Venomous spiders and snakes, poisonous frogs and man-eating crocodiles all contribute to Australia’s reputation as a threatening place to visit. But a viral image of “the world’s most dangerous plant” has left many thinking the country’s vegetation could be even more fearsome.
Only a year after it was first shared to Reddit, a picture of a Queensland Stinger (Dendrocnide moroides) is going viral again this week. Attracting close to 1500 comments 2700 reactions on Facebook, internet users are horrified by the plant’s ability to inflict “throbbing pain” that lasts for months, leaving many victims unable to sleep.
“Australia: Where the Devil keeps his pets. And his plants, by the sounds of this,” one person wrote. “I walked into one of these… it took months to get over it,” another responded.
A handful of overseas respondents said Australia was now effectively being crossed off their list of places to visit.
“Why I’m buggered if I’m going to (Australia),” someone wrote.
“Australia has the most dangerous everything. Everything tries to kill you,” another person added.
“You aren’t safe in the ocean, creeks, toilet, garden and even your bed!”
Others joked about finding potential uses for the plant.
“Planting it around the perimeter of your fence line is fantastic for security,” one person suggested.
Which areas are tourists most likely to encounter the plant?
The image, shot by a visitor to England’s World Garden in 2021, shows a cage around the plant. Installing a protective barrier is probably wise because the Queensland Stinger has the ability to leave anyone who brushes past it in agonising pain.
Also known as Gympie-Gympie and stinging bush, the plant’s reach extends from northern NSW, into the Gympie region in southern Queensland, all the way up to Cape York.
It is most common in rainforest areas that have been recently disturbed. National park authorities do try and clear it from walking paths, but tourists still should be on the lookout for it.
The plants release small silica hairs when touched and these inject chemicals into skin that are so painful many people call it the “suicide plant”. This reference likely dates back to a number of historical accounts which have instilled fear into Aussies for generations. They include:
In the 1940s, an officer allegedly shot himself because he couldn’t stand the pain
In 1866 a pack horse reportedly “got mad, and died within two hours” after being stung
In an article for The Conversation, plant expert Dr Marina Hurley compared it to “being stung by 30 wasps at once” or “like being burnt with hot acid and electrocuted at the same time”. They also have the ability to cause sneezing, nose bleeds and respiratory damage. That’s just from standing near them for 20 minutes.
Dr Hurley found that while the plants are harmful to humans, they provide nourishment for a number of insects and the red-legged pademelon – a small macropod.
Australia’s most dangerous creature revealed
Stories would have you believe that it’s nature that poses a threat to humans, but the reality is the reverse. Although still common in Queensland, Gympie-Gympie is now endangered in NSW, largely due to land clearing.
Although crocodiles have now made a comeback, they too were almost driven to extinction in the 1970s through hunting. When it comes to snakes and lizards, they have more to fear from us than we do of them. In 2020, scientists identified 20 reptiles in Australia that will likely go extinct by 2040.
Although Australians needlessly kill thousands of spiders every day, there have been no human deaths from bites since 1979. And when it comes to human deaths from Gympie-Gympie in Australia, none have been confirmed.
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