Australians might be surprised to hear that many visiting travellers perceive the country as dangerous … a landscape teeming with deadly snakes and spiders and surrounded by crocodiles, sharks and jellyfish, but what of its floral dangers?
Gympie Gympie (Dendrocnide moroides) is arguably the world’s most painful plant. Covered with hypodermic hairs on its leaves and stems, it can inject poison that causes extreme pain.
It grows most virulently in damaged rainforest along Australia’s north-east coast. Its seeds remain dormant in the soil beneath a dark understory, until germinated by exposure to intensified sunlight, such as when a rainforest tree collapses. It is found most frequently as a single-stemmed plant, 1-2 metres high. Its large, long-stalked, alternate leaves are broadly heart-shaped (∼30 x 22 cm) with serrated margins. The central vein stops short of the periphery, terminating with the stalk attachment, on the underside of the leaf. Its mulberry-like, bright pink to purple fruits are borne upon axillary stalks on female plants.
Contact with human skin can cause extreme pain, starting as a rapidly intensifying burning sensation. The pain may persist for days, but upon exposure to cold air, water or when rubbed, the pain can be reinvigorated for up to two months or more, beyond the original sting.