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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Wednesday - April 28, 2010

From: Moultrie, GA
Region: Southeast
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: A stinging plant in Moultrie, GA?
Answered by: Jimmy Mills


Mr. Smarty Plants, I was walking along in my lawn in some flip-flops and my foot barely grazed my ankle. As soon as it had happened, I felt this horrible pain, like a million tiny, invisible splinters were in me, and the pain wouldn't leave for a very long time. I've searched every where about it but I can't seem to identify it. Please help!


Mr. Smarty Plants certainly hopes that you sought medical attention before you wrote to us. What were you referring to when you wrote; "I've searched everywhere about it, but I can't seem to identify it"?

My colleagues and I here at the Wildflower Center have come up with three possible scenarios. Since this is the Wildflower Center, we'll deal with the plant part first.

There is a plant that grows in Georgia known as the Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica (stinging nettle) . It is covered with very small stinging hairs that contain formic acid  (the same formic acid that is in ant stings). Brushing against the plant releases the formic acid on the skin and causes the symtoms you described. The nettle is a fairly large plant that should be visible in your lawn. Since you implicated your flip-flop in this episode, perhaps you steped on the plant outside your lawn, and got some formic acid on the flip-flop which transfered it to your ankle with a grazing blow.

The other two scenarios exonerate plants and point to two insects as possible culprits: these are the caterpillar stages of the Southern Flannel Moth and the Saddle Back Moth. Both of these have hairs or spines that contain a venom that can be very painful when it comes in contact with human skin, but causes more serious symtoms than the formic acid. The flip-flop would play a similar role in this scenario.




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