Madder family (Rubiaceae)
Description: This native perennial plant is 1-3' tall, branching occasionally. The slender stems have a tendency to sprawl; they are light green to reddish green, angular, and strongly ridged. Usually, there are a few short hairs that provide the stems with a slightly rough texture. At intervals along the stems, there are whorls of 6 sessile leaves. These leaves are up to 2½" long and ½" across; they are oblanceolate in shape, while their margins are smooth and ciliate. Each leaf abruptly tapers to a short pointed tip (cuspidate).
Occasionally, 1-3 stalks of flowers develop from the middle to upper whorled leaves; these stalks are often longer than the leaves, and they can be axillary or terminal. Each of these stalks may produce 1-3 flowers on slender pedicels. Each flower spans about 1/6" across, consisting of 4 greenish white to white petals, 4 stamens, and a bristly 2-celled ovary. Each petal tapers to a narrow tip. The blooming period occurs during the summer for about 2 months. Each flower is replaced by a bristly 2-celled carpel; each globoid cell contains a single small seed. The cells of the carpel eventually separate. The root system produces rhizomes. This plant can spread by reseeding itself, or by forming vegetative offshoots from the rhizomes.
Cultivation: The preference is light shade to partial sun, moist conditions, and a fertile loamy soil.
Range & Habitat: Sweet-Scented Bedstraw occurs in most areas of Illinois, where it is occasional to locally common (see Distribution Map). Habitats include moist to mesic deciduous woodlands, rocky bluffs, areas along woodland paths, thickets, moist meadows, partially shaded seeps and springs, partially shaded riverbanks, and bogs. In badly degraded woodlands, this plant is replaced by Galium aparine (Cleavers).
Faunal Associations: The flowers are occasionally visited by small bees or flies; these insects usually suck nectar. The caterpillars of several moths feed on the foliage of Galium spp. (Bedstraws), including Lobocleta ossularia (Drab Brown Wave), Pleuroprucha insularia (Common Tan Wave), and Scopula limboundata (Large Lace Border). Deer leave the foliage alone. The bristly carpels of Sweet-Scented Bedstraw can cling to the fur of animals and the clothing of humans; by this means, the seeds are distributed to new locations.
Photographic Location: Along a woodland path in a moist area of Busey Woods, Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: The common name refers to the vanilla scent of the dried foliage. Sweet-Scented Bedstraw is typically found in moist woodlands. It can be distinguished from other Galium spp. (Bedstraws) by considering the following set of features: 1) there are 6 leaves per whorl, 2) the carpels are bristly rather than glabrous, 3) the leaves are oblanceolate with short pointed tips, and 4) the petals of the flowers taper to narrow tips. Sweet-Scented Bedstraw is one of the larger Bedstraws and its stems can be smooth or slightly rough. Its appearance is similar to Galium aparine (Cleavers), although the latter is an annual plant that occasionally produces 8 leaves per whorl and its bristly stems and leaf margins are more likely to cling to adjacent objects.