This perennial plant grows, often in dense stands, in open floodplain forests. Standing 2-4 feet tall, the leaves are broad and deep green with prominent veins. Young leaves are deeply wrinkled while older leaves are flatter.
The stems are covered with stinging hairs that reduce herbivory (the eating of plants by herbivores, such as deer). Leaves have fewer stinging hairs, but can still be irritating to brush up against. Flowers are borne on feathery stalks, but the individual flowers are small, inconspicuous and white to greenish in color.
The wood nettle is often confused with stinging nettle, because of their stinging hairs, but the wood nettle has alternate leaves while the stinging nettle has opposite leaves.
The burning or itching sensation caused by brushing up against a wood nettle subsides within an hour, usually within a few minutes, but can be irritating.
Large stands of wood nettle provide cover for wildlife. Not many mammals feed on wood nettle, but despite the stinging hairs white-tailed deer will occasionally feed on the leaves. Some butterflies, such as the red admiral caterpillar, uses wood nettle as its host.
The small, white to green flowers are characteristic of wind-pollinated plants. Wind-pollinated plants typically produce great quantities of pollen that are carried on breezes to the flower pistals on another plant. Plants with colorful flowers produce less pollen and use their showy flowers to attract insects or birds which then fly to another flower.