Stickywilly: yes it is real
May 25, 2016
I have discovered a new weed to hate in my yard. Although its scientific name is Galium aparine (Latin for "to seize"), I prefer its more descriptive common names: sticky weed, cleavers, stickywilly, robin-run-the hedge, Velcro weed, goosegrass, or catchweed bedstraw. While I have no idea why it is called stickywilly, Velcro weed makes perfect sense, because it holds on tight. Try getting it off your gloves. The goosegrass moniker is due to the fact that it has been used to feed geese and other fowl, not because it is a grass. It has been used historically as a mattress filling, hence bedstraw.
I only had a few plants last year, but this winter's moisture encouraged the seeds of this clinging sticky vine to proliferate. The plants are taking over my yard. It has formed dense tangled mats in my flowerbeds running over my iris, feverfew and penstemons. It can actually smother some plants. Stickywilly seeds and parts can lodge in pets' fur and be challenging to remove. It can cause rashes in sensitive people.
This shallow tap-rooted annual won't survive the winter, but it aggressively spreads its viney appendages over the ground and other plants quite quickly in the spring. I suspect the robin-run-the-hedge name is due to its ability to go through or over most any perennial or small shrub. Stems can reach six feet in length. It has small hooked hairs on its stems, leaves and seeds that catch on everything aiding in dispersal. Each plant can produce 100 to 400 seeds, which remain viable in the soil for three years. In addition to being a pest itself, it can host insect and disease pests.
Control involves removing plants either by hand or by hoeing before they go to seed. Applying mulch can reduce seedling germination. Once you reduce parental seed sources, planting competitive desirable plants will also slow this pest down. A preemergent herbicide containing the active ingredient oryzalin applied in the late fall can provide fair control. Postemergent herbicides with the active ingredient glyphosate will also provide control, if applied when the plants are small. An organic herbicide containing oil of clove can kill young plants.
I'm not interested in roasting its seeds and using them as a coffee substitute, or in using it as a diuretic or anti-inflammatory. I just want this thing gone. For more information see http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu under "Catchweed Bedstraw Management Guidelines.
JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.