Galium circaezans (Licorice Bedstraw)

Plant Info
Also known as: Wild Licorice
Family:Rubiaceae (Madder)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; average to dry, loamy or rocky soil; deciduous forests, thickets
Bloom season:June - July
Plant height:1 to 2 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 4-petals Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Sparsely branched clusters of a few flowers at the tip of the stem and arising from the uppermost leaf axils. Flowers are about 1/8 inch across with 4 pale yellowish to greenish petals that are sharply pointed at the tip. Alternating with the petals are 4 short, spreading stamens with yellow tips. In the center is a pair of styles atop a bristly, 2-sectioned ovary. Flowers are stalkless or nearly so.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: whorl Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are whorled in groups of 4, each leaf ¾ to 2 inches long, 3/8 to 1 inch wide, lance-elliptic to egg-shaped, stalkless, with a blunt point at the tip and 3 prominent parallel veins. Surfaces are covered in soft hairs, most densely along the major veins on the underside and around the edges.

[photo of stem and leaf underside] Stems are erect to ascending, square, hairy and most densely so along the angles, unbranched or branched from the base. Colonies may be formed from spreading rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: barbed Fruit type: capsule/pod

The ovaries expand to become round fruit about 1/8 inch in diameter, densely covered in hooked bristles and mature to dark brown or black. Typically only 1 fruit develops per flower.


Licorice Bedstraw is a recent discovery in Minnesota; the first record was in 2010 from western Houston County. The habitat was described as the transition area between bluff prairie and hardwood forest, which is the same kind of habitat where we encountered it near Reno in the eastern part of the county. The species is currently tracked by the MN DNR and its future as an officially listed “rare” species is unknown. It is easily distinguished from other Galium species by the broad, hairy leaves whorled in 4s, the sparsely branched, few-flowered clusters of greenish/yellowish flowers, and the densely bristly fruits. Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale) also has leaves in 4s, but the leaves are proportionately much narrower, hairless on the surfaces, and white flowers much more numerous in larger, more heavily branched clusters. The greenish flowers most closely resemble those of Fragrant Bedstraw (G. triflorum), which is a sprawling plant with hairless leaves whorled in 6s. There are 2 recognized varieties of G. circaezans: var. circaezans is a more southern variant that is hairless to sparsely hairy; var. hypomalacum the more northern, hairier variety that is found in Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Houston County.


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