April 30, 2017

That Stings

Urtica dioica - Common Nettle or Stinging Nettle | Photo courtesy of Glen Mittelhauser/Maine Natural History Observatory

Urtica dioica – Common Nettle or Stinging Nettle | Photo courtesy of Glen Mittelhauser/Maine Natural History Observatory

Urtica dioica has six subspecies, two of which occur in New England and only one of which is native. Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis is native and can be identified because both the male and female flowers on a single plant and the stinging hairs are sparse, particularly on the stem. The herbaceous perennial can reach up to 6 feet in height and sports serrated leaves, with the stem and leaves covered in stinging and non-stinging hairs. The flowers are tiny and clustered on inflorescences. Nettle is found in disturbed habitats, in floodplains and along forest edges and on shorelines. As for the stinging, the hairs have a needle-like tube that “injects histamine and acetylcholine, causing itching and burning that may last up to 12 hours.” The plant has been used medicinally for centuries, including as treatment for arthritis, kidney disorders, cardiovascular ailments and dandruff, to name but a few.

Wild Wednesday is a collaboration of Garden Maine and Glen Mittelhauser of the nonprofit Maine Natural History Observatory, www.mainenaturalhistory.org.

In 2012, Glen began working to catalog the plants of Baxter State Park, which you can read about here and find out how to sponsor a plant of your own. Courtesy of a poll taken in 2012, Garden Maine is sponsoring this lovely plant.