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25 October 2006



Ah Horsetail. I remember learning in school that it was an ancient plant. In Boy Scouts I learned that I could scrub my pots and pans with it. And I used to delight in pulling apart the sections of the stem, piece by piece.

We have one species that I've found growing up here. I believe it is Variegated Horsetail (E. variegatum). There is a patch that grows along the road to Victor Bay, the only place I've seen it.


Clare--Yes, those horsetails accumulate silica from the soil in tiny knobs on their surfaces that give them scouring power. Many of those things we have been taught are ancient plants may not be so old. Studies of evolutionary divergence based on DNA sequence differences show that the species of horsetails alive today are not particularly ancient--those living species had a common ancestor perhaps 50 million years ago. Extinct horsetails of the genus Equisetum go somewhat deeper in the fossil record, but to get back to the truly ancient plants we need to extend back beyond the reach of Equisetum in the fossil record. I might think of Equisetum--the living species of horsetails--as the cousins of uncles of ancient plants and that might fit many of the plants alive today.

I'd like to stop by your local population of horsetails some time--it would be very interesting to see how the population is reproducing in the short season.

Crafty Green Poet

This is a really interesting post. I really like horsetails and although i knew something of their history I learnt more by reading this. Thanks


Crafty--thanks--I hope my students also found their horsetail lecture interesting (I try).

Jim Bumgarner

Horsetails were commonly used during westward expansion by the pioneers to clean their pots and pans along the trail. They are thusly referenced as "scouring rushes" in popular folklore.

M.A.T.in BioSci WSU '73

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