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28/07/2021

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: Red or dead — a native nettle without a sting

With the Irish Peatland Conservation Council

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: Red or dead — a native nettle without a sting

The red dead-nettle. Picture: Nuala Madigan

One very small wildflower caught my attention this week as it has just started to flower — the red dead-nettle (caochneantóg dhearg as Gaeilge).

Although the leaves of red dead-nettle have a similar shape to and toothed edge as the stinging nettle, this wildflower does not sting. It is also much smaller, growing to a height of no more than 30cm.

The leaves of red dead-nettle are arranged in whorls around an upright square stem.

They are covered in fine hairs and they are green with a purple/red tinge.

The small pink flowers do not have petals that are arranged in a whorl, but have a hood instead.

This wildflower blooms each year from March to October so you have plenty of time to identify this species in your community.

Red dead-nettle is a native plant and you can expect to find it growing on roadsides or disturbed ground within your 5km this week.

I photographed this plant last week at the edge of a gravel pathway. You might not even have to leave your own garden to find it, as it is one of the many wildflowers that is considered a weed by our gardeners.

To be fair, red dead-nettle is known to be very good at dispersing its seeds and can quickly establish itself in flower beds or vegetable growing areas. Once established it then competes for nutrients and light with those plants that we are trying to grow in these spaces in our gardens.

The young plants are edible and are sometimes used in salads — however, as I always say, I never recommend you collect wildflowers and eat them from the wild, both from a health and safety point of view; but also because many of our wildflowers are part of nature’s food chain.

Indeed, as an early flowering plant, red dead-nettle is an important source of nectar for our bumblebees that are just beginning to emerge after their winter hibernation. Will you find red dead-nettle in your community this week?

If you come across a wildlife species that you would like help identifying I would be happy to help, contact me at bogs@ipcc.ie.

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