Stinging Trees and Wait-a-Whiles

Most of today was spent in the field, collecting data for a field exercise in my Forest Management course. We were running transects into edge habitat in the Curtain Fig National Park, in order to investigate how physical conditions on edges affect the ability of invasive weeds to proliferate. That part probably doesn’t interest any of you, so I’ll get to the exciting parts. In order to cut our transects, teams of us armed with clippers and sharp knives dove into the thick brush, hacking away at the plants ahead of us in order to clear the way for the data collectors to move in. Sometimes the brush was so thick that we couldn’t cut straight through it, and we ended up constructing TUNNELS THROUGH THE BRUSH. So much fun, you don’t even know. At one point, we had to climb up a huge fallen log, and on the other side, you dive into a tunnel. I’ve never had so much fun while getting torn to pieces by thorns.

Which I should probably mention. Not only was the understory thick with plants, but most of these understory plants were either the weeds we were researching, or the two most feared plants in this corner of Australia: the stinging tree, and the wait-a-while (also known as a lawyer vine). I’ve probably mentioned the stinging tree to most of you. If you touch any part of it, you will be in pain for months. Months. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re just going to have to be in pain for months. I cannot fathom this. I ran into some Stinging Nettle in the Crum last spring, in the Skunk Cabbage Hollow behind the Fieldhouse, and I couldn’t feel my leg for almost five hours. But running into the stinging tree would put you in that position for…months. Unbelievable.

But don’t worry, I didn’t run into any. According to my professor, it’s basically inevitable that I’ll run into one at some point if I choose to do my resarch project with him, which is my current plan of action. But I haven’t run into them yet. Today, a few of my colleagues ran into them, our first close experiences with them. Two were in extreme pain, especially one fellow who got stung on the top of his head. They’ve been told that they’ll have to deal with the pain for months. They did not appear to be especially pleased by this news, oddly enough. Two of the others who got stung didn’t seem to mind too much though, so that’s good news. The closest I got was one section of the trailblazing where I was working on cutting down a stinging tree, and removing it from the area of our path. Clipping it branch by branch, the wind nearly blew a few leaves onto my hands, but I lucked out there. So I’m fine. So far. Hehe.

But I mentioned another plant earlier, the Wait-a-While, something I didn’t know about until I got here, but it’s almost just as feared as the stinging tree. It doesn’t sound bad on paper, it’s just a really thorny vine. What I can’t emphasize enough, based on experience in the field over the past three weeks, is how easily these thorns catch on your clothing and skin, how violently they rip up your clothing and skin, and how long those thorns stick in your skin if you’re unlucky enough to have that happen. Most of us have gotten Wait-a-Whiles stuck on our clothing, and one of today’s stinging tree victims even had his favorite Philadelphia 76ers t-shirt ripped to shreds on our first day in the field. It’s a good thing that a 76ers shirt is nothing to flaunt around, it’s not like they’re a good team or anything. Anyways, today were the first experiences of Wait-a-Whiles on skin. I was completely covered up in rain gear, but it didn’t really help, my left index finger knuckle has about 8 Wait-a-While thorns completely embedded in it at the moment, and there’s nothing I can do about it except wait-a-few-weeks. The thorns are more like thin splinters, but you can’t extract them because there’s also tiny side hooks that are angled such that they slide into your skin easily, but don’t slide back out without intense pain. Sitting in my knuckle though, it’s not too bad, no wuckers, seriously. If I try and take them out, then yeah, it hurts, but if I don’t do anything, it’s barely noticeable. No wuckers, no wuckers. All semester, we’ve been trying to find a slogan for our group t-shirt, and so far the two front-runners are:

SFS Wet Season 2007: No wuckers, mate!
SFS Wet Season 2007: It wasn’t that bad

The latter was in response to a stinging tree encounter. Hilarious. Anyways, I also got a Wait-a-While across my face in one of the tunnels, but luckily it didn’t stick, I carefully peeled it off without a scratch. Phew.

By the by, I’ve been told that an Australian naturalist (whose name I’ve suddenly forgotten) has written a book of the title ‘Stinging Trees and Wait-a-Whiles’, detailing humorous adventures of his in this part of Australia, which comes highly recommended from several of our professors as a great read. Obviously I’ll read it at some point, but if any of you are in need of a good book, take a look.

So that was my day! On a more pleasant note, there have been some really beautiful sights over the past week as well.

– Tens of thousands of bats flying over the town of Chillagoe at sunset.
– A crop duster gracefully gliding low over some fields below Halloran’s Hill. Even in North Carolina, I don’t think I’d ever seen a crop duster in action before this, but it’s quite beautiful, the graceful plane soaring over the fields.
– Oh, during this entire day in the field with the stinging trees and wait-a-whiles and everything, it was also pouring rain, harder than it has all semester. It stopped raining just before dinner, and a rainbow appeared just above the hills to the North.

We’ll leave things there.

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2 responses to “Stinging Trees and Wait-a-Whiles

  1. Ok, while I don’t fully understand what the stinging trees are all about (is it some chemical bounding the plant that causes pain/paralysis? you should all just wear hazmat suits) I’m suddenly petrified of the wait-a-whiles. Hooks, man, hooks. Do they just fall out after a while or what? Seriously man, that stuff has more than convinced me I’m never going to a jungle.
    Anyway, sounds at least like you’re enjoying the antics. I’m waiting to hear about the unending pain caused by a vindictive slap of a stinging tree branch across someones face. Srsly man, how much would that suck.

  2. hi. now i’m happy.

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