Plants
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2007-09-06

Bullnettle

Bandera Soil & Water Cons

For the uninitiated, Bullnettle - aka Texas Bullnettle, Bull Nettle and Cnidoscolus texanus - can come as a brutal surprise.

While the small white flower has a sweet smell, woe to those who inadvertently touch the plant. The plant’s other monikers, Mala Mujer and Tread Softly, offer even a novice gardener an indication of what to expect.

Unfortunately, glass-like hairs on Bullnettle’s leaves and stem have a tendency to break off and inject a very irritating toxin onto the skin - even through clothing. The lingering effect of the toxin’s intense burning sensation can leave the skin red, irritated and painful for several days.

Dogs running through underbrush are likely to encounter this plant; however, any animal that brushes against or consumes the plant can be affected. If oral contact is made, the animal may shake its head, salivate and paw at its mouth. Skin irritation is possible, especially with short-coated dogs. Additionally, an animal’s eyes are especially susceptible to the plant’s toxin.
Nearly all animals - including humans - quickly learn to stay away from Bullnettle.

Despite the plant’s painful reputation, its ripe fruit, ranging in color from tan to brown, tastes similar to almonds. However, the fruit must be harvested carefully to remove them from the seed pod. In addition, one report has indicated the seeds can contain traces of cyanide, so one is cautioned to consume with care - if at all.

The plant’s large potato-like root makes Bullnettle difficult to control. Simply cutting the plant down merely stimulates the root to resprout with new vegetation.

When flowering begins in the spring, applications of Grazon P+D, Weedmaster or Surmount help control the plant, but it may be necessary to apply the herbicide more than once.

Preferring lighter or sandy soils, Bullnettle can frequently be found in old fields in colonies so large that they are the only herbaceous plant present. In addition, these perennials commonly grow on moist ground in flood plains, woodland and along stream and river banks. The tough unbranched stems grow two- to five-feet tall.

The plant blooms from April through September.

Although considered an “invasive and noxious weed,” Bullnettle, nevertheless, is attractive to bees, butterflies and birds. However, it is definitely not recommended for xeriscaping - except for gardeners who are gluttons for punishment.