This panicle is longer than it is broad and contains a multitude of small white flowers. There is often a pair of small leaves (or leafy bracts) at the base of each cyme along the central flowering stalk. Each flower is about 1/6" across. It has a white corolla with 4 lobes (rarely 3) and a pair of ovoid carpels at its base that are green, hairless, and joined together. The throat of the corolla is quite narrow, from which there protrudes a pair of styles. Each lobe of the corolla becomes pointed at its tip. The blooming period occurs from late spring to mid-summer, and lasts about 1 month. Some plants bloom later than others. Each carpel contains a seed that is convex on one side and concave on the other. The root system is rhizomatous and can produce numerous vegetative offsets.
Cultivation: This plant can be found growing in light shade to full sun in more or less mesic conditions. It becomes larger in fertile loam, but can grow in other kinds of soil.
Range & Habitat: Hedge Bedstraw is an uncommon plant that occurs primarily in northern Illinois (see Distribution Map). This species is native to Europe and it is more common in the Eastern states; Illinois lies at the western end of its distribution (excluding where it occurs along the Pacific Coast). Habitats include areas along railroads and roadsides, thickets, woodland borders, and various waste places. Hedge Bedstraw is currently found in areas with a history of disturbance.
Faunal Associations: According to Müller of 19th century Germany, the small amount of nectar in the flowers attracts various kinds of flies, including Soldier flies, Bee flies, Syrphid flies (which also feed on the pollen), Muscid flies, Crane flies, and Dung flies. It is possible that small bees also visit the flowers, but they are probably less common. The foliage or flowers of Galium spp. (Bedstraws) are eaten by the caterpillars of several moths, including Lobocleta ossularia (Drab Brown Wave), Pleuroprucha insulsaria (Common Tan Wave), and Scopula limboundata (Large Lace Border). Little information is available about this species' relationship to birds and mammalian herbivores. Because the carpels of Hedge Bedstraw lack bristly hairs, they don't cling readily to the fur of mammals or the clothing of humans.
Photographic Location: Several plants were growing at the edge of a wooded area along a railroad in Urbana, Illinois. Some of the neighboring plants included Tradescantia virginiana (Virginia Spiderwort), Arctium minus (Common Burdock), and Toxicodendron radicans (Poison Ivy). Some flowers of the photographed flowering plant have 3 lobes, rather than 4; this is quite unusual for Hedge Bedstraw. While Galium tinctorium (Stiff Bedstraw) occasionally has flowers with 3 lobes, it doesn't produce a large panicle of cymes.
Comments: Other common names for this species are 'White Bedstraw' and 'Wild Madder.' The outstanding characteristic of Hedge Bedstraw is the large terminal inflorescence and its multitude of small white flowers. Most Galium spp. (Bedstraws) produce much smaller cymes of flowers, often from the axils of the whorled leaves. An exception is the native Galium boreale (Northern Bedstraw), which produces a similar inflorescence. However, Northern Bedstraw is a more erect plant with slightly larger flowers (about ¼" across) and there are only 4 leaves in each whorl. The common Galium aparine (Cleavers) has whorls of 6-8 leaves like Hedge Bedstraw, but its flowers are even smaller in size and they occur in small axillary cymes. Furthermore, both the leaves and stems of Cleavers have bristly hairs that can cling to adjacent vegetation, the fur of animals, or the clothing of humans.