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!

55 responses to “Texas Bull-Nettle

  1. I didn’t know this plant also grew in the US. I am familiar with it from my several trips to central-southern Mexico, where we have to constantly be on the watchout for it as we clamber through the brush collecting beetles. I accidentally got a swipe on my forearm and ring finger – it was the most painful rash I’ve ever experienced. The lesions were very swollen and painful at first, then becoming hard and discolored during the next week or so – with a constant painful itch that drives you nuts.

    I always took “mala mujer” to be a reference to the sharp tongue of a constantly nagging women – not sure where I got the idea.

    regards–ted

  2. I looked up the literal translation of “mala mujer” and it means “wicked women,” so Ted is very correct.

    Great blog! I have never heard of this plant, but I’ll be sure to keep my distance if I ever run into it!

    Diane

  3. I have Texas bull nettle everywhere… When I pick tomatoes, I get a nice dose of toxin… Maybe some additional info on the chemical breakdown would be helpful?

    I try to dig this “flower” out of my vegetable garden, and the root goes down, down, down… don’t know if it’s even possible to dig one out!

    I did google “mala mujer”… Seems to be a related plant… pretty, though…
    http://fireflyforest.net/firefly/2006/08/14/mala-mujer/

  4. W. W. Koepsel

    I know nothing about the
    Spanish name but this may be of interest. I recall that as kids a number of us used to eat the berries or seeds. These appear in a pod of three and when they became brown, we ate them. I assume they are edible for we experiences no ill effects.
    Kep

  5. We are a certified backyard habitat (NWF) and take delight in having this native species growing right up in the very front of our property, making “show and tell” easy for visitors. It dies back during winter and grews anew in the Spring. Once in a while it gets mowed down – comes back handily. I’ve heard ammonia relieves the sting, but I’ve also seen that contradicted. Youch!

  6. this nettle makes a nut or seed that is very tasty and a favorite f squirrels

  7. I grew up around this plant. The seeds are great to eat in the fall. We found out as kids that we would usually only get stung where we had hair on our body. You can pick the leaves with your fingers carefully with no problem. We even ate some leaves to test our theory on the the fact that it wouldn’t sting except where hair was present. If you do get some on you get a handful of sand and rub in the direction of the hair several times and it will pull out the thorns.

  8. I had the absolute worst experience one can have with this little monster. I got it on me while hunting. Nature called and……well…. you don’t want to know. Suffice to say it was something I never want to go through again. Ever. Till the end of time. This was several years ago and I never understood just how this plant did its damage until I found your website. Thank you for the information.

  9. Jerry leonard

    Mala mujier means mad woman. In cultrial context the mean ass mother-in-law. Please forgive the Miss types doing this from a phone.

  10. These grew like weeds in the sandy soil I grew up around. The seed does, in fact, taste great. We would harvest bowels of the nuts with pliers. Ah, I miss the days of eating berries all spring, wild plumbs in the early summer, bull nettle nuts in late summer, then persimmon in the fall along with wild grapes… Why did I ever think I needed to “grow up” and get a job?? (sigh)

  11. I echo Buddy’s sentiments.

    I got bull nettle on my hand while looking for a lost golf ball in the rough. After a couple of days of incredibly painful itching I literally wanted to cut my hand OFF.

    If there’s a hell, it’s filled with Texas bull nettle.

  12. Was working on a deer feeder in a pecan bottom and walked right through one–got me on top of my thigh, down onto my kneecap. Three months later it finally quit itching! My other experience with it was while mowing a vacant lot–lesson learned, don’t point the discharge chute from the mower into the wind–the chopped up nettle will be blown back on you by the wind.

  13. The root of this plant can be very large, it is usually located 3 to 6 feet down and I have seen them the size of a large watermelon. Very drought resistant due to the size of that root. Some butterfly species will lay their eggs on them. I hate this plant.

  14. special ed

    This what poison ivy wants to be when it growes up. I can not tell you how madding this stuff is, you would have to live through it to belive it. It is truely Satan’s Dandilion.

    When I was a teen ager, a bunch of us went camping on the Guadalupe river. Some of our more mentally altered group decided it would be a grand idea to run down to the river to skinny
    dip at midnight – BAD IDEA.

    It sounded like a pack of panthers trying to pass kidney stones. One of our party had to go to the hospitle for steroid shots.

    Sometimes the price of fun is just too high. The next year we went to Las Vegas – but that’s another story.

    LOL – ED

  15. This grows all over in East TX. Th nettle nuts are good, but you do need to be careful pickin em cause you can get “stung” so to say. Th quickest cure is to pee on th sting if ya can. If you can’t, hope you’ve got a very, very, good, close friend or relative nearby to christen ya… Otherwise when ya do get home, pour ammonia on it to relieve th irritation.

  16. Gil Hodges

    This one time at band camp, me and a buddy smoked some bull nettle and we were baked for a good day or two

  17. Pingback: Why all of the interest in bull nettle? « Flora of the Texas Rolling Plains

  18. I did some more research… discovered that what I have isn’t texas bull nettle, but a closly related plant…. Cnidoscolus stimulosus:
    http://www.regionalconservation.org/beta/nfyn/plantdetail.asp?tx=Cnidstim

  19. Yes, if you are further east than us here in Texas and western LA. you probably have a different species of Cnidoscolus. But you don’t escape the stinging hairs! Thanks for the comment.

  20. kim tavaglione

    i am suffering… i know to avoid this monster but it was sneaky and got me when i wasn’t looking. i was viciously attacted while mowing and immediatly went to the swimming pool and rinsed my leg off with the chlorinated water which took care of the burning. now, however, i am sporting this very lovely rash and there is a constant gut wrenching itch that i am trying to ignore. obviously not very successfully since i am on this web-site looking for remedies! if there are any brilliant ideas out there floating around, please let me know. if not, check to obituaries…

  21. Kim, Sorry to hear about your “meeting” with this plant. So far I have been lucky enough to avoid it. I don’t know of any miracles cures but this is a topic I am going to start collecting information on.

  22. Lisa In Texas

    I got stung by bull nettle every summer when I went to stay with my grandparents in East Texas. My foot would always swell and the itch in INTENSE. The one thing that gave me some relief is when my grandmother would mix up vinegar and baking soda in a paste and I would put that on there and wrap it with a towel for about 20 minutes. Supposedly, it helps “draw” the toxins out.

  23. I’ve got hundreds of these thing on my place from 2 inches to 4 feet tall …… I’ve lived around it and played with it all my life I’m actually sporting a nice lumpy spot on my leg right now from it. Those of you who don’t no to much about this plant, it will get you through your clothes and dont scratch the spot were it gets you it actually makes things worse in the long run.

  24. Craig in Texas

    Forget about peeing and ammonia. Look for a cream at the pharmacy containing hydorcortisone for the itch and lidocaine for the pain.

  25. Laura In East Texas

    I am very familiar with this plant. I even harvest the nuts from it every year. However, after years of avoiding stings I jumped right into the middle of one. I have severe swelling, bruising, and HUGE dark red to black blisters from my knee to my foot. The pain & itch is so intense I practically keep myself knocked out with Benadryl and have gone through 3 tubes of Cortaid in 2 days. Any advice on treatment?

  26. I am wondering if you can make money off bullnettle farming….just bought 10 acres of this messy stuff you can eat and drink ! Any suggestions !

  27. Hey ….wondering…..could I get rich if I find a cure for bullnettle !!!!!

  28. Clyde Anderson

    Can’t help after you get into it but 20% vinegar with 2 oz. of orange oil and a shot of dish soap will do away with it in one sunny day. Does not seem to last it will grow again near by. Watch getting it into your eyes.

  29. Pingback: Herbaceous Plants: Texas Bull Nettle « Gardora.net

  30. sour dock root (yellow dock)
    will cure the sting in 5 sec.
    crash the root and rub where it sting you at

  31. also the more you itch the worst it gets.
    it can even be gone and not hurting any more.
    but if you tough it and itch it again it can bring it right back.

  32. Hey, I really liked your story. I’ve been looking for info on the mala mujer for over and hour and yours has definitely been the most helpful. Thanks, and I hope you haven’t had anymore painful encounters with that sly nettle.

  33. Laura Clark

    I just had the best laugh I’ve had in a long time reading these posts because I have experienced many stings from this plant that is common in my yard in east Texas. Several years ago, I discovered the only sure cure, too, and it does work. Boil the leaves and pour it on the sting. It stops the itch and also the rash disappears in days instead of weeks.

  34. Reading these posts brought back a memory that I would have preferred to have left forgotten forever. When I was around 10 years old, I received a pogo-stick as a gift. I was trying it out in my yard and fell backwards, landing directly on a large bull nettle plant. Needless to say, I didn’t do any pogo-stick jumping for quite a while and had to deal with the embarrassment of having to stand at school until my backside got better. Even the couple of scorpion stings I received in Texas weren’t as bad or last as long as that bull nettle injury. My mom would make a baking soda paste to put on nettle stings, but I don’t recall it really helping any.

  35. As a child I spent two years in the Malakoff, Athens and Maybank area of East Texas. I loved to eat the seeds from this plant and occassionally would
    be stung by the plant (feet and ankles) my brother told me the quickest
    way to relieve the pain was to urinate on the area., did it work, I honestly
    can’t remember, but he did tease me for many years after.

  36. I used to eat the leaves when i was a kid

  37. Florida Gardener

    Kill the plant with gasoline. Pour gasoline from a small gas can spout directly on the green leaves. Best on a dry hot sunny day. Leaves will die within an hour, plant will not grow back. Roundup does not kill the plant.

    I have tried the baking soda + vinegar treatment with no success. For immediate relief of the painful symptoms, spray WD-40 directly on the affected skin. WD-40 neutralizes the initial effects immediately but it’s benefit only lasts for the initial 12 hours or so. This will not help with the longer term painful rash that later develops in the subsequent days, for that try 1% hydrocortizone cream and ice/cold compress to provide temporary relief of the discomfort.

  38. Pingback: Canyon Rim « Oh Happy Daze

  39. I have texas bull nettle growing in my yard and its really not that bad just a little itch and sting but i have a great cure for it urine and/or beer

  40. this plant sent me to the hospital with a heart rate of over 170 and swelling sever enough that I couldn’t get my glasses on (and it got me on the leg). Exercise extreme care, especially if you have a known allergy to insects.

  41. My brother in law got into a big group of them a few years ago on their property near Nocona, TX. He has scars on his legs now and I sure wish we would have known the cure then. It looks awful. Their dad used to tease them and tell them that when he was a boy and they wanted to prove how tough they were, they would have bull nettle fights, naked. Apparently this little guy has been a pain in the rear for a really long time. LOL.

  42. The leaves will surely get you and so will the root. I had a load of sand dumped near a large flower bed that I was working in . I noticed a long root sticking out of the sand and decided to pull it out of the way. Bad mistake ! I grabed hold tight and pulled hard. I immediately felt as though I had grabbed hold of a downed live highline wire! The pain was unbelievable ! As far as I can tell , I don’t have any hair growing on the palms of my hands!

  43. Oh my gosh!!! These stories are amazing, painful and hilarious!!! I am a city slicker SoCal girl, and was visiting my husbands family in east Texas. We had been drinking and decided to take a walk around 1 am…not sure why, when we had to get off the road because of a vehicle. Needless to say, no one thought to warn me about this lovely plant when I jumped right into it. I was miserable!!!! I had tube socks on and was stuffing ice in my socks to control the itch and ache. Hahaha, they tried to convince me to let them pee on me, but I would not have any of that, and I just toughed it out. Just because I grew up spoiled and next to the ocean, doesn’t mean I can’t be tough. I sure don’t want to have to be tough like that again.

  44. Aloa Vera Plant cures instantley!

  45. jerry kalisek I live in IL

    I lived in Texas as a kid and I liked to eat them.I wood liked to get some seed to plant in pots.

  46. Phillip Bounds.

    P.W. lived in Texas all my life and have been around these plants as a child and adult, Mom allways kept a bottle of Mennens after shave lotion in the medicine cabinet just for Bull and Stinging nettles It allways killed the pain instantly and stopped the crying, now days I eat the nuts and the roots,it’s truly a sustainable food source.

  47. Dale Fenner

    i had a recent catastrophy with this stuff, me and my buddies were riding around on the atv when i fell off, and landed smack dab in the middle of a good one about the size of a large shrub, i am sufferred the entire walk home because they left me behind, i took a quick cold shower and put my clothes in the washing machine, it seemed to kill all the pain, Although i was still stuck with the un bearable itch, i rubbed some lotion on it and it went away in a few hours leaving behind only small red spots…i think i’m luckier than most people here, haha.

  48. I keep a roll of 2 inch clear tape (kind for taping boxes) and put that on the area as soon as possible, several times and that helps to remove the hairs, then I just keep putting a good moisturing cream on the area, like every 15 minutes for the first couple of hours, this helps to keep me from scratching. The main things everyone was right about was, do not scratch!!!!
    I have seen some articles that say you can boil the leaves (like Poke Salad greens), in several changes of water and eat them, but I am waiting till someone I know tries it then, maybe………..

  49. For years we’ve tried to poison bullnettle plants on our farm with no luck–plants look dead but then sprout up again. Early this year we found out why: dug up a large plant with the backhoe. The root was 4 feet long and as big around as the calf of my leg–and I’m not skinny.

  50. This plant is also indigenous to Southern California, Arizona Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and southwestern part of Oklahoma.

  51. Bull Nettle aka ” Mala Mujer ” in Spanish used to love cotton fields in Texas. As an ex cotton chopper and cotton picker I have encountered this bad ass weed several times in my life .. I know my weeds since I have laid a hoe to several hundreds of weeds in Texas… The story has it that a wife that was mad at her husband for spending the night drinking in town cut down a few bull nettles ( sure she wore gloves ) and promptly whipped her husband with this bad ass weed while he was sleeping . The story of la “Mala .Mujer ” has been around for over a hundred years . Mala Mujer means bad woman in Spanish as her dead husband would attest to !!

  52. My sister and her kids pee on the spot they get into, seems to work for them!

  53. I have a Bull Nettle sting and, I am finding that my grandmother was so right with all her home remedies. I mixed honey and baking soda and just a few drops of water. It should be the consistence of peanut butter, spread it on and cover. She said that the honey is an antiseptic and the baking soda will draw out the toxin.

  54. I have had the unfortunate luck of getting in to these twice. We have them all over our 30 acres. Everyone was trying to tell me to pee on it (I did w/the first one several yrs. ago ~ didn’t work) This last one, I rinsed my leg off in our pond and high tailed it back to the house and put baking soda paste on it (it actually does help, until you go to take it off) Unfortunately, this rash ended up all on my stomach and back =( which went away after a day. Lavender oil seem to help me out more than anything

  55. When I was in 1st grade in 1 room school house in Bell County we kids were playing hide and seek. One girl in first grade hid in some weeds! Yep! Turned out they were bull nettles and in those days little girls wore little dresses! She ran screaming to the teacher who was my Mom! mom sent one of the big boys to the store for something to rub on her. Then an older kid walked her home. She missed several days of school. My Dad came over and poured salt water on the plants lots of times. Best I can remember he was able to get rid of the ones in the school yard

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