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Urtica dioica L. ssp. gracilis (Aiton) Seland.

Stinging nettle, common nettle

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassRosidaeRoses, legumes, proteas, dogwoods, hydrangeas, mistletoes, euphorbias, grapes, many more
OrderUrticalesIncludes cannabis, nettles, mulberries, elms, others
FamilyUrticaceaeNettle family
GenusUrticaFrom uro, “I burn,” alluding to the nettle’s sting
SpeciesdioicaDioecious, having male and female flowers on separate plants
ssp.gracilisSlender, graceful

About plant names...

Stinging nettle, so named for spiky hairs that are pretty much tiny hypodermic needles filled with a witch’s brew of irritating chemicals. You really have to appreciate stinging nettles. Most irritating plants inject something that causes your body to produce hista­mine in defense, which results in itching and burning. Nettles get right to the point: they inject you with hista­mine itself, along with serotonin, acetylcholine, formic acid (the same irritant in some bee stings), and leukotriens. They are specialists in chemical warfare.

These plants are North American natives. (A close relative, Urtica dioica ssp. dioica, is native to Europe and Asia, though long established in North America.) Both are found in temperate regions worldwide. They prefer river deltas, floodplains, mar­gins of deciduous woodlands, fencerows, and waste places.

Plants: 2-3′ (60-100 cm) high, rarely up to twice that. The entire plant is covered in stinging hairs.

Leaves: Opposite, oblong, cordate, and serrate (with saw­tooth edges). They are 1-6″ (3-15 cm) long.

Flowers: Plants are monoecious—male staminate flowers appear on the same plants as female pistillate flowers. Male flowers are grayish yellow, with four tepals. Female flowers have four tepals too, but in different-sized pairs. They are gray-green and hairy. The flower clusters resemble catkins.

Fruits: Each inner pair of tepals encloses a single deltoid to ovoid seed.

Edibility: Dried or cooked, the young leaves are safely edible, and taste like spinach. Don’t even think about eating them raw!

Medical: Historically stinging nettle has been used to treat muscle and joint pain, eczema, arthritis, gout, anemia, and many other ailments. More recent studies have found that plant extracts aid in treatment of urinary tract infections, kidney and bladder stones, and rheumatism. Root extracts have been used to treat prostate complaints and irritable bladder. Stinging nettle extracts should not be used during pregnancy.


Urtica dioica (stinging nettle, common nettle)

9/1/2013 · Trail Near James River, Midlothian, Virginia · ≈ 5 × 8″ (13 × 19 cm)

Urtica dioica (stinging nettle, common nettle)

9/1/2013 · Trail Near James River, Midlothian, Virginia · ≈ 9 × 6″ (22 × 15 cm)

Urtica dioica (stinging nettle, common nettle)

9/1/2013 · Trail Near James River, Midlothian, Virginia · ≈ 7 × 11″ (18 × 28 cm)

Urtica dioica (stinging nettle, common nettle)

9/1/2013 · Trail Near James River, Midlothian, Virginia · ≈ 6 × 8″ (14 × 20 cm)

See this article by Steve Brill on distinguishing among nettles and related plants. Here are some similar species:
Boehmeria cylindrica

Acalypha rhomboidea

Pilea pumila
Common Name

false nettle

three-seeded mercury

Plant 4-63″ (10-160 cm) high, and favor shady wooded areas. Stems are smooth, without the irritating hairs of stinging nettle. 6-24″ (15-60 cm) tall, with a stem that is hairless or covered with fine white hairs. Bracts beneath flowers, stems, and leaf undersides turn copper-colored. 6-24″ (15-60 cm) high, with smooth, round, translucent stems. They do not have stinging hairs.
Flowers Flowers occur on straight spikes that emerge from the stem, in clusters of small, inconspicuous green flowers. Each spike is often tipped by a couple of small leaves. Flowers appear from July to August. Flowers are greenish-tan, and tiny—less than ⅛″ (3.2 mm) across. They flower from July to October. Both male and female flowers are on each plant. Fowers are ⅛″ (3.2 mm) long, greenish-white or greenish-yellow, hanging in narrow bunches from the axils of the upper leaves.
Leaves Usually opposite or nearly so. They are roughly egg-shaped, with sharp tips and teeth. (More precisely, they are elliptic, lanceolate to broadly ovate.) The leaves are 1¾-7″ (5-18 cm) × ¾-4″ (2-10 cm). Leaves are alternate, lance-like or oval with sharp tips, 3½″ (8.9 cm) × 1″ (2.5 cm), with blunt serrations. Leaves occur in opposite pairs, each 1-5″ (2.5-12 cm) long by ½-2½″ (1.3-6.3 cm) wide. Leaves are oval-shaped and coarse-toothed, with three prominent veins and textured leaves. The leaves are bright green, usually shiny, and become yellow in the fall.
Fruit Spiky little balls. A 3-lobed roughly spherical fruit containing 3 seeds. Tiny green seeds (achenes) sometimes have black stripes.
Range/ Zones

Habitats Moist, deciduous woods; wet meadows; swamps, bogs, and mashes Open woods, moist soils, gravel bars, waste ground, roadsides, railroads. Wet upland or floodplain forests, crevices in rocky canyons, and shady wetlands, streambanks.
Type Wild Wild Wild


Online References:






The Jepson Manual


Multiple Authors, PDR for Herbal Medicines, Thomson Healthcare Inc., 2007, p. 792

Urtica californica Greene

Urtica cardiophylla Rydb.

Urtica dioica L. var. angustifolia Schltdl.

Urtica dioica L. var. californica (Greene) C.L. Hitchc.

Urtica dioica L. var. gracilis (Aiton) C.L. Hitchc.

Urtica dioica L. var. lyallii (S. Watson) C.L. Hitchc.

Urtica dioica L. var. procera (Muhl. ex Willd.) Weddell

Urtica gracilis Aiton

Urtica lyallii S. Watson

Urtica lyallii S. Watson var. californica (Greene) Jeps.

Urtica major H.P. Fuchs

Urtica procera Muhl. ex Willd.

Urtica serra auct. non Blume

Urtica strigosissima Rydb.

Urtica viridis Rydb.


Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 17 Aug 2021.

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Urtica dioica (stinging nettle, common nettle)

9/1/2013 · Trail Near James River, Midlothian, Virginia · ≈ 6 × 9″ (16 × 23 cm)

Urtica dioica (stinging nettle, common nettle)

8/30/2014 · New Mex­ico · ≈ 7 × 11″ (18 × 28 cm)


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