Written By Karl VonBerg.
Posted on December 30th, 2020.
Here is a prehistoric, miniature bamboo looking plant that is worth checking out.
Ever seen anything like this?
It doesn’t stand out with a bright colored flower, but Horsetail or Scouring rush, as it is commonly called, is unique and interesting. It is also known as Equisetum. It has an old world look to it. Like when giant ferns may have been a common vegetation. There are fossil versions of this type of plant that are 30’ tall. Coal mining has unearthed these ancient “trees” and shown them to be abundant back in that time period.
They are actually quite common and grow all around the world. The horsetail variety has stalks that grow in bunches (thus the reference to a horsetail) whereas the scouring rush has mostly individual stems. A common variety that grows in wet field areas (field horsetail) has 2 different kinds of stems.
Fertile stalk with a spore cone on top
Sterile branched stalks
Horsetails contain a lot of silica which is a hard abrasive material (Silica is the material that gives rocks their hardness.). People have found the abrasive nature of silica in horsetails beneficial. Scouring rush gets its name from its use by pioneers for cleaning out pots and pans. It is also used to burnish brass and creates a smoother surface than sandpaper can. Because of this it is used to finish violins and put a final polish on other wood products.
The Horsetails I found were alongside Route 30 as it winds its way around the Pepacton Reservoir. These were in a wet spot along the side of the road. They tend to grow in wet areas, but can survive drought with roots that can go 12’ deep to get water! Once established they are hard to get rid of as any little part of the plant that is left in the ground can sprout into a new plant. They produce spores rather than seeds.
If you try burning a stem over a flame the plant isn’t easily consumed, but the silica structure remains in the red glow of the burned stem. These plants have very little lignin (which is the material that helps trees support themselves). Perhaps the silica helps the plant support itself. In certain lighting the stalks can look like they are lit up on the inside.
Horsetail is poisonous to livestock (sheep, goats, cows) and horses. It has anti-septic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic properties. Native Americans, as well as ancient Roman and Chinese physicians used it for many different ailments. Today it is used as a natural diuretic, for bone health, and to aid in healing wounds although more research needs to be done to verify its effectiveness. This is not an endorsement of using Horsetail in any of these ways. Horsetail should only be taken if prescribed to you by a health professional.
Get out and see if you can find these prehistoric looking plants in wet areas.
Horsetail shows up well against the snow or brown leaves of winter.