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There are several species of bedstraw growing in Minnesota, all with tiny white flowers (most with 4 petals) and whorled leaves. Distinguishing features are the number of leaves in a whorl, overall hairiness, and number and arrangement of flowers in a cluster. Northern Bedstraw is most easily identified by the whorls of 4 long, narrow leaves and its smooth stem. Northern Bedstraw is also the largest of the Galiums in Minnesota, the most common throughout the state, and the most prolific bloomer.
Habitat: Northern Bedstraw grows from creeping horizontal rhizomes. It will form large patches via creeping roots, it is not particular as to soil type and can tolerate partial shade and dry conditions once established, but its preference is for somewhat moist well drained soils. It is found in moist to dry prairies and open woods. It can be propagated by dividing the roots or by sowing seed after it has had a cold stratification period of 4 to 6 weeks, but good germination results have been obtained without stratification (University of Washington Herbarium).Notes: Northern Bedstraw is indigenous to the Garden area. Eloise Butler catalogued 3 species of Galium on May 25, 1907 without specifying which ones. On May 28, 1910 she planted more plants that she obtained within Glenwood Park [which surrounded the area of the Garden], using the name Gallium boreale, which would confirm it is indigenous to the Garden Area. Northern Bedstraw was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time. It is native to almost all counties in Minnesota except for five in the SW quadrant. It is widespread in North America where it is absent only in 10 states in the southeastern U.S. and in Canada it is absent in Nunavut, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Comparisons: Of the Bedstraws native to Minnesota the common ones are: Galium aparine L.- (Cleavers aka Stickywilly) which has very weak stems, 4-petal flowers, hairy leaves in a whorl of 6 or 8, and hooked hairs on the seed capsule, grows as an annual; G. asprellum, Rough Bedstraw, has rough stems and leaves (whorl of 6 - 4 or 5 on side branches), is sprawling, and only a few 4–part flowers per cluster, but the clusters fork 1 to 3 times, seed pod is without bristles; G. labradoricum, Labrador Bedstraw, is sprawling, leaves with backward curving tips in a whorl of 4, clusters of only 3 flowers and is found in wet cold places; G. tinctorium, Small Bedstraw, is also sprawling in wet places, leaves of 4 to 6 in a whorl with very small 3-lobed flowers with stalks less than 1/4 inch long; G. trifidum, Three-lobed Bedstraw, is sprawling, leaves in a whorl of 4, small clusters of 1 to 3 3-parted flowers with stalks over 1/4 inch long; and G. triflorum, Fragrant Bedstraw, sprawling, with abruptly pointed leaves in a whorl of 6 with a vanilla odor when crushed, 4 -parted flowers in forked clusters of 3, smooth stem nodes, hair on other parts and leaf edges.There are about 60 species of Bedstraw in North America. Twelve species are reported to be found in Minnesota, two of which are considered introductions. Of the ten native species, 6 are found in the Garden: G. aparine, Cleavers; G. asprellum, Rough Bedstraw; G. boreale, Northern Bedstraw; G. concinnum, Shining Bedstraw; G. trifidum, Threepetal Bedstraw; and G. triflorum, Fragrant Bedstraw. (Source: www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org)