There is a garden in Northumberland, England dedicated to poisonous plants. The gates warn those who enter to be careful and not touch the plants. Even so, within this garden there is one plant so poisonous that is kept in isolation, behind glass.
This is because it is one of the most venomous and dangerous plants in the world – if you touch it, the sensation is likened to being burned and electrocuted at the same time, and the effects can persist for YEARS.
Dendrocnides moroides, also known as the stinging tree, or gympie gympie plant, is a native of Australia. And not one you want to get on the wrong side of. The plant is covered in hairs, called trichomes, which are like little hypodermic needles.
They are the same kind of stingers as stinging nettles – they share a family – but this is WAY worse. The needles break off inside the skin at the slightest touch, and continue to release their toxin for months or years after, when touched or bathed or get warm
Equally, if they are inhaled, expect sneezing, nosebleeds and possibly major respiratory damage. The hairs persist, and it is still possible to be stung by specimens collected and dried 100 years ago.
Dendrocnides moroides may look harmless but touch it and you will experience extreme pain.
The toxin still isn’t fully understood, but an associated peptide was named ‘gympietide’ after the plant in 2020, through ongoing research. It is now being used to research future painkillers.
Gympie Gympie was discovered in its native Australia when a road surveyor’s horse was stung, went mad and ‘died within two hours’ in 1866. Its name comes from the language of the Indigenous Gubbi Gubbi people of south-eastern Queensland.
There is no antidote for the toxin which is reported to have forced people to be tied to beds for the pain, horses to go mad and at least one person to end their own life. The best treatment seems to be wax or sticky tape to try to remove the hairs, but with limited success.
So it’s probably a good idea that is in a cabinet in The Alnwick Garden – and I’m sure their horticultural team are too.