Point of Interest – Ongaonga

ongaonga-223Ongaonga (Urtica ferox) is a nettle that is found only in New Zealand. Sometimes known as the tree nettle, Ongaonga has woody stems and unusually large stinging spines, and can grow to 5 metres tall, making it the world’s largest nettle. Even the lightest touch can result in a painful sting that lasts several days. The hollow needle-like spines, which are found on the leaves and stems of the plant are filled with a neurotoxin which causes a rash, irritation, pain and sometimes even damage to the nervous system. There has only been one recorded human death from contact—a lightly clad hunter who died five hours after walking through a dense patch. Ongaonga has a huge role to play in the recovery of native butterflies as it is the preferred food plant for larvae of the New Zealand red admiral butterfly or kahukura. They also use it as a relatively safe home, rolling up the tree-nettle leaves into ‘tents’ where they are protected from potential predators.