Corn cleavers (Galium tricornutum)

Corn cleavers in flower
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Corn cleavers fact file

Corn cleavers description

GenusGalium (1)

Corn cleavers is an endangered plant that has bristly stems and produces thin leaves in whorls of up to nine. The double fruits are hairless and supported on stalks that curve downwards (2). These seeds were once used as pin-head covers by lace-makers to protect their fingers (5).

Height: 80-180 cm (2)

Corn cleavers biology

This annual plant typically germinates in autumn and flowers between May and September (3). It seems unable to co-exist with competitive plants and so is therefore associated with open areas where there is sparse vegetation, such as the very edge of fields (3).


Corn cleavers range

This plant was once common in southern, central and eastern England but has suffered a severe decline. It now occurs in just three sites; one in Rothamsted, one near Oxford and a third in Cambridgeshire (6). In southern Europe the species is relatively common, although it is probably declining (4); it is very rare in north Europe (3).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.

Corn cleavers habitat

Inhabits disturbed ground (3) in arable land, waste ground, coastal cliffs, and hedgerow banks (6).


Corn cleavers status

Classified as Critically Endangered in Great Britain (3). Corn cleavers is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) priority species, for which Plantlife is lead partner (4).


Corn cleavers threats

Agricultural intensification is largely responsible for the precipitous decline of this once common species (6), starting towards the end of the nineteenth century when seed cleaning techniques were improved (3). More recent threats include the use of herbicides and fertilisers, the loss of field-margins, the use of more productive crops and alterations in the traditional style of crop rotation (6).


Corn cleavers conservation

This plant is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species; Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity, is the lead partner responsible for coordinating the implementation of the Species Action Plan devised to guide the conservation of corn cleavers. The plan aims to encourage the colonisation of new sites, and reintroduce corn cleavers to eight former sites by 2003 (6).

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan for this species is available at UK BAP.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.


Information authenticated by Plantlife, the wild plant conservation charity:



Lives or grows for just one year.
In animals, the spiral or convolutions in the shell of a snail. In plants, a set of leaves, flowers, or branches that spring from a stem at the same point and encircle it.


  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January, 2003)
  2. Press, B. and Gibbons, B. (1993) Photographic field guide: Wild Flowers of Britain and Europe. New Holland (Publishers) Ltd., London.
  3. Wigginton, M.J. (1999) British Red Data Books 1; Vascular Plants. 3rd Edition. JNCC, Peterborough.
  4. Byfield, A. (2003) Pers. comm.
  5. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
  6. UK BAP Species Action Plan (November, 2001)

Image credit

Corn cleavers in flower  
Corn cleavers in flower

© John Mason /

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