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This is the Florida version of stinging nettle - Urtica chamaedryoides.

Stinging and Itching Weeds

Stinging Nettle

Have you ever been weeding your garden and pulled on a weed that bit back? There is a weed that looks common enough that you think nothing of trying to pull it with bare hands. The weed may not have any thorns or obvious weapons, but it does have small hairs with bulbous bases filled with irritant histamines and acetocholines. These small hairs act like miniature hypodermic needles that inject these irritating chemicals when you break the tip of the tubular hair. Intense itching and reddening follows immediately and you may think you grabbed onto a bee or wasp. The reaction usually lasts a day or two, but quick first aid may be required to calm the burning and swelling that some people experience. Wash the affected area and immediately apply baking soda paste to sooth the stinging sensation. Some people may require medical attention.

This plant is a stinging nettle. Different looking than what you may have seen up north, but just as painful. The plant is an annual that comes out about this time to plague gardeners. There are two related similar-looking species found in this area, Urtica chamaedryoides and Urtica urens, but the common name around here is fire weed or burning nettle for the intense burning feeling you get from them. Some stinging nettles are used in herbal medicine and as an edible green when boiled, but not this species. The plant is usually low growing (4-20 inches tall), branching from the base, with plants growing in the shade having the longer stems. The leaves are opposite, triangular to heart-shaped in outline with coarse teeth along the edge. The flowers are not showy, just minute greenish clusters along the stem. This looks very similar to many other weeds in the garden, so it is best to wear protective gloves when weeding.

Poison Ivy
Poison ivy has three leaflets

Poison ivy has three leaflets

Poison ivy is another dangerous weed you may encounter as you work in the landscape. Many people confuse Virginia creeper with poison ivy, but a quick count of the leaves will help with identifying the difference. Poison ivy has three leaflets, Virginia creeper has five leaflets. They are both vines, but one is nice and once has a mean defense system. All parts of poison ivy contain urushiol, the irritating oil that is difficult to get off. Even when the vine has no leaves in the winter time, contact with the stem and roots can still affect you. The oil on your pet’s fur, your clothing, tools, shoes, or other items can cause an allergic reaction, including the smoke from burning plants. That is right – your pet may bring back more than you think from a romp in the woods.


People vary in their sensitivity and may become more sensitive with repeated exposure. The itching rash, redness and swelling can last for weeks. Over-the-counter creams with bentoquatam absorb the urushiol oil and can prevent or lessen the reaction if applied before contact. After exposure your best practice is to immediately wash the exposed skin, tools, or other items with warm, soapy water and rinse thoroughly in cool water. Wash affected clothing separately from the other laundry. Minor reactions may be treated with over-the-counter products that contain zinc acetate, hydrocortisone, or zinc oxide; oatmeal baths; a paste of baking soda; or oral antihistamines. More severe reactions may require medical attention.

Virginia creeper has five leaflets and is not poisonous.

Virginia creeper has five leaflets and is not poisonous.

Gardening can be a fun, therapeutic activity, but sometimes some bad weeds get in the way. Be aware of the potential problem weeds and always wear protective gloves.

13 Comments on “Stinging and Itching Weeds

  1. I was pulling just a few weeds in the yard. When I came inside my hand was incredibly itchy and began to swell. My knuckles disappeared but the itching finally stopped. It’s still swollen but not bothering me. I’m wondering if I’m in danger at all?

    I think I remember seeing a stinging nettle and wonder if it comes in pink? It looked so benign.

    • It does look very benign. I know when I first experienced one I could not believe it was that little weed that just looked like so many other little weeds in the garden. It is possible there are some pinkish ones. The reaction should be just local and short-lived. Try baking soda paste to soothe it. It quickly teaches you to use gloves in the garden when weeding!

  2. My did not itch, felt like thorns then after I washed my hands the have been tingling like my fingers are asleep. Does it do any harm?

    • The stinging and itching is caused by the hairs with toxins that break off the plant and embed in your skin. The toxins create the burning sensation or contact dermatitis that can last for hours to days depending on the amount of your exposure. If you continue to have symptoms you should contact your doctor.

  3. My friend was gardening and showed us photos of her forearms, which are covered with what look like tiny transparent glass filaments or shards. They are not painful if they aren’t touched. She is trying to figure out how to remove them, and washing and scrubbing have done nothing. Tweezers one by one is what works so far, but it is obviously very slow. Can you tell me what plant might have done this to her, and how best to remove these little spiny things? Thank you for any enlightenment you can provide!

    • Sounds more like contact with a cactus or stinging caterpillar rather than a stinging weed. Medical assistance is needed in that case.

  4. I was pulling weeds out of my grass. This happened a month ago. When I pulled this weed I felt severe pain. But when looked at my hand saw nothing, my hand didn’t bleed. But as days went on the area started to get a lump. It was inside the palm of my hand. Now the pain is radiating up my arm. Not sure what to do I don’t see anything still where the lump grew . Is this serious. I went to and urgent care and they just gave antibiotics and a tetanus shot. I see no improvement. What can I do?

    • I would seek professional medical advice beyond urgent care. Not all doctors are aware of the myriad potential issues from the environment. This may have been an insect like a stinging caterpillar causing this problem, and not the weed.

  5. Every time I walk on my back yard I get this feeling on my legs like fiber glass it doesn’t hurt unless I touch it but I don’t see anything on my legs. What can it be ?

    • Stinging weeds would only affect the part of your body that touches the plants. General itching on your legs may be more of an allergic reaction to something in the environment unless the grass and weeds are brushing your legs. I would seek professional medical advice.