Sunday, June 11, 2017

Giant Stinging Tree

Dendrocnide excelsaFamily: URTICACEAE

Now Showing: The giant stinging trees are glamorously in fruit at the Bunya Mountains at the moment.

This wonderful tree pulls more than its own weight as a member of a rainforest community.

It is a fast-growing pioneer tree, quickly filling spaces in rainforests caused by falling trees or human interference, and making a good starter tree for revegetation work in frost free areas.

It grows to be one of the most magnificent tall trees in the forest, becoming part of its upper canopy.

It supports plenty of fruit eating in the winter, when other fruits might be harder to find, and no doubt provides them with insect protein at nesting time. You can see that insects just love the leaves!

These “fruits” look delicious, don’t they? Don’t EVER put any in your mouth. A few stinging hairs nestle in among them, as you can see in the photo below. I didn’t notice they were there, as I picked this small bunch for a close-up photo but can vouch for the fact that they were in good working order.  Ouch!  I found the sting much worse than the sting from a leaf. They could be very dangerous indeed if they stung the inside of your mouth or throat, so resist any temptation to sample the flavour!

Actually, these pretty things are not technically fruits at all, but the swollen stems of the little, dry pale brown seeds. The ones above are white because they are not yet ripe. They will get to be a rich, deep pink as they ripen, and the seeds will darken to biscuit brown. (double click on the photo to see a close-up) New trees can be grown from these seeds. The species is sometimes dioecious, so the plants you get from seed might be male, female, or a bit of each. Pure male trees won’t fruit, of course

The leaves look quite furry when the plants are young, but develop a shiny look when they get older. You might even wonder whether they are a different species.

Don’t be deceived! All the leaves have the stinging hairs, and do sting, even after they have fallen from the tree and look dead and dry.

Personal reactions vary.  I find that if I brush lightly against a leaf, the effect is no more than I would get from an ordinary nettle. However other adults have suffered severely with allergic reactions or anaphylactic shock, causing severe pain which recurs for years, and has had side effects such as temporary blindness. This is not a plant to mess with!

Stinging tree's timber is soft, and of no use for construction purposes. At the end of its life-span it breaks down rapidly, completing the cycle of growth, death and decay that provides food and habitat for so many species.


The leaves of young trees tend to be held horizontally, and are a particularly pretty part of the rainforest scene.

Stick something onto the sting. Rip it off, pulling the stinging hairs with it. Some bushwalkers always carry a bit of gaffer tape or cloth-backed duct tape, (for repairing broken boots in an emergency), and it works well on nettle stings, too. But it works best on stinging hairs that have not been touched, so try it FIRST, not last.

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