Urtica sykesii


Urtica: from the Latin verb urere which means "to burn"
sykesii: Named after William Russell Sykes (1929-) an English born botanist who emigrated to New Zealand in the late 1960s and worked for the DSIR Botany Division and DSIR Land Resources. Sykes specialize din the taxonomy of cultivated plants, naturalized plants and made studies of the South Pacific Islands, especially the Kermadec and Cook Island groups.

Common Name(s)

native nettle, bush nettle

Current Conservation Status

2012 - Not Threatened

Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2012
The conservation status of all known New Zealand vascular plant taxa at the rank of species and below were reassessed in 2012 using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS). This report includes a statistical summary and brief notes on changes since 2009 and replaces all previous NZTCS lists for vascular plants. Authors: Peter J. de Lange, Jeremy R. Rolfe, Paul D. Champion, Shannel P. Courtney, Peter B. Heenan, John W. Barkla, Ewen K. Cameron, David A. Norton and Rodney A. Hitchmough. File size: 792KB

Previous Conservation Status

2009 - Not Threatened
2004 - Not Threatened


Urtica sykesii Grosse-Veldmann et Weigend



Brief Description

Delicate, usually much-branched herb covered in prominent stinging hairs. Leaves green, deeply incised, triangular-ovate with subcordate leaf bases. Plants bearing both male and female flowers.

Flora Category

Vascular - Native

NVS Species Code


The National Vegetation Survey (NVS) Databank is a physical archive and electronic databank containing records of over 94,000 vegetation survey plots - including data from over 19,000 permanent plots. NVS maintains a standard set of species code abbreviations that correspond to standard scientific plant names from the Ngä Tipu o Aotearoa - New Zealand Plants database.

Structural Class

Dicotyledonous Herbs other than Composites


Previously confused with Urtica incisa Poir. See under 'Taxonomic Notes' below


Indigenous. Australia and New Zealand. In New Zealand widespread in the North and South Islands though scarce north of Auckland. Seemingly confined to Victoria in Eastern Australia.


Erect, perennial, rhizomatous herb 0.15–0.60 m with elongating rhizomes, aerial stems usually unbranched. Stem indumentum of very few stinging hairs with pluricellular base c. 0.2–0.5 mm overall and erect setae 1.3–2.2 mm long and very few simple trichomes 0.2–0.3 mm long. Leaf lamina 20–60 × 20–50 mm triangular to triangular-ovate; surface very sparsely pubescent with short simple trichomes 0.2–0.5 mm long and very few stinging hairs (abaxially only on the veins), adaxially with punctiform cystoliths; leaf base truncate to subcordate; margins regularly dentate with 9–10(–12) teeth on each side; leaf apex acute to acuminate; lamina light greenish; stipules free (4 per node) 2–10 mm long; petioles 30–70 mm long. Plants monoecious; lowest inflorescences pure male, upper ones pure female. Staminate flowers with tepals c. 1.2–1.8 mm long. Pistillate flowers with short tepals 0.5–0.7 mm long and long tepals 0.9–1.1 mm long, sparsely pubescent, esetulose. Inflorescence 10–20 mm. Mature fruit with longer tepals 1.3–1.5 mm long, achenes subcircular in outline, rounded at base and at the tip, laterally flattened, c. 1.2–1.5 × 0.8–1 mm.

Similar Taxa

Distinguished from other New Zealand Urtica by the triangular-ovate leaves with subcordate bases, which are 20–60 mm long; usually moderately to densely setose (hairy) on the stems and leaves; and by the monoecious flowers, with male flowers arranged below the female flowers


Throughout the year

Flower Colours



Throughout the year

Propagation Technique

Easily grown from rooted pieced, stem cuttings and fresh seed. Flourishes in a shady, moist soil. Inclined to be short-lived. The impact of the stinging hairs seems to vary from plant to plant and in the way people react to them. Generally this species has a less painful sting than our other indigenous Urtica


Not Threatened

Chromosome No.

2n = 24

Endemic Taxon


Endemic Genus


Endemic Family



Urtica sykesii is the species previously treated (incorrectly it transpires see Grosse-Veldmann et al. 2016) by New Zealand botanists as Urtica incisa Poir., an Australian species that is sparingly naturalised in New Zealand (where it had previously, incorrectly, been treated as U. dioica subsp. gracilis (Webb et al. 1988)).


Fact Sheet prepared by P.J. de Lange (14 February 2016). Description based on Grosse-Veldmann et al. (2016).

References and further reading

Grosse-Veldmann, B.; Conn, B.J.; Weigend, M. 2016: Weeding the nettles IV: A redefinition of Urtica incisa and allies in New Zealand and Australia, including the segregation of two new species Urtica sykesii and U. perconfusa. Phytotaxa 245(4): 251-261.

Webb CJ, Sykes WR, Garnock-Jones PJ 1988. Flora of New Zealand. Vol. IV. Botany Division, DSIR, Christchurch.

This page last updated on 30 Jul 2017