Field of Science

A nasty plant

My old friend Woody introduced me to this plant on our first trip to Australia 30 years ago for another botanical congress. “Stand next to that plant for a size comparison”, he said. Pointing to it, the Phactor said, “This one?” And the pointed finger was too close and a small hypodermic needle of a trichome (hair) slipped under the edge of my finger nail. The stinging sensation that resulted was something to behold because even though there was no visible injury at all, it felt like a hot ice pick had been shoved under my finger nail. The pain was severe and it just throbbed, and after subsiding 3-4 hours later, it would begin throbbing again every time my hand was in water. The rather innocent looking shrub that does this is Dendrocnide moroides, the stinging bush, one of the nastiest members of the nettle family. Another colleague tripped and fell into one, and the reaction and pain required a trip to hospital. Imagine how his showers felt after this! The fruit is a rather attractive red raspberry looking thing, but all those stinging hairs give you real pause about trying it. So visual ID of this plant is one of the first things you learn before doing field work in rainforests of Queensland. Slow learners will get a lesson they won’t forget.

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