We all know Australia has many deadly snakes and spiders, as well as man-eating sharks and crocodiles, but our country also has the dubious honour of being home to the world’s most painful plant.
With its heart-shaped leaves and pretty purple fruit, the Gympie Gympie doesn’t look threatening but there are stories of people shooting themselves to escape the pain.
Even a small brush with the Gympie Gympie plant, scientific name Dendrocnide moroides, will leave you in agonizing pain – a pain that can last for months.
When you touch the plant, fine hairs lodge in the skin and deliver a powerful sting. Every second the hairs remain in the skin, more neurotoxin is released into the bloodstream.
Both the leaves and fruit carry the tiny stinging hairs, so there’s nowhere safe to touch on the painful plant. Just standing too close can cause nosebleeds and sneezing fits.
Ecologist Marina Hurley told Australian Geographic that the pain is “like being burnt by hot acid and electrocuted at the same time”.
Mostly found in between tropical Queensland, the Gympie Gympie has also been spotted in northern New South Wales.
During the 1960s, the British Army’s top secret chemical weapons laboratory requested samples of the Gympie Gympie, presumably to experiment with its use in chemical warfare.
While incredibly painful, the plant isn’t actually “dangerous” in the way that a spider or snake bite can be.
Oddly enough, many native animals are able to safely eat the Gympie Gympie. The same is not true for introduced species – there have been reports of horses throwing themselves off cliffs just to escape the pain of an encounter with the plant.
If you’re stung by a Gympie Gympie, the latest medical advice is to apply diluted hydrochloric acid to the area and use wax strips to remove the tiny hairs.
Check out more of the world’s weirdest plants and animals here.