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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale)

Though its flowers are small, northern bedstraw is an attractive plant, also known as "wild baby's breath." This plant grows on moist prairies and in open woods throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere.

The tiny white flowers of this perennial form dozens of dense clusters about half an inch wide. The clusters are found at the tips of the many branches. The very narrow leaves are about an inch long and grouped in whorls of four along the square stems. Stems about a foot long arise in tufts from shallow horizontal rootstocks. Each flower produces a fruit consisting of structures that split in half at maturity.

Northern bedstraw is listed as fair forage so look for it in pastures that are only moderately or lightly grazed. The sweet-smelling straw of the various galiums formerly was used in mattresses. A red dye was obtained from the roots of some species, while others served as coffee substitutes or were used to treat a large variety of human ailments.

Northern bedstraw is a member of the large, mostly tropical madder family (Rubiaceae) which includes coffee, quinine, and dozens of ornamental plants. Madder is the common name of the important European dye plant. The generic name Galium stems from the Greek gala for "milk," which is curdled by some of the bedstraws. The specific epithet boreale means "northern" in Latin. Like many of our plants, northern bedstraw was first described by the Swedish founder of modern botanical nomenclature Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) in his monumental Species Plantarum published in 1753.

Return to Rubiaceae (The Madder Family)

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