Staying up very late one night during the reading week, I decided to give myself a break from making notes for one of my classes. Naturally, I ended up on the weird side of YouTube when I came across this video:
This video highlights the Gympie Gympie tree (also known as Dendrocnide moroides), a plant that can be found in Australia, the Moluccas, and Indonesia. It is a stinging tree, notably referred to as the most painful plant in the world.
Upon inspection, the Gympie Gympie plant appears welcoming with its heart-shaped leaves and beautiful purple-hued fruit.
However, don’t be fooled! The pain experienced from contact with this plant (whether it is through touch, breathing near it, or even just being in the presence of it) can last for days, even months, and possibly reoccur over years.
The reason for the excruciating pain produced by the Gympie-Gympie is that the plant is entirely covered by tiny needle-like protrusions that release a neurotoxin known as moroidin. This neurotoxin is so potent that even breathing in the air near the plant can trigger nose severe bleeds, rashes, and itching. The dangers of the plant are even greater when considering the fact that heat and time doesn’t affect the potency of moroidin. It has been noted that samples of the plant that have been kept in museums for decades still possess the ability to inflict pain.
If you think the pain caused by this plant can’t be that bad, think again. Stories float about noting that an officer has shot himself to escape the pain caused when he used a leaf of the plant for “toilet purposes”. It has also been reported that animals such as dogs and horses have died upon contact with the plant.
Marina Hurley, an ecologist that specialized in the study of stinging trees, describes the pain as “like being burnt with hot acid and electrocuted at the same time”. In fact, the only way she was able to handle the plant while studying it was to wear heavy welding gloves.
So what is the best first aid treatment in case you come in contact with a Gympie-Gympie plant?
Since the neurotoxic hairs are tiny and skin can close over them, it is best to take action immediately by applying a diluted amount of hydrocloric acid to the area of contact with the plant. To remove the fine hairs, it is recommended that wax hair removal strips are applied at room temperature.