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Urtica dioica, often known as common nettle, stinging nettle (though not all plants of this species sting), nettle leaf, or simply a nettle or stinger, is a perennial flowering herbaceous plant in the Urticaceae family. It is currently distributed all over the world, including New Zealand and North America, and was once endemic to Europe, much of temperate Asia, and western North Africa. The plant is split into six subspecies, five of which contain a large number of hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems that serve as hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other substances that cause a stinging sensation when they come into contact (“contact urticaria”, a form of contact dermatitis). The plant has a long history of use in ancient cultures such as the Saxons as a source of traditional medicine, food, tea, and textile raw material.
Urtica dioica is a perennial herbaceous dioecious plant that grows 1 to 2 meters (3 to 7 feet) tall in the summer and dies down to the ground in the winter. It features brilliant yellow rhizomes and stolons, as well as roots that grow widely. The soft, green leaves range in length from 3 to 15 cm (1 to 6 in) and are borne oppositely on an upright, wiry green stem. The leaves have a serrated border, a cordate base, and an acuminate tip with a terminal leaf tooth that is longer than the laterals. In thick axillary inflorescences, it bears tiny, greenish or brownish flowers in profusion. The leaves and stems are covered in non-stinging hairs, but most subspecies also have a large number of stinging hairs (trichomes or spicules) whose tips come off when touched, transforming the hair into a needle that can inject several chemicals, causing a painful sting or paresthesia, earning the species the common names stinging nettle, burn nettle, burn weed, or burn hazel.
Urtica dioica is endemic to Europe, a large part of temperate Asia, and western North Africa. It is common in the countryside throughout northern Europe and most of Asia. It is less prevalent in southern Europe and north Africa, where its demand for damp soil limits it, but it is still common. It has now spread to other regions of the globe. It is extensively dispersed throughout North America, including Canada and the United States, where it may be found in every province and state except Hawaii, as well as northernmost Mexico. It thrives in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in areas with heavy yearly rainfall. Australia, North America, and South America have all been imported with the European subspecies.
Nettles have a significant link with human habitation and structures throughout Europe. The presence of nettles might indicate the location of a long-abandoned structure as well as soil richness. Increased amounts of phosphate and nitrogen in the soil may be caused by human and animal waste, creating an excellent habitat for nettles.
Several butterfly species, including the peacock butterfly, comma (Polygonia c-album), and little tortoiseshell, feed their larvae on nettles. Angle shades, buff ermine, dot moth, the flame, the gothic, grey chi, grey pug, smaller broad-bordered yellow underwing, mouse moth, setaceous Hebrew character, and small angle shades are among the moths that consume it. The larva of the ghost moth eats the roots on occasion (Hepialus humuli).
In wetter areas, stinging nettle thrives as an understory plant, although it may also be found in meadows. Despite its nutritional value, it is not extensively consumed by wildlife or animals, owing to the sting. It spreads through seeds and rhizomes, and it can frequently survive and re-establish itself swiftly after a fire.