While exploring my uncles property in the rainforest west of Cairns, I suddenly felt an irritation on my leg that become increasingly painful. Assuming I had brushed against a toxic plant, I immediately washed the area with clean water only to find the pain becoming increasingly worse. I had brushed against a stinging tree – a small insignificant looking scrub with largish heart shaped leaves and no spikes or liquid that I could see – the pain could best be described as a burn from a cigarette that wouldn’t go away.
The leaves are covered with tiny silicon hairs that carry a neurotoxin stimulated by the heating or cooling of the skin and this is why washing with cold water became so painful and although the pain subsided after a few days and left no permanent mark, I could still feel the effects from the sting for months afterwards and have heard of some feeling the effects for up to two years. These hairs can also become airborne causing allergic reactions, pain and nose bleeds, even a dead leaf can sting. It’s claimed to be the world’s most painful plant and found in six forms from shrubs to trees along the east coast of Australia. I was told by an aboriginal elder at the Daintree that the stinging tree was used as a punishment and could cause death, also stating that he would rather suffer a spear in the leg as was the custom with other tribes. It’s also believed to have been considered as a weapon during WW2 – incredibly their pink/purple fruit can be eaten but retrieving it would be difficult for humans, dogs or horses but no problem for native animals. I have never found out why the stinging tree is so painful. It can’t be to protect its fruit because native animals have no issues eating both fruit and leaves.
Stinging Trees seem to flourish where there has been freshly disturbed soil such as around the base of a fallen tree or the bank of a stream. Never stray from rainforest walking track as beside tracks is a favourite and although it’s stated that they only grow in rainforest, stinging trees are found in the limestone caves of Chillagoe and believed to be remnants from when the rainforest covered Australia. Everybody seems to have their own remedy but if they have actually been stung and tried their remedy may be another story. The most common way to get relief is to repeatedly use a hair removal wax strip. My cousin was badly stung and got his back waxed every month for 2 years.
More information can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dendrocnide_moroides
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