Why You Never Want to be Stung by this Plant

Nicks J Apr 7, 2019
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When stung by the Gympie Gympie plant, it can leave you agonized for months. The sting of the plant delivers a neurotoxin which causes an allergic reaction.

Did You Know?

Gympie Gympie plant feared for its extremely powerful sting, surprisingly does not affect insects like beetles and marsupial species like pademelons. These rainforest animals do not hesitate to eat the leaves and fruits of this plant.
Yes, some plants do sting, which is often considered their way of defending themselves from plant eaters. It is one of their survival strategies in a hostile environment. However, stings of some plants can be deadly, leaving you hurting for days or even months.
The Gympie Gympie plant may appear harmless but has the worst sting of all stinging plants. Considered to be one of the most dangerous plants in the world, Gympie Gympie is a rainforest plant predominantly found in Eastern Australia but also grows in Moluccas and Indonesia. It is a large shrub with heart-shaped green leaves and is around 1 to 2 m tall.

Why You Should Never Touch a Gympie Gympie Plant

Agonizingly Painful Sting

  • If you unknowingly brush against the leaves, stem, or the fruit of this plant, expect severe long-lasting discomfort. The plant is well-known for its excruciatingly painful sting. The sting of the Gympie Gympie plant has been found to be lethal for horses, dogs, and even humans.
  • The hypodermic-needle-like stinging hair that are abundantly found on various parts of the plant, penetrate the skin and inject an extremely potent neurotoxin (moroidin) when touched.
  • The intense pain after coming in contact with the plant, does not go away easily. The victim is likely to experience the excruciating pain for days, months, or even years. Cases of stinging pain lasting for 2 years have been reported. Even if the pain goes away early, it may recur a few years after being exposed to the plant for the first time.
  • The stinging pain is akin to being exposed to hot acid and electrocuted simultaneously, as described by people who have been stung by this plant. Some describe the discomfort as being stung by a nest of wasps. The painful sensation is 10 times intense as any other sting of insects like scrub ticks. Experts say that the pain aggravates in next 30 minutes.
  • There have also been anecdotal reports that during World War II an Australian military officer allegedly committed suicide (in desperation to get rid of the stinging pain) after using the plant's leaf as a toilet paper. There are anecdotal stories of horses turning extremely violent and had to be shot, after coming in contact with the plant.

Allergic Reaction

  • What follows after the painful sensation is an allergic reaction that may manifest in the form of intense itching and skin problems like hives. The exposed area often gets swollen and turns white.
  • The neurotoxin released by the stinging hair can also severely affect the lymphatic system. The lymph nodes that are a part of the lymphatic system and located in the throat, chest, armpits, abdomen and groin, become swollen. Exposure to the neurotoxin can also cause vomiting.
  • Apart from the swelling of lymph nodes, the person may also experience severe joint pain. In extreme cases, it may cause an anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening allergic response, that is marked by swelling of the mouth, tongue and throat, which may lead to breathing problems. If not treated immediately, it may even cause death.
  • The plant also has the habit of shedding its stinging hair. So in case you are standing near the plant, the hair that are shed may float in the air (particularly when the weather is windy) and when inhaled can leave you with skin rash, itching sensation, watery eyes, episodes of sneezing and nosebleeds.

Treatment

  • First things first. Avoid scratching or rubbing the affected area, as it will break off the visible part of the hair, while the rest remain embedded and may further sink in the skin.
  • Soak the sting site in a hydrochloric acid solution (diluted in 1:10 ratio by volume) for a while. This nullifies effects of neurotoxin covering the stinging hair.
  • A pair of tweezers are required to remove those stinging hair of the plant. You can also use hair removal wax strips or adhesive tapes to remove the painful hair. Simply stick the waxing strip on the affected area and then quickly remove it to get rid of those minute hair.
  • Taking antihistamine tablets may also help to calm the allergic reaction. Oral steroids such as prednisone may also help to treat the hives.

Prevention

Considering the serious health risk associated with exposure to Gympie Gympie plant, it is advised that whenever going to areas having vegetation of these plants, as a precautionary measure, ensure to wear protective gear such as a respirator and extremely thick welding gloves, as well as carry long tweezers in case you will be dealing with these plants.
When there are no or very few stinging hair remaining on the sting site, the pain may not last long. However, if the hair are not removed properly, the pain can last for months or even years. All in all, it is necessary to get the plant's hair extracted from the affected person's skin, so that the painful sensation does not bother him in the long run.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.