Questions for “Please do not touch the Australian stinging tree”

a composite image showing a stinging tree, a petiole, and the needle hairs on the tree

Stinging trees (left) look harmless. But their stems and petioles (middle) are covered with tiny, needle-like hairs (right) that inject venom under the skin.

(from left) T. Durek; T. Durek; Darren Brown/ Univ. of Queensland

To accompany “Please do not touch the Australian stinging tree


Before Reading:

1.  Name three or four plants that are toxic for humans or animals to eat or touch.

2.  Why might these plants have evolved to become toxic?  

During Reading:

1.  What do the Indigenous Gubbi Gubbi people of eastern Australia call the “stinging tree?”

2.  Tiny hairs that cover the leaves, stems and fruit of the stinging tree. From what are these structures made?

3.  What are amino acids? What are peptides?

4.  How many types of amino acids did researchers at Queensland University discover in the toxin of the stinging tree?

5.  What are sodium channels, where are they located and how does the toxin of the stinging tree affect them?

6.  What is “convergent evolution?”

After Reading:

1.  What benefits might people get from better understanding the toxicity of the stinging tree?

2. Why might organisms living in similar environments or ecosystems evolve similar traits?