Galium odoratum - Woodruff

Phylum: Anthophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: Gentianales - Family: Rubiaceae

Woodruff, Galium odoratum

This low-growing member of the bedstraw family loves shady spots in gardens, but in the wild it is most often found on the edges of deciduous woodlands..


Woodruff, also referred to as Sweetscented Bedstraw, rarely grows taller than 30cm. The stems are four sided and covered in very short hairs, while the narrow lanceolate leaves are hairless and borne in whorls of six to nine. (The leaves are a darker green than the leaves of other bedstraws.) From round white buds, four-petalled flowers 4 to 7mm in diameter open to reveal four short stamens with white pollen. The fruits are round and covered in short curved hairs that stick to the fur of animals, by which means they are transported to new locations. All parts of this plant are sweet smelling.


You will find Woodruff on damp, shaded woodland edges, most often on lime. This wildflower also colonises shady garden corners, and it is often intentionally planted by gardeners to provide sweet-smelling ground colour.


Found growing as a native wildflower throughout Britain and Ireland, Galium odoratum occurs also throughout Europe, North Africa and much of Asia. This species has become naturalised in some parts of the USA and Canada.

Flowers of Galium odoratum, Woodruff

Blooming times

In late spring and early summer the white flowers appear in large numbers, contrasting with the attractive green leaves in neat ruff-like whorls.

Galium odoratum, Woodruff, in Wales

Similar species

There are several other members of the Galium genus in Britain, including Marsh Bedstraw, Heath Bedstraw, Lady's Bedstraw, Common Bedstraw (also known as Cleavers) and Hedge Bedstraw.


The genus name Galium comes from the Greek word for milk, and it referes to the fact that flowers of Galium verum (Lady's Bedstraw) were used to curdle milk when making cheese. From the common name of plants in this genus you are right to infer that at one time these plants were dried and used for making bedding. The specific epithet odoratum comes from Latin and means bearing an odour.

The plants shown on this page as photographed in West Wales during May.

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