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Pilea, not Urtica & Plants vs Bedbugs

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The serrated leaves of Pilea pumila, NOT Urtica dioica

The serrated leaves of Pilea pumila, NOT Urtica dioica

I am not without sin and error. And sometime ago, during my heady days as a gardener extraordinaire in Delaware County, I came upon a sun-speckled clearing of the plant pictured above. Though I did run into a thicket of nasty Urtica dioica, or Stinging Nettle, this photo is actually of an entirely different plant that spread over the forest floor nearby and is often mistaken for the more prickly kind within the very same Urticaceae clan.

Not a grave mistake, given I’m alive and well enough to barely maintain this blog, but merely one that could leave you with hours of painful itching. Or, if you’re me, slight sadomasochistic pleasure for the better part of an hour after coming into contact with the hairy pricks — or trichomes, if you’d rather — of the plant.

It’s really these trichomes that are my real fascination, despite my wrongful identification, and they harken back to my personal terrible experience linked to a nearly indestructible critter that plagued New York City and my own Astoria apartment in 2012: bedbugs.

Dewy trichomes of Drosera

Dewy trichomes of Drosera

Trichomes can be found in a number of plants and in various forms, including that in the remarkable Drosera, or sundew, species. In the form they appear in nettles, however, they act more as Velcro, albeit with more deadly consequences. According to a rather unique study done in 2013, trichomes pierce the bugs’ legs, whereas Velcro (which incidentally was inspired by the plant Burdock) only (often temporarily) snags them.

People of the Balkans utilized the microscopic trichomes of the bean plant to pierce and prevent infestation of bed bugs. Knowing, however, of the pervasiveness and near indestructible nature of bed bugs from my unfortunate experience in New York, you’d need a hell of a lot of plant trichomes to get rid of these nasty buggers.


Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

February 12, 2016 at 11:25 pm

One Response

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  1. Maybe but an amazing way to get rid of bed bugs!


    February 13, 2016 at 4:36 am

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