Fact Sheets


Galium spurium L.

Family :

Famille :


Synonym(s) :

Synonyme(s) :

Galium vaillantii DC. (Tropicos 2022; USDA-ARS 2022)
Galium agreste Wallr. (Tropicos 2022)


Common Name(s) :

Nom(s) commun(s) :

False cleavers
(English) (GC 2016; USDA-ARS 2022)

Gaillet bâtard (French) (GC 2016)

Zhu yang yang (Chinese) (Tropicos 2022)

Linmåra (Swedish) (USDA-ARS 2022)

  • False cleavers (Galium spurium) mericarps

  • False cleavers (Galium spurium) mericarps

  • False cleavers (Galium spurium) mericarp

  • Galium spurium mericarp

  • Galium spurium mericarp

  • Galium spurium mericarp (smooth) and seed

  • Galium spurium mericarp (smooth)

  • Galium spurium mericarp (smooth)

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Regulation :

Remarques Réglementation:

  • CFIA Weed Seeds Order - Class 3: Secondary Noxious Weed Seeds
  • Quarantine lists of countries e.g. Mexico *may be updated without notice
  • USA Federal Noxious Weed Seed List

Regulation Notes:

Included under Galium spp. on the USA Federal Noxious Weed Seed List

Distribution :

Répartition :

Native to northern Africa, Europe and temperate Asia and naturalized elsewhere (USDA-ARS 2022). In Canada, this species occurs in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec (Malik and Vanden Born 1987; Malik and Vanden Born 1988; Brouillet et al. 2010+).

Habitat and Crop Association :

Habitat et Cultures Associées :

Adapted to open areas with nutrient rich soils such as cultivated fields, field borders, gardens, coastal areas, dry open woods, roadsides and waste grounds (Malik and Vanden Born 1988; Darbyshire 2003). In Canada, Galium spurium is associated with primarily Brassica napus L. (canola/ rapeseed), and can also infest Linum usitatissimum L. (flax), Triticum aestivum L. subsp. aestivum (wheat), Hordeum vulgare L. subsp. vulgare (barley), Avena sativa L. (oat), Pisum sativum L. (peas) and Medicago sativa L. (alfalfa) (Malik and Vanden Born 1987; Malik and Vanden Born 1988).

Economic Use, cultivation area, and Weed Association :

Utilisation économique, zone de culture et association de mauvaises herbes :

Duration of Life Cycle :

Durée du cycle vital:


Dispersal Unit Type :

Type d’unité de dispersion :

Schizocarp, with 2 mericarps

General Information


Galium spurium is believed to be introduced to North America from Europe (Malik and Vanden Born 1988). This species thrives in relatively dry and sunny habitats with nutrient-rich soils (Malik and Vanden Born 1988).

Plants can produce an average of 300-400 seeds, and up to 3500 seeds if grown without competition (Malik and Vanden Born 1987). Fruits can be dispersed in contaminated Brassica napus (canola/rapeseed) seed, by spreading contaminated straw and manure onto fields and by contaminated harvesting equipment (Malik and Vanden Born 1988).




  • Mericarp


    • Mericarp diameter*: 1.4 – 2.4 mm

    From additional sources:

    • Mericarp average size : 1.5 – 2.5 mm (Malik and Vanden Born 1988)
    • Mericarp length: 1.5 – 2.8 mm, excluding spines (Moore 1975)
    *Note: minimum and maximum of 20 mericarps in a normal range of this species using image measurement (ISMA 2020)


    • Mericarp is globose to oval with a generally oval-shaped large hole on one side

    Surface Texture

    • The mericarp surface texture is variable, from smooth, covered in hooked bristles without tuberculate bases, to sparsely hairy (Malik and Vanden Born, 1988)
    • The length of bristles is about 0.2 mm (Malik and Vanden Born, 1988)
    • The bases of the bristles may be smooth, or arise from surface wrinkles, they do not develop tubercles like G. aparine mericarps (Moore 1975)


    • Mericarp is greyish brown with white bristles

    Other Features

    • Schizocarp with two mericarps attached on one side, each with one seed (Malik and Vanden Born 1988)
    • The mericarp hole may be covered by the thin wall, but is generally removed during processing
    • Mericarps can have hooked bristles (G. spurium forma vaillantii), and are the common form encountered in Canada and Europe (Moore 1975). This form can be misidentified as G. aparine due to the presence of hooked bristles (Moore 1975, Malik and Vanden Born 1988)
    • Mericarps can have a smooth surface (G. spurium forma spurium) (Moore 1975)
  • Seed


    • Seed length 1.5 – 2.3 mm; width: 1.5 – 2.2 mm (Khalik et al. 2008)


    • Seed shape is globose or oval with a generally oval shaped hole on one side

    Surface Texture

    • Seed surface with a layer of thin tissue in a ridged reticulate pattern
    • The reticulation interspaces are generally polygonal and randomly arranged (Khalik et al. 2008)


    • Seed is a translucent greyish or brownish colour

    Other Features

    Hilum and Hilum area

    • Hilum is within the large hole on one side of the seed
  • Embryo


    • Embryo size is rudimentary


    • Embryo is spatulate shaped (Martin 1946)


    • Endosperm is hard and translucent grey coloured

    Other Features

    • Embryo is in a peripheral position, along the side of the seed opposite the hole

Identification Tips


Species of Galium have similar looking mericarps: generally globose with a large hole on one its sides. The mericarps often have a bristly surface, but some are smooth or tuberculate, and can be variable within a species. Mericarps of different species can be distinguished by their size, surface texture and shape of the hole on one side of the mericarp.

The mericarps of G. spurium are medium sized for the genus, with a smooth surface, hooked bristles or sparse hairs. The mericarps look similar to other medium-sized species with a bristly surface such as G. aparine, and can be distinguished by being generally smaller with a smooth surface or bristles without a warty tuberculate base, and an oval shaped hole on one side of the mericarp. The polygonal reticulation pattern on the seed surface may aid in identification if the mericarp surface or size overlaps with other species (Khalik et al. 2008). The G. spurium base chromosome number of x = 10 differs from the base number of x = 11 for G. aparine (Moore 1975, Malik and Vanden Born 1988).

Additional Botany Information



  • Flowers are yellow to yellowish green and 1 to 1.5 mm in diameter (Malik and Vanden Born 1988)

Vegetative Features

  • Stem is square with hooked hairs (NatureGate 2021)
  • Leaves are linear, always notched at one end, and are arranged in whorls of four to ten (Malik and Vanden Born 1988)
  • Leaves are up to 12 – 62 mm long and 2.5 – 6 mm wide (Malik and Vanden Born 1988)
  • Stem nodes are glabrous or sparsely hairy (Moore 1975)

Similar Species


Similar species are based on a study of seed morphology of various species, and those with similar dispersal units are identified. The study is limited by physical specimen and literature availability at the time of examination, and possibly impacted by the subjectivity of the authors based on their knowledge and experience. Providing similar species information for seed identification is to make users aware of similarities that could possibly result in misidentification.

Galium aparine L. (cleavers)

G. aparine mericarps (diameter*: 1.6 – 3.2 mm) are generally larger than G. spurium, but there is an overlap in their sizes. The surface bristles have warty tuberculate bases, and the hole tends to be round, compared to the bristles without a tuberculate base and oval-shaped hole of G. spurium. G. aparine seed surface has reticulation with rectangular interspaces; G. spurium seed reticulation has polygonal interspaces (Kalik et al. 2008).

*Note: minimum and maximum of 20 mericarps in a normal range of this species using image measurement (ISMA 2020)


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Brouillet, L., Coursol, F., Meades, S. J., Favreau, M., Anions, M., Bélisle, P. and Desmet, P. 2010+. VASCAN, the database of vascular plants of Canada. http://data.canadensys.net/vascan/ Accessed March 28, 2022.

Darbyshire, S. J. 2003. Inventory of Canadian Agricultural Weeds. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Research Branch. Ottawa, ON.

Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) Secretariat. 2022. https://doi.org/10.15468/39omei Accessed via https://www.gbif.org/species/2913214 Accessed December 29, 2022.

Government of Canada (GC). 2016. Canadian Weed Seeds Order. https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2016-93/page-2.html (English) https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/fra/reglements/DORS-2016-93/page-2.html (French)

International Seed Morphology Association (ISMA). 2020. Method for Seed Size Measurement. Version 1.0. ISMA Publication Guide.

Khalik, K.A , Abd El-Ghani, M. and El Kordy, A. 2008. Fruit and seed morphology in Galium L. (Rubiaceae) and its importance for taxonomic identification. Acta Botanica Croatica, 67: 1-20.

Malik, N. and Vanden Born, W. H. 1987. Growth and Development of False Cleavers (Galium spurium L.). Weed Science 35: 490-495.

Malik, N. and Vanden Born, W. H. 1988. The biology of Canadian weeds. 86. Galium aparine L. and Galium spurium L. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 68: 481-499.

Martin, A.C. 1946. The comparative internal morphology of seeds. The American Midland Naturalist 36: 513-660.

Moore, R. J. 1975. The Galium aparine complex in Canada. Canadian. Journal of Botany 53: 877-893.

NatureGate. 2021. https://luontoportti.com/en/t/264/false-cleavers Accessed February 28, 2022.

Tropicos. 2022. Missouri Botanical Garden. https://tropicos.org Accessed February 28, 2022.

U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Services (USDA-ARS). 2022. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomysimple.aspx Accessed March 28, 2022.

U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS). 2022. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC USA. http://plants.usda.gov Accessed December 29, 2022.



Jennifer Neudorf, Angela Salzl, Ruojing Wang, Karen Castro, Katrina Entwistle
Canadian Food Inspection Agency