Urtica dioica taxonomic split - European vs. American Stinging Nettle

I’m in the U.S. and have selected the preference for common names from my area, Washington State. That’s why it’s rather jarring to see our native nettle, a circumboreal species, Urtica dioca, dubbed “European”, a moniker which implies non-native origin as a generally accepted convention in our common names. Is there any way to suggest a local common name, and is anyone watching over common names to see that they are somewhat more accurate?

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There was a recent taxonomic split, and I wonder if those observations need to be updated with the correct ID. It is possible the European species was introduced there, but I wouldn’t know for sure without taking a bit of deep dive. Please see the taxon change page for this species: https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/109956


OK, so the American nettles are now Urtica gracilis, and specifically “Urtica gracilis ssp. gracilis”. The common name for that is “American Stinging Nettle” which makes sense.

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According to the paper referenced in the taxon change, there were 2 subspecies of stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) in North America : Urtica dioica dioica, native to Eurasia and Africa and introduced in North America, and Urtica dioica gracilis, that is now called Urtica gracilis, native to North America. So i guess that if you are referring to Urtica dioica the name European stinging nettle is correct.

EDIT: @gordonh, I see you had already read the paper while I was typing my answer, sorry!

The issue now is for my area, in which the American stinging nettle is native and ubiquitous, there are now 2000+ observations now under “Urtica dioca”, which formerly was correct for the species level, but now are all listed as “European stinging nettle”, leading users of the site to believe that these occurrences are an introduced species, when they are very likely not. I think these should properly be reidentified as “Urtica gracilis ssp. gracilis” which would make them “American stinging nettle” but who is going to do that with 2000+ existing observations?


Especially since it probably would require a considerable amount of expertise to definitively identify the difference between American and European stinging nettles. Some of those 2000 observations in my state could possibly be European introduced species, so we can’t automatically reassign them.

@mikymaf I just read the abstract, not the full paper, but still grappling with the implications.


See these flags for previous discussion of this issue:

https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/559292 - a split has been drafted that will automatically change most U. dioica observations in North America back to the genus level. Since a large number of observations are involved, it appears to be pending staff approval.

https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/570917 - there was some disagreement over whether the common name of "European Stinging Nettle* should be removed until after the taxon split is completed.


I too am jarred every time I see the name “European Stinging Nettle” on our native, North American Stinging Nettles. All of our precious Stinging Nettles are now labelled as weeds, but among other interdependent species, 3 of our native butterflies exclusive use Stinging Nettle as a host plant, so they don’t think Stinging Nettles are weeds. bouteloua committed a taxon split on 4/23/22 that put our native North American Urtica dioica into U. gracilis, and changed the name of U. dioica to “European” Stinging Nettle. If I understand correctly, she was supposed to then change North American records of U. “dioica” into U. gracilis, but never did. Other authorities, such as UW and UBC still treat our area Urtica as U. dioica, and use the name “Stinging Nettle” for it, not “European Stinging Nettle”. As the name U. dioica is still in wide use for the North American material, it was inappropriate for bouteloua to have given the name “European Stinging Nettle” to U. dioica as she sees the European Material. The simple name “Stinging Nettle” or possibly “Great Stinging Nettle”, as I have heard as an alternate name in use, would have been more appropriate for her new U. dioica narrowly defined as the European material. If you want to add your opinions on this there is a discussion on this Flag for Taxon (European Stinging Nettle): https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/559292#activity_comment_b69796eb-5498-42a7-9eb3-e5da4f87893a

There goes another formerly easy to identify taxon.

I think we also have some cultural sensitivity issues here that should also be recognized.

I once was shown by a native tribe member in my area how the nettle was used in her tradition. I wonder how someone with such a deep relationship with this plant would feel seeing that the plant her ancestors relied on since time immemorial is now claimed by her European colonizers as their own.

I understand that recategorizing all previous observations needs some thought, but the common name used in North America could be fairly easily changed to remove the “European” designation. Just “stinging nettle” would be accurate in that it reflects common usage.

I recently had a discussion on an observation about this. They do not look at all alike to me. When I see the ones taller than I am, with leaves much longer than they are wide, those are the ones I call gracilis. But the shorter ones (usually shorter than I am), with leaves more proportionate length:width, to me, those are dioica. But the observation was of one that I would have called dioica, that another person was saying was native and therefore gracilis.

I requested that the common name “European stinging nettle” be removed and replaced with just “Stinging nettle” until all the taxon split issues were resolved, but it never happened.

I also have not been able to find any definitive ID guides for distinguishing these two species which is very frustrating.

I’m concerned people will start tearing out native plants because the observations they have posted are research-grade as an “invasive” species.

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