Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle)
|Also known as:||California Nettle|
|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):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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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 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.
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.
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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Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka, Pope and Ramsey counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Ramsey County.
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