Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Stinging plants

4-minute read

It can be difficult to know if a sting from a plant is dangerous or not. This article explains the best first aid treatment depending on the plant involved.

It’s important to be aware that stings from plants can cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) in some people. Learn more about first aid treatment for severe allergic reactions in the ‘anaphylaxis’ section below.


The Gympie-Gympie is one of 4 species of stinging trees in Australia and has possibly the most painful sting of any plant in Australia. Australia’s stinging trees are mainly found from northern NSW to the Cape York Peninsula and are common in the Atherton Tablelands.

The Gympie-Gympie is the most similar to the Atherton Tableland stinger, with the two other species growing over 20 metres, but is said to have the worst sting of all, and possibly the most painful sting of any plant in Australia.

The Gympie Gympie has broad, oval or heart-shaped leaves and white or purple-red fruit, all covered in tiny stinging hairs. These silicon hairs penetrate your skin, and then break off. They're so tiny, that often the skin will close over the hairs. So sometimes, once you've been stung, you can't remove the stinging hairs.

It has been described as 'being stung by wasps'. This then leads to whitening and swelling at the sting site, which can lead onto perspiring.

Photo of a gympie-gympie plant.
Photo of a gympie-gympie plant.

If you get stung follow this advice:

  • the most important thing is that you do not rub the area, as this can break off the hairs and make them very difficult to remove
  • remove visible hairs with tweezers
  • apply and remove adhesive tape or hair-removal wax strip to the area to remove the finer hairs
  • do not scratch or rub the area, this may cause the hairs to penetrate deeper into the skin

Stinging nettles

Nettle plants are around one meter high and have tiny hairs on the leaves and stem which, if you touch them, will give a nasty sting and a rash. Generally nettle stings will not cause lasting problems unless you have an allergy to the nettle sting.

The rash may be painful for a few hours after you are stung. Medical attention is not normally required, unless there is an extensive nettle sting (such as you fall into lots of nettles and are stung all over your body).

Photo of a nettle plant.
Photo of a nettle plant.

Anaphylactic shock

Occasionally some people have a severe allergic reaction to being stung by a plant.

In cases of severe allergic reaction, the whole body can react within minutes to the sting which can lead to anaphylactic shock. Anaphylactic shock is very serious and can be fatal.

Symptoms of anaphylactic shock may include:

  • difficult or noisy breathing
  • difficulty talking and/or hoarse voice
  • a swollen tongue
  • persistent dizziness or collapse
  • swelling or tightness in the throat
  • pale and floppy (young children)
  • wheeze or persistent cough
  • abdominal pain or vomiting

Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. If the person has a 'personal action plan' to manage a known severe allergy, they may need assistance to follow their plan. This may include administering adrenaline to the person via an autoinjector (such as an Epipen®) if one is available.

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy recommends that for a severe allergic reaction adrenaline is the initial treatment. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

The St John Ambulance Australia first aid fact sheet for bites and stings can be found on their website. For more information on anaphylaxis, including setting up a personal action plan, go to

People with diagnosed allergies should avoid all trigger agents and confirmed allergens and have a readily accessible anaphylaxis action plan and medical alert device It is wise to ensure your friends and family know how to follow your anaphylaxis action plan too in case you need help. See your doctor or a pharmacist.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your plant sting, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2020

Back To Top

Recommended links

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Dangerous & poisonous plants: child safety | Raising Children Network

Keep children safe in the garden by removing, fencing off or not growing poisonous plants and dangerous plants. This guide has pictures of plants to avoid.

Read more on website

Poisonous plants, mushrooms | Queensland Poisons Information Centre

Descriptions and photos of a number of local plants and fungi (mushrooms and toadstools) that can be poisonous to people.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Poisonous or harmful plants | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Lots of plants are poisonous or capable of causing highly allergic reactions

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Stinging tree (Dendrocnide excelsa) | Children's Health Queensland

These species are common in Queensland rainforests especially on the edges or in disturbed areas.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Stinging nettles (Urtica urens) | Queensland Poisons Information Centre

These soft herbs occur as weeds in damp areas and are sparsely covered with rigid, stinging hairs.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Accidental poisoning -

Children's curiosity can lead to danger, such as unintentional poisoning.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.