April 1, 2018

Giant Asian Nettles (Girardinia spp.)


Species of genus Girardinia have Chinese name “xie zi cao” (so it can be probably translated it as “Scorpion child plant”). This is small group only of about 4 mostly Asiatic species which are closely relative to nettles (they belongs to Urticaceae family). As nettles they have stinging hairs but much larger. They all are edible (leaves - cooked and eaten as vegetable, young flowers - cooked and eaten as a vegetable and the roasted and pickled seeds) and a medicinal herbs. Also fiber plants. The large stinging hairs burn as common nettle (not much). They blooms late so to harvesting of seeds the best grow them in pots and take the inside in autumn.  
 
Girardinia diversifolia subsp. diversifolia (Giant Himalayan Nettle) - the perennial subtropical species
I grew 3 species:

Girardinia cuspidata (North Chinese Nettle, North Korean Nettle) - The very rare annual stinging nettle cousin to about 0,4m (=1,5 ft) - 1,8m (=6 ft) tall, with very thin ovate large sinuate-dentate leaves, very long stinging hairs and inconspicuous flowers in dense inflorescences. A very lovely ornamental. Native to northern Asia ( the northern part of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast China). May be sown outside in mid spring or inside year around.

It has often trilobed leaves
The wole plant (including inflorescences) is covered by long stinging hairs

Very similar to previous is – Girardinia septentrionalis (North Russian Nettle, Ussuri Nettle) They differs only in details and distribution range (for example G. cuspidata has larger seeds and something other shape of inflorescences than G. sptentrionalis). It is an annual straight herb 0,4m (=1,5 ft) - 1,8m (=6 ft) tall, with very thin ovate large sinuate-dentate leaves, very long stinging hairs and inconspicuous flowers in dense inflorescences. Native to northern Asia (endemic to the Russian Far East - Ussuri Region). May be sown outside in mid spring or inside year around. Sow the seeds surface. They germinate easily without any pre-treatment.

The fruits ripe late so the best take the plants inside in mid autumn

   These both species are often treated as one and their names as synonims. But I saw a few differences in their appearance. On webpage “Flora of China” there is an mistake – they have not described these species at all and used one of their names (Girardinia cuspidata) as synonym of other plant – Laportea cuspidata. But it is not truth – there exist in China two various different species (Girardinia cuspidata and Laportea cuspidata) and there are very different (they are not the same). In this it follows that in China there are so many plants that even scientists can succeed in forgetting some of them ;-) Even an author of monograph of genus Girardinia forgot about G. cuspidata and G. septentrionalis.

The last species which I grew is Girardinia diversifolia subsp. diversifolia (Giant Himalayan Nettle). It is tall perennial (to 2 m = 7 ft tall) native not only to south-east Asia but also to Africa. It creates perennial tuberous rootstock and the roots can survive a few degree of frost and re-sprout in spring. The leaves of this taxon are deeply lobed and beautiful. Seeds are more difficult to germination (need soaking in GA3 solution and germinates very slowly). It can be monoecious (as previously described species) or dioecious. It has never flowered in my “north temperate experience”. 

Young shoots resptouting from permament tuberous rootstock
It is very ornamental
It never flowered in my experience
There exists yet 2 other subspecies of G. diversifolia (subsp. suborbiculata and subsp. triloba – both annual and monoecious) and 1 other African species (G. bullosa).
If you have available seeds of any rare nettle cousins (species which belongs to family Urticaceae) please write to me. I am looking for wild nettles from worldwide – maybe they are common in your area, but they are very valuable for me.

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