South Dakota Native Plant Research
Urticaceae : Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis

Urticaceae : Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis


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Family Name


Common Name

Stinging nettle, American stinging nettle, Slender stinging nettle

Native American Name

Lakota: čhaŋíčaȟpehu


Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis is a rhizomatous perennial herb with simple, erect, squarish stems, growing up to 3 m in height, with few to many stinging hairs on the stems. The alternate leaves are petiolate, the petioles equal to or shorter than the blades, with a sparse covering of stinging hairs and a pair of stipules at the base. The blades are larger and ovate toward the base, 1-6 cm long, 1-4 cm wide, and smaller, ovate to lanceolate towards the top, often somewhat folded lengthwise, the edges sharply toothed, the veins sunken on the upper surface and raised below. The upper surface of the leaf blades are typically hairless, with the lower surface being smooth, sometimes having a few tiny hairs, or stinging hairs. The plants are monoecious with clusters of male or female flowers in axillary panicles or sometimes in long string-like strands, usually in pairs, the inflorescence longer than the subtending leaf petiole. Both male and female flowers are 4-merous, tiny and indistinct, creamy green to pinkish in color. The fruit are ovate, tan to brown achenes about 1.5 mm long and <1 mm wide. Stinging nettle blooms from June into September in moist woods, along streams, lakes and ditches throughout South Dakota.

Synonym: Urtica gracilis ssp. gracilis

Additional Notes

Stinging nettles have sharp, glassy hairs that can inject acids under the skin, causing a rash and burning sensation. Young nettle leaves can be consumed after blanching. They are used like spinach or kale and are a nutritious food that has been consumed by many of the nation’s indigenous peoples. Their stems contain fibers that can be made into twine or rope. I have not dared to try them as I react strongly to the plants.

Horticulture Notes

Seed collection: Fruit ripen in late summer and fall. Use rubber kitchen gloves to handle plants and seeds.

Germination: Seed are not dormant and can be sown in the spring.

Vegetative propagation: Plants can be divided in the spring.

Light: Full sun to partial shade.

Soil: Tolerates a wide range of soil types. Does best in rich, moist loams.

Water: Moist to medium.

Urticaceae : Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis