How to Identify Nettles

Nettles are hardy herbaceous plants known for having tiny stinging hairs on their stems and leaves. They are found throughout much of the world and have uses beyond those of most plants. Botanically, nettles are excellent companion plants in the garden and the wild. They return nutrients to the soil and also increase the oil content of adjacent foliage, making them more resilient. Mint plants, in particular, thrive alongside nettles. The medicinal properties of nettles were first harness in medieval Europe. The plant has been shown to cleanse the body of metabolic waste and increase production of red blood cells. Even today, nettles are steamed and dried for stews and tea. But most people only think about nettles after they've been stung by the needle like hairs on the plant, which can be painful. By knowing where they grow and what they look like, you can avoid these prickly plants. If you want to learn how to identify nettles, follow these guidelines.


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    Look for nettles along riverbanks and steams, flood plains, and woodlands. In North America, the common stinging nettle, or Urtica dioica, it also grows in prairies.
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    Stay away from the plant until you know what it is. Even at the slightest touch, nettles release formic acid and other chemicals from their hairs, causing a stinging sensation that can last for hours. It therefore is important for you to be able to recognize the plant before you come into contact with it. Nettles have no distinctive scent or attractive flowers, so they tend to blend into the rest of the nearby flora. But by knowing the basic characteristics of the plant, you'll be able to avoid it and its painful sting.
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    Measure the plant. Depending on sunlight exposure, soil conditions and other factors, nettles can grow as tall as 7 feet (2.13 m), but generally range from 2 feet (0.61 m) to 4 feet (1.22 m) in height.
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    Wear heavy duty gloves when examining the plant so that you do not get stung.
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    Look for egg shaped leaves with pointed tips that appear opposite from each other on the stem. They should have coarse or serrated edges.
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    Measure the leaves. They should reach 6 inches (15.24 cm) in length and up to 2 inches (5.08 cm) in width.
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    Check that the leaves have 3-5 veins. However, remember that some nettles species have 7.
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    Look for hairs covering the leaves.
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    Look for white or greenish white flowers. Nettles bear either male or female flowers that bloom from late May to September. Flowers can also be pink or yellow in some species.
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    Look for four sided, rigid stems that are hollow. They can grow erect or creeping, and are covered with the species' distinctive hairs. The roots of most nettles are fibrous and yellow.


  • This plant is highly allergic for pets and is a leading cause of bacterial skin infections which can rapidly spread on the pets skin in wet, humid and hot situations and could lead to death.
  • Look for nettles at certain times of year in the areas where they thrive. Nettles are among the first plants to appear in early spring. They grow in most terrain, but prefer moist, shady areas.


  • There are many different kinds of stinging nettles which don't fit the description above, many of which, such as Texas Bull Nettle, are very painful. Be cautious around plants with tiny but rigid hairs, especially if they have egg shaped leaves (although not all do!), regardless of size.

Things You'll Need

  • Work gloves

Article Info

Categories: Garden Pests and Weeds | Plant Identification