There are thousands of million kinds of plants in the world. There are so many, that a lot hasn’t even been fully studied yet. Carnivorous plants, pretty flowers, and strong trees, there is something for everybody in the plant world, but nature doesn’t stop amazing us with its creations, believe it or not, there is a suicide plant.
Gympie-Gympie is a toxic plant discovered somewhere in 1860 that lives down in the rainforests of Australia, but can also be seen in Indonesia in tropical environments. If you ever visit the Cape York Peninsula, New South Wales, or Queensland you have to be extra careful since it is abundant in those regions.
This plant is pretty catchy to the eye, it has bright and vibrant flowers, small purple or red fruits, heart-shaped leaves, and the tree can grow to 10 feet tall. All of its components are covered in some kind of fuzzy hair that releases poisoning substances whenever it is touched.
The poison from the Gympie-Gympie is the most painful known in the world yet. It can create such intense and unbearable pain that can lead people to kill themselves.
Basically, the so-called “hair” acts like a hypodermic needle that injects a neurotoxic sting. Each hair has a bulb that holds the substance and the minute it is touched, it breaks the bulb and sticks directly into the skin, and since the hairs are so little, it is almost impossible to get them out and can be there for months.
Dendrocnide macrolides, not only “attacks” by direct contact. The hairs can be shed into the air and fly around for miles, so it is dangerous to be close to the plant itself because the microscopic hairs can stick into your whole body, or the exposure can damage your respiratory system, cause nosebleeds, and inside eruptions.
The pain strikes immediately once the poison makes contact with the body. Some people that suffered from this had said that it first feels like a thousand wasps are stinging you at the same time.
Next, the lymph nodes, that are in charge of the immune response in front of any kind of infection, begin to swell and the person feels extreme pressure. Finally, after about 30 minutes the pain grows constantly.
Sometimes the articulations can be highly affected and it is impossible to move them, and the pain itself has been described as being burned with acid while being electrocuted.
There isn’t an estimated time of how much the pain can last, apparently, it is a very stable toxin that can last more than two years and still work even if the plant is dried.
This dangerous plant isn’t very comprehended, it has driven people so crazy that the British government once wanted to use it as a biological military weapon. But it is unlikely that they ever achieved this.
Scientists don’t know how it works, some theories say that the bulb and the hair experiment a chemical reaction between them and that contributes to the poisonous quality, but the neurotoxin that causes such pain hasn’t been identified yet and it is simply called “gympietides”. It is hard for them to tell, due to the circumstances the plant causes.
What they have discovered is that the gympitides go directly to the sodium canals in the sensory neurons and change them permanently. Also, they are similar to the poison of a lot of spiders but obviously more deadly.
Along with the lack of knowledge regarding the mechanism of the plant, there isn’t any kind of antidote yet, and the treatments are mainly empirical. However, it is recommended to not rub the area, since this only would get the hairs more down the skin and intensify the pain.
Some methods apply wax stripes to try to get as many hairs as possible, but it is likely that they keep stuck into the skin. Also, in extreme cases, a diluted hydrochloric acid solution is used to attempt neutralizing the sting.
Of course, this painful bush isn’t a threat only for humans. A lot of animals can’t survive the toxin and also commit suicide. But others can safely eat the leaves and the fruits without getting harmed.
But, not many people are so lucky to try those previous methods. During World War II, several soldiers were exposed to Gympie-Gympie and they weren’t able to walk anymore, and this along with the madness of the war, drove them insane until they killed themselves or begged their mates to do it.
People that dedicate their lives to studying this plant say that once they fully understand the neurotoxic peptide, they will be able to create an antidote.
Despite all the horror, science hopes that the research of the Gympie-Gympie helps with the development of many therapies, treatments, and painkillers, along with new knowledge about sensitive nerves and their role in the neurological system.