Cleavers is the largest of the bedstraws in Illinois. It is a coarse, harsh plant with long, weak, reclining or ascending stems along whose many ridges are innumerable saw-teeth. These rasp and tear at bare flesh or clothing as a hiker walks inadvisedly through a tangle of bedstraw. The plants are so massed and so well armed that portions of the stems tear away from the plants and are carried off on clothing.
Galium aparine L.
Along the stem are leaf-whorls which are three to four inches in diameter with six to eight long, narrow, rough leaves.
Cleavers is found as part of that low growth which grows in damp places in the woods and swamp edges. In company with jewelweeds, nettles, and docks, the bedstraw fills large areas with its pale green jungle of tangled stems. Here among them the mallards from the swamp may waddle about to pick up the remains of the paired seeds in autumn, or find a place to bed down for a siesta in the sun. Bedstraw is easily trampled, so that the resting places of wild things is easily seen among the stems. Yet it was not because animals might sleep in the bed-straw, but for quite another reason that it was given its name. Legend long ago said that this coarse and prickly "straw" was used in Europe to fill mattresses, and that the Holy Family rested in a patch of Galium.