The first thing to do for identification of these is to count the leaves in each whorl. Most of these have 6, some 5 or 7.
The second thing to do is touch the plant. Is it smooth or rough. How rough? This one is slightly rough. In fact, you might say it feels sticky. Look closely at the stem and you will see a bunch of little "prickers." But they are soft. They don't hurt your fingers at all, but they do keep it from feeling smooth. Another important fact is that rough bedstraw is going to grow where it is damp.
The flowers of almost all are insignificant. These are just opening. How they are arranged can help with the ID, but mostly they are just little white flowers.
Now, compare it with the frangrant bedstraw, Galium triflorum, that I showed you two weeks ago. It looks just about the same, but you can instantly tell them apart if you touch the plants, because this one is smooth. And, if you can catch the flowers, that "triflorum" is a clue- there are three tiny flowers in every cluster.
And the other Galium of this spring is Galium circaezans, wild licorice. Definitely different. Upright, with four leaves in each whorl. There are some others with only 4, but these are broader, like a lozenge. And, they taste like pungunt licorice. That said, when I tried some two weeks ago, it didn't taste like anything. But a larger one that I sampled yesterday was very bite-your-tongue licorice!
There are 21 bedstraws that have been found in Michigan. That said, several are garden escapes or only found in one county, ever. If you can learn the common 5 or 6, you're in good shape. Maybe I'll find some of the others this year to show you.
In other news: I was SO good today. I wrote my column in the morning, and did all kinds of bookwork things this afternoon, walked to the bank and post office. Good beyond belief. But I need to do those kinds of days from time to time. It would be really good if I did them more often.
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