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577 illustration

Common nettle

Urtica dioica

This perennial plant grows to between 2 and 4 metres tall and produces pointed leaves and whitish-yellowish flowers. The nettle stings when it comes into contact with bare skin. The stinging sensation is caused by the formic acid that covers the tiny hairs of the plant. The genus name, Urtica, comes from the Latin verb urere, meaning “to burn”. The species name dioica means “two houses”, referring to the fact that the male and female flowers are found on separate plants. The nettle has a creeping, stretching root from which new shoots emerge during the spring. Pairs of dull, dark-green leaves grow opposite one another on the stem and are oval shaped with a toothed and tapered end and covered with stinging hairs. The small, whitish flowers that appear from June to August are clustered in spikes up to 10 centimetres in length. The stinging nettle has been used as a medicine in Europe for over 2,000 years.

The common nettle prefers damp soils that are rich in nutrients. It grows in a wide variety of habitats, including woods, unmanaged grasslands, scrub, hedgerows, road verges, wasteground, gardens, farmland, fens and river banks. It is common throughout the world.

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