The Spurge Nettle is a perennial herb. It is covered with stinging hairs. Other names for this herb include Tread softly, Finger Rot, Devil Tread and Pica-pica, It is not considered a true nettle, despite it’s name. The Spurge Nettle is grown in the southeastern part of North America. This stinging nettle is a member of the family Euphorbiaceae or the spurge family.
The leaves of the stinging Spurge nettle are simple and alternately placed. They are also palmately lobed (being divided much like the fingers of the human hand). The leaves have three to five deep, toothed lobes. They are similar in shape to the maple leaf. The dark green surfaces of the leaf has veins that appear white in color. The margins and bottoms of the leaf are covered with the venomous, stinging hairs.
Stinging, toxic hairs also cover the stems of the Spurge Nettle. These stems are quite stout.
The fruit is a spherical, spiny, or cylindrical capsule. It contains dark brown seeds in the three chambers which open up to release the seeds. Stinging hairs also cover the pod shaped capsules.
The stinging hairs contain a caustic irritant. It can inflict a painful sting when it comes into contact with bare skin. It causes a painful rash and in some individuals it can be more dangerous. The pain from the stinging Spurge Nettle can last up to an hour and is quite severe. A red rash will usually develop for a short period of time. Dry, sandy soils, old fields, pine forests, dry wooded areas, roadsides and other disturbed sites are favorite habitats of the Spurge Nettle. It can be found in the coastal plains all the way from the state of Virginia to the southern end of Florida and west, as far as Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana.
The female and male flowers are located on different plants. The flower blooms throughout the spring and summer months. The flowers are large and have five petals each. They are white in color.
Several species of songbirds and the Bob-white quail eat the seeds of the stinging Spurge Nettle. While the plants can regrow from the fleshy tap root, they grow more often from seeds that are scattered by wildlife.
While the tubes of the plant are edible, the upper portions need to be avoided. The tubers can be substituted for potatoes and are said to taste somewhat like pasta.