Archive for April 10th, 2010


In the sandy soil of the greenhouse/stable, Field Horsetails (Equisetum arvense)are sprouting. Now these are odd looking plants. For starters, there seem to be two separate varieties growing, but in fact, they represent the two growth forms of the same plant. The whitish-tan cone-bearing shoots arise from an underground rhizome in April. They have leafless, jointed stems and grow to about 6 to 10 inches tall. They shed their spores and wither in about two weeks.

Along with the tan shoots are a green phase that consists of a jointed stem with branches in whorls. Presumably, it is the bushy green plant that reminded someone of a horse’s tail, although I would say they more closely resemble a bottlebrush. The green stem and branches carry on photosynthesis. The growth period of the green stems overlaps that of the tan shoots, but the green plants live longer, reaching their full development in late May or June. In the autumn, the plant dies back to the underground rhizome. The perennial rhizome puts up new spore-bearing and green shoots each spring.

Horsetails are classed as Fern Allies because they have life cycles similar to ferns. They are vascular plants that evolved from green algae, but they are more ancient than ferns. More than 300 million years ago, their ancestors were giants, reaching heights of up to 60 feet or more and growing in vast swampy forests.

Today, horsetails are usually found in moist areas along wetlands or rivers, as well as in woodlands, roadsides and other disturbed areas. They clearly enjoy sandy soil here. Outside of the greenhouse, there are stands scattered through the pasture, where they grow in relatively small numbers.

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