Nettle Tree

Nettle Tree

Common name Gympie-Gympie / Nettle Tree
Botanical name Dendrocnide moroides
Family Urticaceae
Natural range Australian rainforests
Mature height less than 3m tall
Form Scruffy low shrub
Likes Rainforest environments
Dislikes Drought
Where to plant Don’t do it!
Known for Vicious stinging plant

Unveiling the Gympie-Gympie: More Than Just a Stinging Nettle

Australia is renowned for its array of flora and fauna that holds wonders and, occasionally, a few surprises. One such unique species is the Gympie-Gympie or Nettle Tree. From the Urticaceae family and boasting the botanical name Dendrocnide moroides, this peculiar plant comes with an adventurous tale.

Interesting Fact #1: The name “Gympie-Gympie” originates from the language of the indigenous Gubbi Gubbi people.

What’s Unique about the Gympie-Gympie’s Habitat?

This infamous Nettle Tree thrives in Australian rainforests and matures into a scruffy low shrub less than 3 metres tall. This plant has a fondness for the damp and lush environments provided by rainforests. Contrarily, droughts are not the Gympie-Gympie’s friend. But before you consider planting one in your garden, heed this advice: Don’t do it! The plant is known for its painful stinging properties, making it a less-than-ideal candidate for home cultivation.

Why is the Gympie-Gympie Called the Nettle Tree?

The Nettle Tree is an interesting misnomer for the Gympie-Gympie. Though referred to as a ‘tree,’ it’s actually a soft-wooded shrub that can reach a height of 4-5 metres. Often, it is found as a smaller shrub around 1 metre tall. The smaller plants are famously termed ‘ankle biters,’ given the painful rash they inflict on an unsuspecting passerby brushing against them. A brief, fleeting touch on an arm by a leaf or stem from this plant can trigger pain for hours, days, or even weeks.

Interesting Fact #2: The Gympie-Gympie stinging tree has been used in traditional medicine by indigenous Australians to treat ailments such as eye complaints, and as a hunting tool.

What Does a Gympie-Gympie Sting Feel Like?

Imagine the sensation of fire running rampant on your skin. That’s the initial reaction to a Gympie-Gympie sting. Over time, this fiery pain subsides to a throbbing ache, comparable to the feeling of having a body part trapped in a slammed car door. The final stage, called ‘allodynia,’ can persist for days after the sting. During this phase, activities like showering or scratching the affected skin can reignite the intense pain.

How Does it Remain Toxic, Even Post-Mortem?

Gympie-Gympie’s reputation as a stinging nightmare doesn’t end with its life cycle. The plant’s surface is covered in hollow, needle-like hairs, or ‘trichomes,’ reinforced with silica. These trichomes contain potent substances that remain active even after the plant’s death. They can stick to the skin for up to a year, releasing the toxic cocktail during events such as touching the affected area, contact with water, or temperature changes. This is why even dead leaves found on the forest floor and decades-old laboratory specimens can still inflict the sting.

What are the Effects of Gympietides?

The toxic constituents in Gympie-Gympie have a designated name: ‘gympietides.’ These unique chemicals disrupt an important pain signaling pathway in the body, called voltage-gated sodium ion channels. In a cell affected by gympietides, these channels don’t close as they should, which means the cell struggles to turn off the pain signal. The result is prolonged, persistent pain.

Interesting Fact #3: Gympietides don’t just cause pain. They’ve been found to kill certain types of cancer cells in laboratory tests, which could open up new possibilities for pain and cancer research.

Are There Other Stinging Trees to Watch Out For?

The Gympie-Gympie isn’t alone in its unique stinging abilities. It has several local relatives such as the Giant Stinging tree (Dendrocnide excelsa), the Shiny Leaf Stinging tree (Dendrocnide photinophylla), and the Atherton Tableland Stinger (Dendrocnide cordata). Tread cautiously!

Further Reading:
  1. The University of Sydney – Gympie Stinger Research
  2. Australian Geographic – One of the World’s Most Venomous Plants

The Gympie-Gympie, or Nettle Tree, is an intriguing aspect of Australia’s rich biodiversity. Its fierce stinging capabilities serve as a unique adaptation for survival in the wild. Whether you’re a homeowner, a gardener, or a tree enthusiast, it’s a fascinating species that adds a sting to the tale of Australia’s diverse plant kingdom.

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