Oh, and thanks!

Thanks for all of your interest in bull nettle. It’s really amazing to know that interest is so widespread for this plant. 

Blogging once again!

I’m really ashamed that this blog has gone unattended by it’s owner (yes, me!) for so long. At this point I will not promise daily posts but do think that I will be making regular posts. I am a plant conservation biologist and have a new research grant to do some ground-level (literally) studies on a very rare plant that occurs in west Texas. So, I will be out and about this spring and will try to report (with images) about what plants are in flower. First, we need some rain as it’s been extremely dry this winter. West Texas has a decent chance for thunderstorms tomorrow evening so keep your fingers crossed.

Why all of the interest in bull nettle?

This blog gets about 10 to 15 hits per day from internet searches on “bull nettle” or something similar.  All of this makes me really curious.  If you have come here to read about bull nettle please leave a comment about why you are interested in this plant. Maybe I can use your comments to come up with a new interesting essay about this interesting plant.  Thanks.

Oh, here’s the link to the earlier piece about bull nettle.

Rosita in bloom at Abilene State Park

Okay, here’s a preview of some of the upcoming images I just promised. Here’s one of my favorite (there will be more!) wildflowers from Abilene State Park (Texas) this spring.  This is Centaurium calycosum (family = Gentianaceae) commonly caused Rosita or Buckley’s Centaury. This plant is supposedly toxic to livestock.

Does this species remind anyone of a flower that looks very similar and is easily confused with Rosita?

Still working on the flora of the Rolling Plains!

Thanks everyone for the nice comments. I apologize for not doing anything with my blog over the past year. I really have not abandoned it. I’ve just been busy. This spring I have been spending much of my “free” time out at Abilene State Park working on a project to collect, identify, and document the species of plants found in the park. What I will do soon is to post pictures of some of the interesting plant species I have found. I promise!

Texas Bull-Nettle

I was out botanizing a vacant lot just a few blocks down from my house recently when I came across a plant that is more than capable of defending itself from potential herbivores or the unwary naturalist.  This is none other than Texas Bull-Nettle or Cnidoscolus texanus.

cnidoscolus_flw2 The white flowers are mostly harmless but the remainder of the plant is loaded with trouble.  With other common names like Bull Nettle, Treadsoftly, and Mala Mujer (I get the direct translation of the Spanish but there must be some cultural context tacked onto this that I am ignorant of–Can anyone place this in the correct context?),  there is no doubt that this plant means business.

These are herbaceous plants, about 80-100cm tall.  An individual plant has separate male and female flowers together on the same inflorescence.  I didn’t get any closer to this plant than I had to so can’t be for sure which sex these flowers are.  The next photo reveals why I kept my distance from this plant.

cnidoscolus_hairs

Notice both the main stem and the stem branches.  All are covered with hispid or bristly hairs. But these are not normal hairs; they are extremely painful, stinging hairs. The leaves are covered with the same stinging hairs as well.  Here is how this plant defense mechanism works: If the foliage or stems are touched, the glass-like hairs break off in the skin (yours or a hapless four-legged fellow creature) and act like hypodermic needles. The “needles” release a toxin which causes an intense burning sensation. This effect is a type of allergic response known as contact urticaria and the reaction can last for several days.

The genus name Cnidoscolus says it all. The Greek cnide means nettle and scolopes means prickle or sting. From the flowering plant family Euphorbiaceae.  A good plant species to know and respect!

A small thought for Earth Day

During my lectures on cell division I tell my plant biology students that if there is only one reason they could ever care about the environment or ecology then they should be concerned about the loss of plant biodiversity, especially in the tropical rainforests. Reason being is that in the medical treatment of cancer we have two main successes, both using chemical compounds produced by plants. Vincristine is used in the treatment of childhood leukemia with good success and Vinblastine has fairly good results with Hodgkin’s Disease.  One came from the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and the other from a plant in the tropics.  Plants synthesize these compounds for use in defense and they work the same way in the cells of our bodies as they do in the plant cell.  We are not even close to being able to dream up chemical compounds like these in the laboratory.  Maybe in a hundred or two hundred years, just as likely never.  There are other compounds in plants waiting to be discovered in the tropical rainforests that undoubtedly have the same or greater medical potential as Vincristine and Vinblastine.  The problem is that many parts of tropical rainforest are being cleared, sending hundreds of plant species to extinction, never to be examined by humans.  These plant species have never even been given a scientific name.  We are seeing a great potential benefit to humanity being erased from the planet forever.

Just a small thought on Earth Day….