Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle)

Plant Info
Also known as: California Nettle
Genus:Urtica
Family:Urticaceae (Nettle)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Status:
  • Weedy
Habitat:shade, sun; moist fields, open woods, thickets, along shores, wet ditches
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:1 to 6 feet
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: spike Cluster type: whorled

[photo of flowers] Separate male and female flowers, usually on the same plant, both tiny and indistinct, creamy green to pinkish, clustered in the leaf axils typically along the entire stem. Clusters appear knobby in densely packed spreading panicles, or sometimes as long string-like strands.

Leaves: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are opposite, elliptic to lance shaped, 3 to 6 inches long and ½ to 1½ inches wide, with a long taper to the sharply pointed tip, the base tapering to rounded. Leaves are often folded some lengthwise and arcing. Edges are sharply toothed, the veins prominently sunken on the upper surface and conversely raised below, the upper surface typically hairless, the lower surface smooth, minutely hairy, or with sparse stinging hairs.

[photo of stinging hairs] The leaf stalk is sparsely covered with bristly, stinging hairs with a pair of small, lance-like leafy appendages (stipules) attached at the leaf node, sometimes with smaller leaves in the axils. Stems are erect, occasionally branched in the lower plant, squarish in cross section, mostly hairless, or sparsely covered in stinging hairs, or with a mix of fine downy hairs and sharp stinging hairs.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a flattened oval to egg-shaped seed, less than 1/16 inch long, One plant can produce thousands of seeds.

Notes:

Few species announce their presence more quickly to unwary outdoor explorers, the sharp stinging hairs causing an immediate burning sensation upon contact with bare skin. Unlike poison ivy that can cause painful blistering and intense itching for weeks afterward, Stinging Nettle rarely produces a blistery rash and the worst of the uncomfortable sting typically diminishes within a few hours. Seasoned explorers will tolerate it as a minor outdoor hazard in situations where contact is unavoidable. Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis), found in large colonies in moist woods along streams and in flood plains is similar, if not worse in contact, but is easily distinguished by its broadly oval shaped leaves. Stinging Nettle has a long history of medicinal and culinary use. There are 3 subspecies recognized in North America: subsp. dioica, native to Europe and mostly found on the east and west coasts, subsp. holosericea, native to the western U.S., and subsp. gracilis, native to most of North America and the subspecies found in Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka, Pope and Ramsey counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Ramsey County.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Rebecca in Saint Cloud
on: 2011-07-27 16:27:41

little patch in our back yard is spreading a bit and new patches are cropping up in various spots in our yard.

Posted by: John in South Lake Minnetonka, Hennepin County
on: 2011-08-14 11:44:38

We live in a mature Maple/Basswood forest on the south shore of Lake Minnetonka. The weed is widely distributed in our neighborhood, making up a large portion of the understory. Vigorous grower, and painful stings! The kids know it as itch weed, it raises small bmps that itch terribly.

Posted by: Stephanie in Oakdale - Washington Co
on: 2011-09-06 16:01:07

I have this all over my yard in various places. It seems to love to grow up under the Hosta. Swamp land in the front yard. Oddly, it doesn't bother me as far as a reaction, which I guess is good being I pull so much of it through out the year.

Posted by: Pat in Pillager
on: 2011-12-04 21:25:30

I have this growing all over. Is there anything good about Stinging Nettle? Or maybe it protects other plants from grazing herbivores?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2011-12-05 10:57:44

While there may be some human uses for stinging nettle and it's a major butterfly host plant in its native Europe, it has little wildlife value here. It's a weed.

Posted by: kc in Oakdale
on: 2012-03-14 01:24:35

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stinging_nettle There are MANY thing you could do with this plant, I wish I had them in my backyard.. they seem interesting as heck.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2012-03-14 11:59:20

kc, feel free to harvest them from any "natural area" infestation (as it's an "unnatural" plant). Just don't tell anyone I told you to do it. ;)

Posted by: Victoria in Braham MN
on: 2012-08-30 18:22:07

I found this growing at Dennis Frandsen Park in Braham MN. Medical properties of this plant include pectoral, diuretic, astringent, tonic, styptic, rubefacient. This herb is used for kidney troubles. It will expel gravel from the bladder and increase urine flow. Splendid for neuralgia. The tea increases menstrual flow. For diarrhea, dysentery, piles, hemorrhages, hemorrhoids, gravel, and inflammation of the kidneys.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2013-03-03 11:06:21

Well, now, after a bit more research it seems that stinging nettle is a native species after all. The DNR lists it as "introduced" on their big list-o-plants but that must be a typo. All other references say it's native.

Posted by: Jessica in Brainerd
on: 2013-03-10 22:54:26

It's good to eat, too! Just have to cook it first to neutralize the stinging quality of it. And since it's pretty easy to identify (at least in MN) that helps the likelihood of misidentification pretty minimal, since it stings you and all.

Posted by: Frank in Saint Paul
on: 2013-08-30 22:35:29

Plants in the nettle family are host plants for the caterpillars of the Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), which is why we tolerate stinging nettles in our backyard.

Posted by: Nancy in West St. Paul
on: 2014-07-01 22:21:30

We have these in our backyard. They seem to like shade-under the lilac hedges, pine trees, and hosta. My husband and I both react pretty strongly-I get a bumpy rash that lasts 2-3 days!

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