birding-aus Stinging Trees - OOPS!

Subject: birding-aus Stinging Trees - OOPS!
From: (Syd Curtis)
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 16:50:10 +1000
Carol Probets, 11/7/99, wrote:

>I was impressed by the dedication (or masochism) shown by W.D. Francis but
>wonder how often one is likely to come across leaves in the forest which
>have been boiled, baked in an oven or stored between absorbent paper! I
>suppose we can assume these results would also apply to dead leaves on the
>forest floor. Any volunteers to test this?

Sorry folks.  A bad omission on my part, when quoting Bill Francis's work.
What I should first have quoted from his paper was this:

        "The experiments were designed to test the effect of heating,
drying and boiling on the stinging properties of the Gympie ... "

Francis certainly was aware that dead leaves as well as green ones, could
sting.  He grew up in the Kin Kin district not far from Gympie which
originally had some of the richest rainforest in southern Queensland.
Anyone who walked bare-foot in such areas would soon find out that dead
Gympie leaves can sting.  I know I did.  Back in those days all kids in the
bush went bare-foot, notwithstanding (but preferably 'not standing on')
Laurie Knight's " raspberry, wait-a-while, 'barbed wire vine', prickly
ferns, spiked trees and stinging nettles ... leaches and ticks, and heavy
duty ants".

Among the spiked trees, is found my pet hate:  Capparis arborea.  As a
juvenile plant it is well-armed with straight, needle-sharp thorns, but its
tiny leaves and shrubby appearance make it easily recognised and avoided.
However it grows into a totally dissimilar small tree with normal sized
leaves, no thorns and an erect stem.  But it does not shed those juvenile
thorns!  It has the peculiar habit of gradually growing over them.  Thus it
is common to find specimens with anything from a couple of mm up to a cm or
more of the rigid needle points still sticking straight out of the stem,
and anything but obvious in the dim light of the rainforest.  Maybe they
aren't confined to steep slopes, but that's where I seem to find them, when
scrambling up or down and I grab a stem to stop sliding or keep my balance
and the needle tips go straight in!

A stinging tree problem not likely to trouble bird watchers, but one which
I'm told did occur during WW 2, was when Army personnel were doing jungle
training in north Queensland in very dry conditions.  Large numbers of
heavy boots pulverised the dead stinger leaves and the dust rising in the
air must have carried some of the finer 'needles' to be breathed in by
those towards the rear of the column with very unpleasant results.

As Laurie has pointed out, it is the succulent young growth of a seedling
or stinging tree sucker that provides the most ferocious sting.  I was
present when a colleague in Cairns, Peter Stanton, got very badly stung -
at dusk in semi-darkness he put his hand into a regrowth clump of stinger
leaves.  Next day he told me that during the night, unable to sleep for the
pain, he was desperate for some relief, and having heard that Vitamin C
helped get rid of poisons in one's body, he got a couple of tablets,
crushed them and added enough water to make a paste and rubbed that on the
affected part.  It worked.  (Not having Bill Francis's dedication to
science, I haven't tried it myself.)


Syd Curtis at Hawthorne Qld.

H Syd Curtis

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