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Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica L.) Identification

Stinging nettle, scientifically known as Urtica Dioica L., is a perennial herbaceous plant with spiky leaves that can be found almost anywhere. It is common in Europe, North Africa, North America, and some parts of Asia. 

Urtica Dioica L. belongs to the Urticaceae family. While it is classified as a weed in most places, its leaves are consumed as vegetables in soups and curries in some areas. 

Products from stinging nettle are usually made from the leaves, stems, and sometimes the roots.

Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Sub Kingdom: Tracheobionta- Vascular Plants
  • Phylum: Tracheophyta
  • Class: Magnoliopsida (dicotyledons)
  • Subclass: Hamamelididae
  • Order: Urticales
  • Family: Urticaceae 
  • Genus: Urtica L.- nettles
  • Species: Urtica dioica L.-stinging nettles 
  • Sub Species: Urtica Dioica subsp. afghanica Chrtek
    • Urtica Dioica subsp. cypria H. Lindb
    • Urtica Dioica subsp. dioica L
    • Urtica Dioica subsp. gansuensis C.J Chen 
    • Urtica Dioica subsp. kurdistanica Chrtek
    • Urtica Dioica subsp. pubescens (Ledeb) Domin.
    • Urtica Dioica subsp. Sondenii (Simmons) Hyl

Nativity & Distribution

Stinging nettle prefers damp fertile soil with a pH of 6-7. It is common around riparian areas, sloughs, marshes, meadows in waste places, and moist forests. 

The plant grows both in wetlands and uplands; it is a facultative wetlands species. it also prefers full sun or shade that is partial and has a lot of moisture. With extra nitrogen in the soil, the yields tend to increase.

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Urtica Dioica L. is native to these regions:

  • Europe
  • Western North Africa
  • Temperate Asia

Physical Characteristics

The stinging nettle plant has heart-shaped leaves and a slender stem
The stinging nettle plant has heart-shaped leaves and a slender stem. Image: Canva/africaimages
  • Leaves: They are heart-shaped, and the leaf margins are toothed and tapered at the ends.
  • Fruits: These are achenes which are tiny and light, readily carried by the wind.
  • Stems: Are upward and rigid, square and slender.
  • Flowers: They are spike-like, small, and many-flowered. In some species, male and female flowers are on the same plant, while in others, they are on different plants.
  • Roots: They are a large root mass that spreads greatly.

Urtica Dioica L. grows well in soil that is rich in nitrogen and it can reach up to 2 to 4 feet high. It blooms between June and September and forms dense clonal patches. 

It has toothed leaves that are found opposite each other along the stem, they are thin, dark green, 2-4 inches long with a tapered tip. 

Stinging nettle produces flowers that are yellow or pink. The plant’s leaves, stems, and flowers are covered with tiny stiff hairs that ‘sting’ when touched.

The stinging hairs are most abundant on the stem, the leaf, and the undersides of the leaves. 

Reproduction, Dispersal, & Life Cycle

The plant produces a lot of seeds making it easy to spread widely
The plant produces a lot of seeds making it easy to spread widely. Image: Canva/arrlxx
  • Life cycle: The annual nettle, Urtica Urens, completes a seed-to-seed life cycle within one calendar year, while the perennial Urtica Dioica will continue to regrow after a few seasons.
  • Seeds: The seed is enclosed in the fruit and it is through seed or rhizome that nettles reproduce.
  • Climate: Stinging Nettle is favored by a steppe climate, a warm temperate climate that is wet all year, a warm temperate climate with a dry summer, a warm temperate climate with a dry winter, and a continental climate with a dry summer.
  • Dispersal: It is dispersed through wind and water dispersal as the seeds can survive by floating in the water. Also, by adhering to the coats of animals or when ingested by animals and then the seed is excreted.
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The plant undergoes vigorous growth. It shows great power in spreading vegetatively through its underground runners. 

Stinging nettle’s invasive nature comes from its ability to produce a lot of seed that can spread over a wide area. It can spread vegetatively using its rhizomes which form dense colonies. It also spreads by stolons which are rooting systems that grow along the ground. 

The plant can be distributed by mechanical cultivation of its rhizomes which can create dense new colonies. 

Stinging nettle can be hard to eradicate due to its large root mass which allows it to spread vegetatively. In some places, it may invade grasslands forming large patches which can be a nuisance in urban areas, especially nitrogen-rich habitats. 

Uses

Stinging nettle tea is a good source of nutrients like iron and Vitamin C.
Stinging nettle tea is a good source of nutrients like iron and Vitamin C according to WebMD. Image: Canva/jirkaejc

Although it is not considered a good source of food for livestock or wildlife, Stinging nettle is claimed to have multiple beneficial uses for humans. According to WebMD, the plant is a good source of nutrients and has pharmacological qualities.

Aside from that, foresters use stinging nettle as an indicator of high soil fertility.

Impact on Farms & Environment

Urtica Dioica L. is considered a weed as it is invasive. It is listed as a noxious weed in many Canadian provinces. 

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Control

You can control stinging nettle in various ways:

Natural Methods

Though it has no biological control agent, it is through repeated ploughing that stinging nettle is eliminated.

Chemical Control

Stinging nettle can also be destroyed by spraying it with a herbicide like Mecoprop.