Nature on our doorsteps: A nettle without a sting
By Rosaleen O'Dwyer
Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures.
The next time you spot a Nettle, look closer as you may be looking at one of its relatives in the Mint family, a Dead-nettle.
Nettles sting by delivering a tiny drop of acid under our skin when we brush past and break the little hairs on its leaves.
While Dead-nettle leaves have the general shape of a Nettle and have the same square-shaped stems, they are downy to the touch and the little hairs do not contain stinging acid, hence ‘Dead-nettle’.
You can still see Red Dead-nettle in flower at the moment in disturbed soil such as in vegetable patches or on waste ground.
Leaves at the top of this low-growing plant sometimes take on a purple tint, matching its little pink-purple flowers which are loved by bees and which can continue to bloom until the first hard frosts.
Lamium purpureum is its Latin name. Lamium originates from the Greek word for gullet, describing the shape of the flower which appears like a wide open jaw.
The word purpureum describes its purple-pink colour.
In Irish, Red Dead-nettle is Caoch-neantóg Dhearg, where ‘neantóg’ is ‘little nettle’, ‘dhearg’ is ‘red’, and ‘caoch’ means to fool or confuse someone, indicating the plant could be mistaken for something else, like a Nettle.