The Gympie: Stinging Trees Make People Kill Themselves

By | March 24, 2020

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The leaves of the gympie plant in the dark. (Marina Hurley)

We're gonna say it: Plants are jerks. Considering that we need them to live, they don't even have the decency to taste good, and sometimes, they flat-out kill us. Some are simply poisonous, but others—like Dendrocnide moroides, A.K.A. the gympie, stinger, or suicide plants—take their sweet time in torturing us to death. Native to Australia, because of course it is, the sting of the gympie is so painful that British intelligence tried to research it to learn its ways. And yes, this excruciating yet sumptuous plant has racked up a body count. 

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Marina Hurley wearing a particle face mask and gloves. (Marina Hurley)

What Is The Gympie?

The gympie is a stinging shrub that usually grows to about 3–10 feet tall mainly found in the rainforests of Queensland. (It's considered endangered in New South Wales, but depending on your perspective, it's not nearly endangered enough.) Its broad, heart-shaped leaves stretch out on long stems, and everything but the roots is covered in fine, translucent, toxic hair. Its fuchsia flowers are hermaphroditic, and it bears edible fruit. The fruit is the only part of the plant that isn't toxic to humans, but thankfully, it's nasty enough that you wouldn't risk your life to pluck it.

The gympie is a member of the nettle family Urticaceae, but unlike the common nettle, it can sting you without ever being touched. It's so effective that even 100-year old specimens have managed to sting people. We can only hope to be such sprightly centenarians.