Monday, May 26, 2014

A close call

            Sometimes we have close calls that we don't realize until much later. That's the wonderful thing about getting away scot-free-- there's no calamity requiring your attention. I had such an incident about three weeks ago.

Anything about this plant raising red flags ?
            As I mentioned in my first post, I am a recent transplant to Texas.  Texas is totally different from everywhere I've lived before.  The shallow soils over limestone, the southern plains flowers- even known plants can look different down here. Being of a naturalist bent, every new plant (more so every new wildflower) demands an immediate investigation.  It's my way of making myself at home in this new place. Earlier this May I was out walking the dog in the Fort Worth Nature Preserve, and I spotted a patch of prickly white flowers in an opening in the woods. I juggled the leash and my camera so I could document this unknown plant.

Niiice and close. Yep.
            I got close to zoom in on the succulent-looking flowers. I even sniffed them to see if they had a distinctive aroma. Somehow, in this examination I must have managed not to brush the leaves. The reason I say this is because the plants in question were Texas bull nettles- Cnidoscolus texanus.
            I had forgotten about this plant until yesterday, when I was touring another prairie and the land manager asked me if I knew what bull nettles were. I said I knew about nettles back east, and she pointed out some bull nettles and set me straight. Bull nettles sting much worse than Urtica dioica. Bull nettle, one of a few plants with the charming spanish common name of "mala mujer", can cause serious reactions in allergic individuals.  The prairie manager told me that the stings can burn like a hot iron for an hour. Other references referred to the pain as "fierce", "severe", and "not likely to be forgotten".
            Apparently some individuals of above average fortitude have managed to eat this plant. The seeds are edible, according to some sources, as are the roots. Supposedly they taste like potatoes. Part of me is amazed at my luck at avoiding an "unforgettable" encounter with this plant, the other part of me is embarrassed that I didn't think to crush and sniff the leaves- inexcusable for a botanist. I imagine I would've known without a doubt the plant's distinctive feature if I had done so. What price, knowledge.


  1. mala mujer - bad woman! Yes...some plants - like women - are a lot tougher than they look!

  2. Carrie McLaughlinMay 27, 2014 at 8:22 PM

    As soon as I saw your pic and the tag line, I started laughing...I knew what was coming next...! Bad Woman!!! And I only laughed since "close call" indicated that you had escaped entirely unscathed since this plant is an "either/or" - there's no such thing as "slightly"! This Memorial Day, as I was coming back from helping to lead a bird walk at Dinosaur Valley State Park, I was telling a geologist friend about the bull nettle when we stopped beside a sizeable and VERY fragrant patch of it. A couple of unescorted, adventuresome, yet interested, 10-12 year old boys came along and made an awkward parry at the patch, and I grabbed them just in time to save them. But the 7 year old who had slipped up behind us (and we did not know), obviously was not satisfied with hearing my dissertation to his brothers about bull nettle, and reached under my arm to timidly touch just one leaf to see for himself,,,,quite regrettable on his part...much like the child who does not believe you when you say "no! HOT! don't touch...!" Poor little fella...clambering down the embankment into the Paluxy River did not offer a single bit of relief to his one little pointer finger, and he was soon yowling for his mom. I assure you...we were not laughing then!

    1. I came very close to testing the bull nettle too-- "It can't possibly hurt *that* much…"

      You know what they say: Growing older is mandatory, growing up is optional. :)