Dendrocnide moroides, also known as the stinging brush, mulberry-leaved stinger, gympie gympie, gympie, gympie stinger, stinger, the suicide plant, or moonlighter, is a plant common to rainforest areas in the north east of Australia. It is best known for stinging hairs that cover the whole plant and deliver a potent neurotoxin when touched. It is the most toxic of the Australian species of stinging trees. The fruit is edible to humans if the stinging hairs that cover it are removed.
D. moroides usually grows as a single-stemmed plant reaching 1–3 m (3–10 ft) in height. It has large, heart-shaped leaves about 12–22 cm (5–9 in) long and 11–18 cm (4–7 in) wide, with finely toothed margins.
The species is unique in the genus Dendrocnide in having monoecious inflorescences in which the few male flowers are surrounded by female flowers. The flowers are small, and once pollinated, the stalk swells to form the fruit. Fruits are juicy, mulberry-like, and are bright pink to purple. Each fruit contains a single seed on the outside of the fruit.
The species is an early coloniser in rainforest gaps; seeds germinate in full sunlight after soil disturbance. Although relatively common in Queensland, the species is uncommon in its southern-most range, and is listed as an endangered species in New South Wales.
Contact with the leaves or twigs causes the hollow, silica-tipped hairs to penetrate the skin. The hairs cause an extremely painful stinging sensation that can last for several hours to 1-2 days, recurring to a lessening degree whenever the area is touched, exposed to water or temperature change for a period of usually several months. The injured area becomes covered with small, red spots joining together to form a red, swollen welt. The hairs are also believed to be released to the air when the plant is cut or cleared in large areas. Workers without respiratory protection have reported sneezing, runny noses, mild nasal bleeding and throat irritation whilst performing these tasks. The sting is famously agonizing. Ernie Rider, who was slapped in the face and torso with the foliage in 1963, said:
For two or three days the pain was almost unbearable; I couldn’t work or sleep, then it was pretty bad pain for another fortnight or so. The stinging persisted for two years and recurred every time I had a cold shower. ... There's nothing to rival it; it's ten times worse than anything else.
Moroidin, a bicyclic octapeptide containing an unusual C-N linkage between tryptophan and histidine, was first isolated from the leaves and stalks of Dendrocnide moroides, and subsequently shown to be the principal compound responsible for the long duration of the stings.
There has been anecdotal evidence of some plants having no sting, but still possessing the hairs, suggesting a chemical change to the toxin.
The recommended treatment for skin exposed to the hairs is to apply diluted hydrochloric acid (1:10) and to remove the hairs with a hair removal strip. If this is unavailable, a strip of adhesive tape and/or tweezers may be used. Care should be taken to remove the hairs intact, without breaking them, as broken hair tips, if they remain buried, will only increase the level of pain.
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- Hyland, B. P. M.; Whiffin, T.; Zich, F. A.; et al. (Dec 2010). "Factsheet – Dendrocnide moroides". Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants. Edition 6.1, online version [RFK 6.1]. Cairns, Australia: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), through its Division of Plant Industry; the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research; the Australian Tropical Herbarium, James Cook University. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
- Harden, Gwen J. (2001). "Dendrocnide moroides (Wedd.) Chew – New South Wales Flora Online". PlantNET – The Plant Information Network System. 2.0. Sydney, Australia: The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust. Retrieved 26 Nov 2013.
- Chew, Wee-Lek (1989). "Dendrocnide moroides (Wedd.) Chew". Flora of Australia: Volume 3 (online version). Flora of Australia series. CSIRO Publishing / Australian Biological Resources Study. p. 76; figs 12, 36; map 84. ISBN 978-0-644-08499-4. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
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- If You Touch This Plant It Will Make You Vomit In Pure Agony
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- "Once Stung, never Forgotten", Australian Geographic
- proseanet.org: Dendrocnide
- "Gympie-Gympie losing its sting?", Australian Geographic
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- "Stinging Trees", Karl S. Kruszelnicki, ABS Science, abc.net.au
- "Stinging Trees - and a NEW Treatment for stings", Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station
- Stewart, Amy (2009). Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities. Etchings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs. Illustrations by Jonathon Rosen. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. ISBN 978-1-56512-683-1.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dendrocnide moroides.|
- Dendrocnide at Department of Biology, Davidson College
- Being Stung by the Gympie Gympie Tree Is One of the Worst Kinds of Pain You Can Imagine (2015-01-23), Oddity Central