An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Horsetails & Scouring Rushes

5-20-16  equisetum044Horsetails and Scouring Rushes are in a primitive genus (Equisetum) of non-flowering plants.  Most of their stems are hollow and have distinct nodes, or swollen areas, where branches are sometimes attached.  Both stems and branches have vertical ridges and grooves.  Silica, embedded in the ridge tissue, led to the stems being used to scour pans as well as an abrasive for burnishing brass and finishing violins.

Equisetum leaves are barely recognizable as leaves – these pointed structures fuse into small sheaths surrounding each node.  A spore-bearing cone forms at the tip of the fertile stems.  If you look closely you will see that hexagonal plates (modified leaves) cover the surface of the cone.  Underneath these plates are the sporangia, in which spores are produced.  Upon maturation of the cone, the sporangia expand, split open and release their spores. (photo: Variegated Scouring Rush,Equisetum variegatum )

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5 responses

  1. Great photos of horsetail, Mary! If anyone is interested in the traditional and contemporary human uses of this fascinating plant, check out my post on horsetail’s ethnobotany here: https://partridgepineandpeavey.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/horsetail-or-scouring-rush/ quite complementary to Mary’s fabulous post above!

    May 20, 2016 at 7:30 am

  2. As usual, your blog has led me to other wonderful places! Thanks you to Hazel Stark for her link. If you go there, and you should! be sure to read WOODPECKER REPORT NO. 18. I admire horsetails; they are beautiful in an abstract way, and always remember that they were a housewife’s scouring powder in earlier times–no Ajax or Bon Ami yet!

    May 20, 2016 at 8:44 am

  3. Kathie Fiveash

    Fascinating!

    May 20, 2016 at 6:23 pm

  4. If it propagates by spores does this mean that there is no mixing of genetics? Must spread by rhizomes too.

    May 22, 2016 at 7:23 am

    • As I understand it, Equisetum has alternation of generations – the spores grow into free-living gametophytes that produce sperm and eggs so there is genetic mixing!

      May 24, 2016 at 7:35 pm

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