“My first exposure to this gorgeous, fuzzy, and soft-looking leaf came during a solo exploration of Australia’s subtropical jungles. When I first touched its brilliant emerald foliage, I had the sense of either grabbing a hot coal or having thirty wasps sting all at once. Toxic hairs lodged under my skin, and the pain lasted for days. I was even more surprised to experience the same excruciating burn when I picked up a dead leaf on the forest floor. Not fun! Even a one-hundred-year-old herbarium specimen can gave a noxious sting to an innocent botanist who handles it without gloves. One fellow student claimed touching the even more toxic Queensland Gympie-Gympie was “like burning yourself with hot acid and getting electrocuted at the same time.”’
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This story is an excerpt from Meg Lowman’s memoir The Arbornaut: A life discovering the eight continent in the trees above. The Arbornaut is available to order now from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, your local independent bookseller, or anywhere else books are sold.