Stinging Spurge – the Mala Mujer of Arizona and Sonora

Stinging Spurge (Cnidoscolus angustidens), Mala Mujer Photo by Rhonda Spencer Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum digital library

Stinging Spurge (Cnidoscolus angustidens), commonly called Mala Mujer (bad woman) is a plant to be wary of. This plant grows in desert uplands of southern Arizona and northern Sonora. According to Fireflyforest, it is especially common on rocky slopes in the Santa Rita Mountains. There are some of these plants growing at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. A Mala-mujer-leafclosely related species, Cnidoscolus texanus, occurs in Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Another related species, Cnidoscolus stimulosus, is native to the southeastern United States from Louisiana to Virginia

Fireflyforest: “The attractive, maple-like leaves are dark green, heart-shaped, lobed, toothed, and covered in white polka dots. A stinging hair is at the center of each white dot, so do not touch the leaves. Stinging hairs are also present on the stems and at the base of the flowers.” The male flowers are five-petaled about 3/4 inch wide. Small female flowers occur at the base of male flowers. This plant commonly grows two to three feet high.

The stinging hairs can cause extreme pain and contact dermatitis. They can easily penetrate your skin. The secretions of the plant, a milky sap injected by the stinging hairs, can cause an intense burning sensation due to their highly acidic pH. A paste made of baking soda and water is an effective first-aid treatment. But the effects can last for days.

If you commonly hike mountain trails in southern Arizona, learn to recognize this plant. Don’t be taken in by its pretty flowers. Don’t touch this plant.

Despite its nasty nature, you can find online sites promoting using this plant in your garden and growing it for its seed oil.

Note to readers: I have constructed a linked index to more than 300 of my ADI articles. You can see it at:

You can read my comprehensive, 28-page essay on climate change here: