NETTLE is a name applied to plants which, when touched, impart a They are classed by botanists under 'the natural order Urticacem of Endlicher. Of the species of the genus Urtica, of which there are known about 20, many sting, as also do those of Boehmeria. The Urticacem are widely diffused throughout both tropical and temperate climates. They grow to a gigantic size in the hot moist parts of Asia, and extend from its warm tropical islands all along the Malayau Peninsula to the foot of the Himalayas, along which, and in its valleys, they flourish even near to the banks of the Sutlej. Species are also found around the Neilgherries, and the Malabar coast to the Konkan. Though the flowers of all are inconspicuous, some of the species (as Urtica pulcherrima) are remarkable for the beauty of their foliage. One of them-(U. tuberosa) is distinguished by its tuberous root-stock, which is eaten by some of the natives of India, either in its raw or cooked state. The great characteristic, however, of the nettles is their sting. Some of the Indian species are remarkable, even among nettles, for this quality ; as, for instance, U. crenulata and U. hetcrophylIa. The latter is called the Neilgherry nettle ; it is the most widely diffused of the large Indian nettles, being found in South Konkan, along the Malabar coast, Mysore, the Neilgherries, the valleys of the Himalaya, in I Assam, and Burma. It is an annual plant, the sting of it produces intense pain, the bark abounds in fine white glossy silk-like fibres ; but these probably differ with the locality in which the plant is grown. Dr. Wight describes those of the Neligherries as a fine soft flax-like fibre, and fitted to compete with flax in the manufacture of even very fine textile fabrics. The Toda extract it by boiling the plant, and use it as a material for making thread. Mr. Dickson passed it through his machine and liquid, which rendered it like a beautiful, soft, silky kind of flax. Ile calls it a wonderful fibre, of which the tow would be useful for mixing with wool, as has been done with China grass. It is very like fine wool, brings £45 to £50 a ton in the rough state, and prime warp £100 a ton. It grows wild all over the Neilgherry The fibre from the bark of old wood is steeped in cold water for about six days. For the bark of the young wood 24 hours suffice for the fibre to separate readily from the pulp. The fibre bleaches
readily, is of great length and good quality and colour, the plant attaining a height of 8 to 12 feet ; length of staple, however, is of very little consequence in jute, hemp, or flax plants, as one of the first parts of the process of applying them to manufacturing purposes is to cut them into lengths of 12 or 15 inches, to prevent them from getting entangled in the machinery. The Neil gherry nettle grows very abundant as a weed, yields a large percentage of fibre, and its cultivation could very easily be extended. By boiling for a short while, the stinging property of the nettle is destroyed.
The great shrubby nettle (Urtiea erenulata) is common at Chakung in Sikkim. This plant, called Mealum-ma, attains 15 feet in height ; it has broad glossy leaves, and, though apparently without stings, is held in so great dread, that Dr. Hooker had difficulty in getting help to cut it down. Ho gathered many specimens without allowing any part to touch his skin ; still the scentless effluvium was so powerful, that mucous matter poured from his eyes and nose all the rest of the afternoon in such abundance, that he had to hold his head over a basin for an hour. The sting is very virulent, producing inflammation ; and to punish a child with Mealum-ma is the severest Lepcha threat. Violent fevers and death have been said to ensue from its sting ; but this he very much doubts. The stinging hairs are microscopic, and confined to the young shoots, leaf, and flower stalks. Leschenault de la Tour describes being stung by this nettle, on three fingers of his hand only, at the Calcutta Botanical Gardens, and the subsequent sneezing and running at the nose, followed by tetanic symptoms and two days' suffer ing, nor did the effects disappear for nine days. It is, says Dr. Ifooker, a remarkable fact that the plant stings violently only at this season. I fre quently gathered it with impunity on subsequent occasions, and suspected seine inaccuracy in my observations ; but in Syllmet both Dr. Thomson and I experienced the same effects in autumn. Endliclmer (Lindley's Vegetable Kingdom) attri butes the causticity of nettle-juice to bicarbonates of ammonia, which Dr. Thomson and I ascertained was certainly not present in this species.—Royle ; Booker, Ilium. Jour. ii. p. 188.