Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Native and widespread across the Northern Hemisphere, False Cleavers is a fast growing annual herb with climbing or scrambling stems 10–100 cm long, to 30 cm high, with whorls of leaves, insignificant pale green to yellow flowers.
  • Not yet widely naturalised in Australia, although present in Western Australia, South Australai, Victoria & New South Wales.
  • It has hooked hairs on the stems and usually on the fruits that enable it to cling to fur and clothing, and in this way be dispersed to new sites.
  • It is a serious contaminant in canola crops in Canada and the United States of America.
  • It resembles two other alien species of Galium, and several native species of the related genus Asperula.
  • Small infestations can be controlled  by physical removal when young, or by careful selection of herbicides.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

False Cleavers (Galium spurium) is an annual herb with slender running climbing or scrambling stems 10–100 cm long, to 30 cm high. The stems are multi-branched, square in cross-section, 0.5–1 mm across, ridged, with stout backward-pointing hairs along the ridges, making the plant rough to the touch. The stalkless leaves are borne in whorls of 5 or 6 or occasionally 7 or 8 (outside Australia they have been reported to have up to ten leaves in a whorl) at each of the stem joints (nodes). The leaves are 8–30 mm long, and 1.5–5 mm wide, narrow, with pointed tips and backward-pointing prickles along their margins. The leaf surfaces are hairless or sparsely covered with tiny hooked hairs or prickles that give them a 'sticky' nature.

The flowers are borne in elongate often cylindrical inflorescence's, 1–3(–5)-flowered, mostly not exceeding whorls, arising from the leaf forks peduncles (main flower stalk) 4–15 mm long, pedicels (individual flower stalk) 0.5–5 mm long. The flowers are inconspicuous, about 1.2 mm across, with four greenish-yellow petals united near the base.

The two-lobed fruits are plump kidney-shaped to almost spherical, 1.5–2.3 mm long, 0.8–1.5 mm wide, blackish-brown or reddish-brown, smooth or with persistent hooked bristles (Ehrendorfer & Schonbeck-Temesy 1980; Toelken 1986, Stace 1997; Thompson 2008 in prep.).

For further information and assistance with identification of False Cleavers contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour

Green, White, Yellow

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

False Cleavers occurs in generally drier environments than the closely related species Cleavers (Galium aparine). It has not become established in urban environments (Thompson 2008 in prep.). It tolerates a range of soil types, including calcareous sand, black sand, red clayey sand, sand and guano over limestone, and granitic soils. In Western Australia and South Australia, False Cleavers grows in a range of geographic areas and habitats, from off shore islands to inland areas. It grows in coastal scrub, granite escarpments, limestone cliffs, creek-lines, roadsides and farms (Western Australian Herbarium 1998; eFlora of South Australia 2007; National Herbarium of Victoria 2007; AVH 2021).

Are there similar species?

False Cleavers is similar to a number of other Galium species, as well as several other genera in the family Rubiaceae.

Cleavers (Galium aparine), False Cleavers (Galium spurium) and Rough Corn Bedstraw (G. tricornutum) are easily confused, and all three species are characterised by the possession of robust backward-pointing hairs on stems and leaf margins. 

False Cleavers (Galium spurium ) can be distinguished from Cleavers (Galium aparine), by its yellow or yellow-green (rather than white) flowers. The flower lobes are shorter, also with an absence of a ring of fine hairs around the stems in False cleavers (Toelken 1986; Stace 1997; Thompson 2008 in prep.). The leaves in False Cleavers are mostly in rings of four to five, compared with rings of six to eight in Cleavers.  

Corn Bedstraw (Galium tricornutum) lacks hairs. The fruits of Rough Corn Bedstraw are slightly roughened by small granules, not smooth, and never have hooked hairs (Thompson 2008 in prep.).

The other introduced species of Galium are much smaller and/or finer than Cleavers and have different fruit. Of the eight alien species of Galium naturalised in Australia, all except G. palustre have a distinct see-through pointed leaf tip, a character not evident in the native species. 

Some native Galium species have hairy fruits, but all have leaves arranged in a ring of four.

The related genus Asperula includes two native species, Asperula conferta and Asperula euryphylla, with leaves in rings of six or more, and with short hooked hairs on the stems, but the fruits of both these species are smooth (James & Allen 1992; Jeanes 1999).

Field Madder (Sherardia arvensis) is another member of the family Rubiaceae that may be confused with False Cleavers. It has stalkless, lilac to white flowers borne in tight clusters (Navie 2004).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

False Cleavers is a potential weed of temperate environments in Australia that invades crops, pastures, gardens, waste areas and disturbed sites (Navie 2004). There appear to be no published accounts of its impacts on native vegetation and agriculture in Australia. Confusion with Cleavers (Galium aparine) and mis- identification of herbarium specimens also contributes to the lack of reliable information (Stajsic 2008 pers.comm.).

Agriculture: In the North America, both False Cleavers and Cleavers (Galium aparine) are weeds of significant economic impact, especially for canola producers (Turkington et al. 1980 cited in Zhang & Bailey, 2000; Reid et al. 2005). Seed contamination leads to downgrading of canola, results in new infestation, and has implications for the crushing industry (Reid et al. 2005).

Native ecosystems: Can grow and to invade riparian and disturbed open vegetation.

How does it spread?

False Cleavers reproduces by seed. The hooked bristles on the stems, leaves and fruits of False Cleavers are able to cling to clothing and animal fur, enabling it to be spread by humans and animals. Additionally, it is spread by water, machinery, and in contaminated agricultural produce, such as in imported canola (Navie 2004; Reid et al. 2005).

What is its history in Australia?

False Cleavers has been present in Australia since the 1800s. Early specimens include ones collected from Western Australia and from along the Murray River (Thompson 2008 in prep.). It is not yet widely naturalised in Australia (Navie 2004).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Non-chemical control: Small infestations of False Cleavers may readily be hand-pulled before seed set (plants are weak-rooted and are simply removed). False Cleavers can be treated and controlled as similar species Galium aparine (Cleavers).  Studies for similar species Cleavers have shown that even minor tillage promotes the recruitment of Cleavers, and farmers might be able to reduce recruitment by limiting spring tillage (Reid et al. 2005). Farmers can also limit the spread of False Cleavers by practicing hygienic methods, such as cleaning machinery, using certified seed and clean tillage.

Chemical control: Easily controlled by herbicide application. There are numerous herbicides available in Australia that are suitable for chemical control of larger infestations (Western Australia Department of Agriculture and Food 2007; Herbiguide 2021).

Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

False Cleavers is an annual. Peak flowering and fruiting occurs between August and December (National Herbarium of Victoria 2007; Western Australian Herbarium 1998; Thompson 2008 in prep.).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

In Australia, False Cleavers occurs in Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria (AVH 2008; Thompson 2008 in prep; AVH 2021). 

In Western Australia, it is widespread from near the southern border with South Australia, to Kalgoorlie, Geraldton, and to the south-western part of the state (Western Australian Herbarium 1998). 

In South Australia, False Cleavers is found mainly in the eastern part of the state, from Fenelon Island of the Eyre Peninsula to the Flinders Ranges, and south-east to Little Dip Conservation Park (eflora of South Australia, 2008). 

In New South Wales it occurs mostly in the western area of the state, as it does in Victoria (Thompson 2008 in prep.).

In Victoria is is recorded in the  north-west and west of the state (AVH 2021).

Where does it originate?

False Cleavers has a broad natural distribution encompassing northern Africa, Europe, temperate Asia and Pakistan, and is widely naturalised elsewhere (GRIN 2008).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Galium spurium

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

  • Galium spurium L. subsp. spurium
  • Galium aparine var. minor Benth.
  • Galium ibicinum Boiss. & Hausskn. ex Boiss.
  • Galium spurium subsp. ibicinum (Boiss. & Hausskn. ex Boiss.) Ehrend.
  • Galium spurium L. subsp. spurium 
  • Galium vaillantii DC.
  • Galium spurium var. vaillantii (DC.) Koch
  • Galium tenerum Schleich. (misapplied by E.L. Robertson in J.M.Black, Fl. South. Aust. 2nd ed., 4: 800 (1957); J.H.Willis, Handb. Fl. Victoria 2: 617 (1973))

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Stickywilly, Marin County Bedstraw

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