Monday, October 17, 2011

Crazy Plants: Horsetail

This actually encompasses a group of plants in the genus Equisetum, which includes approximately 18 species. The genus is an ancient one, and is a distant relative to nearly all other plants. Interestingly enough, they are classified as fairly close relatives of the ferns, though still in a distinct grouping. For this post, I will be referring specifically to the scouring rush.

Equisetum hyemale, the scouring rush horsetail, one of the many species of horsetail. It has several other common names
Horsetails are actually considered a weed, and may possibly be to the point of being classified as invasive in certain areas of the United States. They used to be found in the "primitive garden" on my campus, but they were removed after they started to grow wild. It is a very aggressive grower, which makes it very hard to eliminate once it starts to take hold. Even a single bit of rhizome that is left can easily sprout into a whole new infestation. It is native to Canada and parts of the US, as well as Eurasia.
A horsetail fruiting body

Though this plant is happiest in moist to wet soil, it can also grow in standing water several inches deep. This species can grow to as tall as five feet, and is in the form of a hollow reed-like body with tiny leaves forming grew sheaths at the plant's joints. Since the leaves are so small, photosynthesis mostly occurs in the stem. Fruiting bodies are similar to pine cones, and these plants are seedless and do not produce flowers.

The body of the plant is high in silica, and was used by settlers to scour cookware, which explains the origin of the common name "scouring rush."

Sources are the United States Department of Agriculture and the Kemper Center for Home Gardening from the Missouri Botanical Garden. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two

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