Poisonous Plants - Urera Baccifera

Photo of the Stinging Nettle, Ortiga Brava, Urera baccifera

Stinging Nettle (Eng.), Ortiga Brava (Sp.), Urera baccifera (Bot.), native; Puerto Rico, Greater/Lesser Antilles, Mexico. Central America.

Photo Father Alejandro Sánchez Muz


This Evergreen shrub which can grow to 15 feet (4.5 meters) in height and 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in trunk diameter rarely becomes a small tree. With several main stems, the bark is smooth, light-gray, with a few “warts” (lenticels) and spines or stinging hairs, which are also found on twigs. The alternate, round green, purple-tinged leaves to 4 inches (10 centimeters) have many 1/8 inch (0.3 centimeters) stinging hairs on lower surfaces. This shrub is quickly learned to be avoided because of its stinging hairs on twigs and lower leaf surfaces. The stinging hairs project at an angle, have a needle-like point and are filled with liquid.

Poisonous characteristics

When the skin touches the stinging hair, the end breaks-off and injects the poisonous liquid into the flesh. The liquid is Formic Acid, similar to that of ant stings, causing stinging pain that can last several hours. Contact with needle-like, stinging hairs on the twigs and lower surface of leaves of this plant can cause SEVERE SKIN IRRITATION AND MILD SKIN RASH (DERMATITIS). DO NOT EAT THE LEAVES OF THIS PLANT.

When observing this plant

If possible, avoid contact with the twigs and lower surface of its leaves. Do not eat it’s leaves or bring them in contact with your eyes. If you inadvertently touch the leaves of this plant wash your hands thoroughly before touching your mouth, eyes or the area surrounding them.

Where is this plant found in the El Yunque NF?

Common in Luquillo forest (El Yunque NF) understory to 3000 feet (914 meters) elevation.

Additional information

Tropical Vegetation Specialist
USDA Forest Service
El Yunque National Forest
HC-01, Box 13490
Rio Grande, PR 00745-9625
787 888 1810

Wadsworth, F.H. & Little, E.L., 1974, Common Trees of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, Volume 2, U. S Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Handbook NO. 449. Superintendent of Documents, U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.