E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Urtica dioica subsp. gracilis L. (Aiton) Seland.
stinging nettle (California nettle)
Urticaceae (Nettle family)

Introduction to Vascular Plants

© Adolf Ceska  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #5772)

E-Flora BC Static Map
Distribution of Urtica dioica subsp. gracilis
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Stinging nettle in British Columbia is represented by two subspecies: 1) Urtica dioica spp. dioica (which is an introduced taxon in North America) and Urtica dioica ssp gracilis (which is the native stinging nettle). Urtica dioica ssp gracilis is found throughout most of North America, while subspecies dioica is found mainly in the eastern and western states and provinces (AK, AL, CA, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, MA, MD, ME, MI, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, VA, VT, WA, WV and BC, NB, NF, NS, ON, PE, QC), but is absent from the mid-west and prairie provinces (USDA 2010). In BC, the native subspecies is widespread, while the distribution of the introduced subspecies is not fully known. There are confirmed observations from the Greater Vancouver area (Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, Coquitlam), it is to be expected on Vancouver Island, and it may be present in the BC interior (Frank Lomer pers. com. 2010). It is confirmed on Valdes Island (see photo #24310). Further work is needed to clarify its extent of occurrence in the province. The two subspecies are separated by flower morphology, and the presence of stinging hairs on either one or both leaf surfaces. See the identification key below for more details.

Species Information

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Perennial herb from strong rhizomes; stems erect, simple or branched, solitary, smooth except for a few stinging hairs and bristles, 100-300 cm tall.
Basal leaves lacking; stem leaves narrowly lanceolate to widely egg-shaped, opposite, the blades 7-15 cm long, coarsely toothed, stalked; stipules 5-15 mm long.
Inflorescence of male or female flowers in a 1-7 cm axillary panicle on the same or different plants; corollas lacking; sepals 4, 1-2 mm long; female flowers usually uppermost.
Achenes, egg-shaped, flattened, 1.0-1.5 mm long.
The native taxon is best recognized as a single, highly variable subspecies (Bassett et al. 1974, Boufford 1997).

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia

Habitat / Range

Moist to mesic streamsides, deciduous woodlands, thickets, avalanche tracks, and alluvial floodplains in the lowland and steppe to lower subalpine zones; ssp. gracilis - common throughout BC; ssp. dioica - rare in SW BC (lower Fraser Valley); ssp. gracilis - N to AK, YT and NT, E to NF and S to ME, NH, NY, PA, NC, MS, LA, TX, NM, AZ, CA, and MX; S America, ssp. dioica - introduced from Europe.

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia


Ecological Framework for Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis

The table below shows the species-specific information calculated from
original data (BEC database) provided by the BC Ministry of Forests and Range.
(Updated August, 2013)

Site Information
Value / Class




Elevation (metres) 780 1210 1818
Slope Gradient (%) 0 20 45
Aspect (degrees)
[0 - N; 90 - E; 180 - S; 270 - W]
75 49 335
Soil Moisture Regime (SMR)
[0 - very xeric; 4 - mesic;
8 - hydric]
4 5 7
Modal Nutrient Regime
Number of field plots
 species was recorded in:
Modal BEC Zone Class
All BEC Zones (# of stations/zone) species was recorded in: ESSF(3), ICH(1), IDF(3), MS(1)

Ecological Indicator Information

A shade-tolerant/intolerant, sub montane to subalpine, circumpolar forb (transcontinental in North America). Occurs on fresh to very moist, nitrogen-rich soils (Moder and Mull humus forms) within boreal, temperate, cool semiarid, and mesothermal climates; its occurrence decreases with increasing elevation. Frequent in herbaceous communities, occasional in broad-leaved forests on disturbed, water-shedding and water-receiving sites. A nitrophytic species characteristic of continuously disturbed sites.

SourceIndicator Plants of Coastal British Columbia (Information applies to coastal locations only)


The climate type for this species, as reported in the: "British Columbia plant species codes and selected attributes. Version 6 Database" (Meidinger et al. 2008), is not evaluated, unknown or variable.

Synonyms and Alternate Names

Urtica californica Greene
Urtica cardiophylla Rydb.
Urtica dioica subsp. gracilis
Urtica dioica var. angustifolia Schlecht.
Urtica dioica var. californica (Greene) C.L. Hitchc.
Urtica dioica var. gracilis (Ait.) C.L. Hitchc.
Urtica dioica var. lyallii (S. Wats.) C.L. Hitchc.
Urtica dioica var. procera (Muhl. ex Willd.) Weddell
Urtica gracilis Ait.
Urtica lyallii S. Wats.
Urtica lyallii var. californica (Greene) Jepson
Urtica major H.P. Fuchs
Urtica procera Muhl. ex Willd.
Urtica serra auct. non Blume
Urtica strigosissima Rydb.
Urtica viridis Rydb.

Taxonomic and Nomenclatural Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References