'Stingstro' alter ego: The Stinging Tree - Pacific Standard

'Stingstro' alter ego: The Stinging Tree

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Australia is home to some of the world's most deadly animals including the box jellyfish, the funnel-web spider, the paralysis tick, and 10 of the planet's most venomous snakes. But if, despite this, you still pine for the land down under, keep in mind that not all of Australia's hazardous wildlife moves.

Case and point: the stinging tree.

Don't let the heart shaped leaves of Dendrocnide moroide and other stinging tree species fool you. They are covered in fine, silica hairs chock full of a painful, unidentified neurotoxin. A tingling sensation induced by the toxin (easily injected into humans and animals alike by simply brushing against the plant) eventually develops into a stabbing, radiating pain that persists for up to a year. "In some cases," says Amy Stewart in Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities, "the shock of the pain can be so great that it brings on a heart attack."

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Removing the tiny, hollow hairs with a Band-Aid or waxing strip may prevent a full dosage of the neurotoxin from entering the body through the skin, but hikers should be aware that since the hairs are shed continuously, even walking in the vicinity of a stringing tree poses a threat of poisoning via inhalation. Also, because the toxin does not seem to break down with heat or age, even dead or dried leaves, which actually are highly nutritious, are still dangerous.

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