At Johnson Woods Nature Preserve near Orrville in Wayne County, there are many wonderful plants including towering oaks and beeches and sourgums. There are birds including barred owls that are a hoot to hear in matched pairs from across the preserve. This past weekend the fungi were having a real coming out party following recent rains. Squirrels, including black squirrels, were clucking away. And stinging nettles were fruiting; something I had never noticed before.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is an innocuous-looking plant with clusters of tiny flowers in the axils of opposite, serrated leaves. The leaves and the stems pack quite a punch, though, with numerous stinging hairs called trichomes, that act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamines if grasped, and subsequent torturous itching with red rashes and skin bumps. At Johnson Woods stinging nettles will not affect you if you stay on the boardwalk, but on hikes elsewhere, where you walk through the woods, either learn to identify this plant – or wear long pants rather than shorts, and keep your hands away from the nettles.
For more information on identification characteristics - including on young seedlings, folklore including the history of medicinal uses, and biology of stinging nettle, check out the fantastic Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide at oardc.ohio-state.edu/weed guide.