We were walking on the pathway next to the road headed for the visitors’ center in the Bunya Mountain National Park in Queensland, Australia. We walked next to a shrubby tree with large, raggedy leaves. Meg, our host, said, “You don’t want to touch that tree. It’s a gympie-gympie, an aboriginal word for ‘stinging tree.’ If you touch the leaves, the pain will be so great and so long-lasting that people have killed themselves to make it stop.”
Later, I looked up the details: A scientist studying the plant, Marina Hurley, who made the mistake of touching it, described it as “the worst kind of pain you can imagine – like being burnt with hot acid and electrocuted at the same time.” The pain begins with the slightest touch and then intensifies for 20 to 30 minutes. The initial shot of pain lasts for 4 hours or so, but the agony continues.