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Noli me tangere!

November 19, 2010

Below are two pictures of a cryptic plant found in northern Thailand (Chiang Mai and Tak provinces).

The spirally arranged leaves are leathery, with very tiny hairs on the leaf stalk. The stem is woody and it is dioecious (male and female flowers are born on different individual plants).

If a leaf is touched, it makes your hand numb for three days.

A tentative name would be Dendrocnide sinuata.

Originally I suspected a member of Urticaceae, but the key in ‘Notes on Urticaceae of Taiwan‘ (Shih et al., 1995) states Dendrocnide being hairy, but to me it was glabrous. However, at a closer look there are tiny hairs! D. meyeniana is very similar. However, it is not mentioned by Smitinand (Thai pant names, 2001), and the Taiwanese publication claims the inflorescence is reddish, our specimen is not. Consulting the key for Dendrocnide in Flora of China I can either select between D. basiorotunda or D. sinuata, both occuring in Thailand, both having leathery leaves, which fits precisely. Since D. basiorotunda is a high elevation species on limestone, I guess we have D. sinuata.

Like most other plants, it is a reputed medicinal plant.

Eric Danell

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