Madder family (Rubiaceae)
Description: This native perennial plant is about ½1' tall. It often branches near the base, sending up multiple stems that are little branched and have a tendency to sprawl. The weak stems are sharply four-angled, hairless, and smooth throughout. Along these stems are whorls of 4 sessile leaves; sometimes toward the base of the plant there are whorls of 5 or 6 leaves. These leaves are about 1" long and ¼" across, and tend to angle upward from the stems. They are oblong or slightly oblanceolate, and have a prominent central vein. The leaves are devoid of hairs, although sometimes there are a few ciliate hairs along their outer margins. These ciliate hairs spread outward or toward the tips of the leaves. The stems terminate in an inflorescence consisting of about 1-6 tiny white flowers. These flowers have 4 petals and 4 stamens with black anthers and are about 1/8" across. Underneath the petals, are a pair of orbicular carpels that persist after the petals have fallen. This pair of carpels is about 1/8" across and devoid of hairs. Each carpel contains a round seed. The blooming period occurs from late spring to mid-summer, and lasts about a month. There is no noticeable floral scent. The root system produces rhizomes, which enables the vegetative spread of this plant.
Cultivation: The preference is light shade to full sun, and moist conditions. The soil should contain plenty of fine organic material, and have the capacity to retain moisture, as this plant doesn't like to dry out. After blooming, it tends to wither away.
Range & Habitat: Wild Madder is a fairly common plant that has been reported from most counties of Illinois. It is uncommon or absent in some central or western counties of the state, however. Habitats include moist floodplain areas of woodlands, thickets, moist black soil prairies, swamps, fens and seeps, and low-lying areas along railroads. This plant tends to occur in grassy areas and functions as an understory plant in moist prairies. It is more likely to occur in less disturbed habitats than the common Galium asprellum (Cleavers). This plant is easy to overlook because of its small size and small flowers.
Faunal Associations: The small flowers probably attract flower flies and other small nectar-seeking insects. The foliage of Galium spp. is edible, and can be consumed by various mammalian herbivores. Canada Geese will also eat the foliage of this plant when it occurs near a body of water.
Comments: Except for the showy Galium boreale (Northern Bedstraw), the Galium spp. are often overlooked by prairie restorationists and wildflower enthusiasts. Wild Madder can be distinguished from other Galium spp. by the following characteristics: 1) It has smooth hairless stems, 2) there are usually only four leaves per whorl, 3) the fruits (carpels) are smooth and hairless, and 4) the flowers have four petals, not three. Other Galium spp. often have rough stems and fruits, and more than four leaves per whorl. Galium tinctorium (Stiff Bedstraw) resembles Wild Madder somewhat, but the former species has flowers with three petals (usually) and the upper stems are slightly rough.