The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Fragrant Bedstraw (Sweet scented Bedstraw, Three-flower Bedstraw)


Scientific Name
Galium triflorum Michx.


Plant Family
Madder (Rubiaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Early Summer Flowering



A characteristic of all Bedstraws is leaves in a whorl and small 3 or 4-parted flowers in branching clusters. Identification between many of the species is difficult and not obtained from a cursory view. The flowers are more often white but can be pale yellow.

Fragrant Bedstraw is a native perennial forb with stems that are reclining to ascending, most frequently scrambling over other plants for support. Stems can reach to three feet in length, they are green, with some reddish tints, 4-angled and obviously ridged, with nodes that do not have hair but the other stems parts do.

The leaves are oblong-elliptical, mostly smooth, widest above the middle and abruptly tapered to a thin pointed tip, mostly in whorls of 6 and give off a vanilla odor when crushed - most noticeable with dry leaves. Leaf margins have stiff hair as does the midrib on the underside. There is a single main vein. The hair on the stems and leaves can stick to clothing but this species is not as sticky as Rough Bedstraw, G. asprellum or Cleavers, Galium aparine.

The inflorescence is composed of branching 3-flowered clusters of very small flowers, either terminal or rising from the leaf axils. Sometimes there may be only 1 or 2 flowers but 3 is typical.

The flowers within each cluster of 3 have very long divergent stalks. They have a white corolla, up to 1/8 inch wide with 4 spreading petals. The petals are ovate, tapering to a pointed tip. There are 4 stamens with yellowish anthers. These are placed alternately with the petals. The whitish style connects to a hairy 2-celled ovary. The calyx is vestigial, with the 2-celled ovary directly below the corolla.

Seed: Fertile flowers produce a dry 2-celled seed capsule that has hooked bristles on the surface. Each cell has one seed.


Habitat: Fragrant Bedstraw is found in rich woods and moist grounds in meadows and riparian edges. It prefers moist conditions and at least partial shade. It grows from a rhizomatous root system which allows it to spread forming colonies. It can also re-seed itself. Should you wish to plant it, (doubtful) root divisions will work best.

Names: The genus name, Galium, is from the Greek word, gala, meaning 'milk' and is a reference to the use of come Galium species to curdle milk, as they contain an enzyme that does that. The species name, triflorum, is from the Latin meaning '3-flowered' referring the clusters of 3. The author name for the plant classification from 1803, ‘Michx.’, refers to Andre Michaux (1746-1802), French botanist who made many exploring expeditions in the U.S. collecting and cataloging many species. Two important works of his are the Histoire des chênes de l'Amérique septentrionale (1801 - Oaks of North America), and the Flora Boreali-Americana (2 vols., 1803, published posthumously, containing the description of this species). His son Francois, traveled with him and the father’s notes were later used for the 3-volume North American Sylva.

The common name of Bedstraw comes from early use of the leaves in bedding and pillows as the aromas were said to reply fleas.

Comparisons: See bottom of the page.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.


Above: An inflorescence section of Fragrant Bedstraw. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

Below: This species typically has 3 flowers in a forked cluster. The stiff hair that ends up on the seed capsule is already present on the ovary of the developing flowers. Note the stiff hair on the leaf edge.

Flowers leaves

Below: 1st photo - Detail of the hairy ovary below the corolla. 2nd photo - Characteristic leaf whorl of 6

ovary leaf whorl

Below: 1st photo - Stem branch nodes are usually without hair but the other parts of stems (2nd photo) have whitish hair on the angles.

stem node stem

Below: 1st photo - The underside of the leaf is a paler color with hair on the midrib. 2nd photo- Typical 3-flowered clusters with each flower corolla sitting atop a hairy 2-chambered ovary.

leaf underside seed burs
Fragrant Bedstraw

Below: Maturing 2-celled seed capsules.

seed capsules

Below: When stems are sprawling, which is typical, you have an inter-twining group of stems, branches and flower clusters.

plant group


Notes: Eloise Butler had catalogued Fragrant Bedstraw in her plant index as present in the Garden area. Curiously, Martha Crone did not list it on her 1951 Garden Census, nor was it on the 1986 census, but was listed in 2009. It is native and distributed quite widely in Minnesota with the exception being the drier counties of the SW quadrant. It is found in all the lower 48 states and all of Canada.

There are about 60 species of Bedstraw in North America. Twelve species are reported to be found in Minnesota, two of which are considered introductions. Of the ten native species, 6 are found in the Garden: G. aparine, Cleavers; G. asprellum, Rough Bedstraw; G. boreale, Northern Bedstraw; G. concinnum, Shining Bedstraw; G. trifidum, Threepetal Bedstraw; and G. triflorum, Fragrant Bedstraw.

Comparisons: Of the Bedstraws native to Minnesota the common ones are: Galium aparine - (Stickywilly aka Cleavers) which has very weak stems, 4-petal flowers, hairy leaves of 6 to 8 and hooked hairs on the seed capsule, grows as an annual; G. asprellum, Rough Bedstraw, has rough stems and leaves in a whorl of 6 (but 4 or 5 on side branches), is sprawling, and only a few 4-part flowers per cluster, but the clusters fork 1 to 3 times, seed pod is without bristles; G. labradoricum, Labrador Bedstraw, is sprawling, leaves with backward curving tips in a whorl of 4, clusters of only 3 flowers and is found in wet cold places; G. tinctorium, Small Bedstraw, is also sprawling in wet places, leaves of 4 to 6 in a whorl with very small 3-lobed flowers with stalks less than 1/4 inch long; G. trifidum, Threepetal Bedstraw, is sprawling, leaves in a whorl of 4, small clusters of 1 to 3 3-parted flowers with stalks over 1/4 inch long; and G. triflorum, Fragrant Bedstraw, sprawling, with abruptly pointed leaves in a whorl of 6 with a vanilla odor when crushed, 4 -parted flowers in forked clusters of 3, smooth stem nodes, hair on other parts and leaf edges.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.