Phylum: Anthophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: Gentianales - Family: Rubiaceae
This abundant member of the bedstraw family is a straggly, branching perennial (sometimes annual) that leans for support against other more robust herbs.
Marsh Bedstraw can reach a height of half a metre or so. The stems are usually four sided (squarish) and the narrow leaves, in whorls of usually four (but occasionally up to six), have rounded tips and their margins bear small, backward-facing bristles. From pinkish round buds, four-petalled flowers 3 to 4mm in diameter open to reveal four stamens. The fruits are round and smooth, unlike to hairy-sticky fruits of Galium aparine, Cleavers. Marsh Bedstraw is quite a variable plant, particularly in its leaf form, and several subspecies have been described.
You will find Marsh Bedstraw in ditches, on lake shores and in marshy meadows. This is a plant that quickly colonises the margins of newly-created garden ponds.
Found throughout Britain and Ireland, Galium palustre occurs also throughout Europe, North Africa and western Asia. In some parts of the USA it is considered a (native) noxious weed, while in New Zealand it is thought to be a naturalised introduction.
In late spring and early summer the tiny white flowers appear is large numbers, often dominating wet meadows despite the presence of many other wildflowers species.
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 palustre comes from Latin and means 'marshy'.
The plants shown on this page as photographed in West Wales during July.
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