Thursday, April 13, 2006





I remember the exact moment I first encountered this plant. I was about 10 years old and at a wedding reception at the Ponce DeLeon Resort in St. Augustine. While running around outside the reception hall with my tie stuffed in my pocket and new grass stains on my dress pants, I spied some white flowers.

I picked 'em.

About 5 seconds later, my hands lit up with a burning, itchy sting.

I had just met the Stinging Nettle.

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In April, these things pop up under my oaks like little land mines just waiting the bare foot. When my kids were little, they seemed to have an uncanny knack for stepping on them. Where I get a few moments of stingy discomfort, they would get a little cluster of blisters at the point of contact. It was usually good for a popsicle and some comfort time with the "poisoned foot" propped up watching Raffi or Barney. ( Not for me...for them)

You can...(not recommending this now)...reach down below ground level, grasp the stem and pick this plant without getting stung. The chemical laden hairs that sting are above ground level only. I know...why would you want to do that? I share information here, I never said it was all sensible.

In the spring, when these things are popping up like triffids, I scuff them out of the ground with my sneakered foot while walking the property. I figure each one that gets a case of "sneakerus floweringus interruptus" is one less set of seeds and new nettles for next year. This seems to work, because there are a lot less of them along my "game trails" then out in the woods.

This may be the one plant that the deer won't eat, but everybody gets eaten by something. Even these irritable little plants. Once while Rangering at Fort Matanzas, I watched a very fast, very orange caterpillar munching a nettle. I didn't identify the caterpillar at the time...

...but I remember being impressed.


doubleknot said...

Triffids? I didn't think anyone knew what they were.
Good luck with sneakering them out. I have had my brush with them also.

Anonymous said...

Funny - I can remember my first contact with nettles too. In Tallahassee, 28 years ago, walking along a sidewalk and brushing past some accidentally.

Years later I incorporated them into my organismal botany class. The stinging hairs are like fragile hypodermics that break when you brush against them. They contain a mixture of two chemicals: histamines, which make you hurt, and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which makes you hurt WORSE. Devilish!

Deb said...

Those don't look anything like what I call stinging nettle up here, but it sounds like they sting the same! Mine are a tall plant with narrow, pointed leaves and a cluster of tiny green flowers.

Believe it or not, the young leaves are delicious when cooked, kind of like spinach, and very nutritious. The cooking removes the stinging hairs and chemicals.

R.Powers said...

Oh yeah...big scifi fan.

...yeah, but how do they know?

R.Powers said...

Your plant is what I got when I only googled "stinging nettle". After I added "in Florida" I got mine.

Like the Dick and Jane primers, just another case of northern bias in the publishing world :)

Anonymous said...

How do they know? I dunno. How does poison ivy know? And how do birds eat the berries and not get covered with rashes. So mysterious to me.

Without peeking, as I recall the true nettles that deb is talking about are in the family Urticaceae; they do have green flowers anyway. FC's may be horsenettle, which is in the Solanaceae (I think), the tomato and eggplant and pepper and petunia and tobacco family. In the long run it doesn't matter, they all hurt!

By the way I left a comment on Pablo's mayapple post. Regarding triffids, John Wyndham!

Sandy Hatcher-Wallace said...

I've never seen one or had a close encounter of any kind with this little prickly flowering plant...maybe we don't have them in our state...and I like to go barefoot a lot.

"Sneakerus floweringus interruptus" that's really cute...does it really work?

robin andrea said...

I only know the tall nettles. First met the stinging beast in Oregon. In 1972, a bunch of friends and I had just rented a 14 acre place and were starting a little commune. I walked out through a field of tall green stuff, to get to the creek. On my way I noticed that my arms were starting to sting like crazy. I was standing in the middle of a field of stinging nettle. Lesson learned.

Karen Schmautz said...

My oldest had an encounter with stinging nettle when he was young...don't know which kind but it was in SOUTHERN California...boy did he hurt.

R.Powers said...

OOPs! I just checked and noticed my stinging nettle link was junk. I fixed it and it actually goes somewhere now. Sorry about that.

I believe you are usual.

Must be like the bee sting therapy for arthritis. Ouch.

You may be the only person not yet stung by these buggers.

Isn't it funny how clear the memory of first sting that first love...just a different kind of sting.
...hey, that was pretty good wasn't it?

I'm sure the plants in sensible northern cali are less aggressive than those in wild southern cali.
Maybe they don't like rain.

Deb said...

Okay, after reading the info in the corrected link, disregard what I said about eating them! The Urtica species are okay cooked or dried, but I'd stay away from anything in the spurge family.

Another good example of why we have scientific names. And thanks, I learned something new today!

Anonymous said...

OH Yeah! Nothing like stinging nettles between the toes! I have found that vinegar will stop the itching. Too bad my mother didn't know that.

Juli said...

My chicks have made it a point to leave no petal left attached. I didn't know what it was but now that I do, I'll be sportin' some sneakers in the yard for some lawn "care".

R.Powers said...

Me too, because I always thought when books mentioned eating nettles, they were eating ours. Now it makes more sense.

I don't remember them at all in our piney neighborhoods. I always encounter them in oak forests. Vinegar is amazing stuff.

Sneaky chicks. Great to recycle weeds into eggs though.

Anonymous said...

You're right about our neighborhood. I always got them around my grandmothers, she had oaks in her yard. I have a lot of oaks too, and a few stinging nettles. Kelly always tells me to pick them.

Vinegar, a thousand and one uses... you can even drink it.

R.Powers said...

Kelly is giving you the opportunity to be the manly nice.

Vinegar rides on my boat for jellyfish stings too.

Sharon said...

Ok, I realize this is a very old post, but I wanted to THANK YOU for helping me find out the real name of this stupid weed! I hated them growing up, and I saw a few today at a park in Mandarin and have been googling in vain, trying to find out what it is called besides "Itchweed".

Very nice blog, btw, I'm going to add your link so I can look around some more. :)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I'm confused!
This is the plant I'm trying to identify.
BUT... Check out Wikipedia, it's picture of the stinging nettle is not the same! Pretty different if you ask me. Who is correct? Wiki or pure Florida?
Wiki link:

Mountain Dreaming said...

I know it's been a long time since the original was posted but the BAD part of the plant is just so it stays protected. The plant itself is one of the MOST USEFUL wild weeds out there. All you need is a pair of good gloves and you've just stumbled upon a golden crop.
I can be used in shampoos and rinses for your hair to improve gloss and shine. Can also be mixed in with lotions to help alleviate symptoms of eczema.
It can actually be eaten because once the leaves come in contact with water the spines are washed off. They're very high in iron much like spinach and can help with anaemia.

Unknown said...

Living in Florida, I have had the pleasure of living with these Florida nettles most of my life. A good thing to know about if one gets stung by them is to carefully pick the little white flowers at the base, including the green part below the petals, and mash them between your fingers, and wipe the resulting "mash" on the sting. It will relieve the sting almost immediately. Hope this is helpful!

Anonymous said...

I had a bizarre experience today, and I'm curious if any of the readers could speculate on what it could be. It's weird, but here here goes: I had a flat tire on the Florida Turnpike (trailer tire). I pulled over and stepped onto the grass/weeds on the side of the road. I immediately thought I'd stepped in ants because my ankles began burning. I actually took one shoe off and slapped it on the ground, thinking it was full of ants. After seeing that there were no ants, I assumed I'd come into contact with nettles, but when I
d lay the jack handle on the grass and pick it up it would shock me for 5-10 seconds, as though it was electrified. I'd have to bounce it from hand to hand until the sensation left the metal. It happened every time. I put some leather gloves on and it even shocked through the gloves after a few seconds. Very strange. Has anyone ever heard of a plant transmitting a stinging/shocking sensation through metal?



I was just pulling weeds in the veggie garden and came across these. YEOW! My hands are still hurting!

Barbra Joan said...

Not my first time getting stung here in Central Florida. Last time the plant was taller, yesterday the plant was closer to the ground and I didn't know it is probably just a different species, but I have identified the miserable little thing. I'm still feeling the sting! on 2 fingers. HATE IT!!!

Unknown said...

That is npt a nettle. It dors feel like a nettle though. I have another one I am trying to identify. It looks like a type of thistle but ooo it surely is not! Oh it does sting! And they have spines not little hairs! So they gwt you twice they prick you and then when you have recovered from that the stinging starts!

Unknown said...

I have not but ir is possible the nettles maybe juiced the jack and transferred to your hand? This is odd. Any cuts on the hand? I have had nettles sting through garden gloves! Did the stinging continue for a while afterward?

Unknown said...

Only if they are young. Other wise a new thicker plant pops up!

Anonymous said...

Fun fact, If I'm thinking of the right butterfly, they store the toxins from the nettle in the hairs on their back. So don't touch them either lol