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Stinging Nettle Identification

Updated on August 29, 2012
seh1101 profile image

Sean has been in the industry of gardening and landscaping since 2006. He is also a Certified Arborist that tends to focus on plant health.

Common & Botanical Names

Common Name
Stinging Nettle, Common Nettle

Latin Name
Urtica dioica

Stinging Nettle Locations

Preferred Environments
Barnyards, fence rows, thickets, waste areas, roadsides. Damp, rich soil is preferred.

Mature Nettle Colony

Young Stinging Nettle

Young stinging nettle. Best stage for eradication.
Young stinging nettle. Best stage for eradication. | Source

Identifying Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle is covered in tiny hairs, along with hollow hair-like structures called trichomes. The trichomes break off when touched by people or animals. The trichomes then inject a histamine that causes a burning and itching sensation with inflammation. When contacted, DO NOT ITCH EXPOSED AREAS. Itching will spread the histamines rapidly. Burning and itching sensations will dissipate in about 10 minutes, depending on severity of exposure. If prepared correctly, stinging nettles make excellent wild foods that are rich in vitamin A & C. Do not attempt to prepare nettles for eating unless experienced in the field of wild foods.

Stinging nettle is a native herbaceous perennial with widely spreading rhizomes and stolons, which result in dense colonies. The green stems can grow from 2 to 7 feet tall with slight branching near the top.

Leaves: The leaves are opposite along the stem and measure from 1 - 6 inches long with serrated edges.

Flowers: The flowers are greenish without petals, and clustered in the leaf axils.

Fruit/Seeds: The seed pod contains a single seed per pod. The seeds are small, egg-shaped, slightly rough, and yellow to grayish-tan in color.

Roots: It has an extensive system of spreading rhizomes that grow new shoots.

Eradicating Stinging Nettle

Mechanical Eradication
The rhizomatic and stoloniferous characteristics make eradication very difficult. Frequent cultivation or tilling will prevent the perennial root system from growing.

Chemical Eradication
Chemical application of herbicides can also eliminate current and future growth. Glyphosate herbicides are systemic and move throughout a plant. This is very effective against the spreading roots of stinging nettle. Always practice safe application of all herbicides to prevent non-target damage. Personal protective equipment must always be worn to protect the skin, eyes and respiratory system from poisoning.


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    • seh1101 profile image

      Sean Hemmer 5 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      They are native around my area of Wisconsin. Stinging nettles are beneficial to insects as a source of food and are host plants to some butterflies. They are simply considered "weedy" due to the itching and burning upon contact.

    • lifelovemystery profile image

      Michelle Orelup 5 years ago from Houston, TX

      Nasty buggers for sure. I'm guessing from the title that nettles are not a native plants but I don't see the explanation for why they are considered invasive.