Latin: Galium aparine

Other names: Sticky willy, goosegrass, catchweed

Family: Rubiaceae

Cleaver Nufarm

Cleavers is a widespread weed found in the United Kingdom and Ireland that belongs to the madder family (Rubiaceae). It is also known by various names such as sticky willy, goosegrass, or catchweed. This weed can be easily recognized by its clinging nature and small, star-shaped white flowers.

Cleavers typically grows as a sprawling annual plant, with weak, slender stems that can reach lengths of up to 1.5 meters. It is commonly found in hedges, gardens, waste areas, and along hedgerows. 

Identifying Cleavers

Cleavers possess distinctive characteristics that help distinguish them from other similar-looking plants. The leaves of cleavers are arranged in whorls, with six to eight leaves encircling the stem at each node. The leaves are narrow, lance-shaped, and covered with tiny backward-pointing bristles.

The flowers of cleavers are small, white, and star-shaped. They occur in clusters at the leaf axils and bloom from late spring to early summer. After flowering, cleavers produce small, round, prickly fruits that are covered in hooked hairs, allowing them to easily cling to surfaces and spread.

cleavers in winter wheat in spring

The Challenges of Cleavers

Cleavers can be a problematic weed in arable crops. Its ability to cling and climb on other plants can result in smothering and shading, leading to reduced growth and yield losses in crops. Cleavers are particularly troublesome in wheat and OSR crops, where they compete for nutrients, water, and sunlight.

The weed’s hooked hairs enable it to stick to animals, clothing, and machinery, facilitating its spread to new locations. Cleavers also produce abundant seeds that can remain viable in the soil for several years, resulting in persistent infestations if not adequately controlled.