50 Natives : Montana : Equisetum hyamale (scouring rush, horse tail)

November 6, 2008

Horse Tail, while native to almost every US state, is, for nostalgic reasons, my Montana pick. As kids, my sister, cousins, and I spent a lot of time on my grandparents Central Montana ranch. A train line ran through the property and we liked to walk it looking for old metal nails and clips and things from the railroad that my grandma convinced us were valuable. We would walk and talk until we couldn’t any more — turning back when we reached the very large tressle. (which I now realize as an adult is shockingly far from from the house — many many miles — oh times are different now!)
It was very ‘stand by me’. As we went, we would pick the horsetail grass and mindlessly disassemble it piece by piece. I think this plant is great for conversation.

Equisetum has an interesting history. It is the single surviving genus of a class of primitive vascular plants that dates back to the mid-Devonian period (350 + million years ago). Impressive. And early Americans used the stems (which have a high silica content) to polish pots and pans. Hence the common name of scouring rush. Interesting.

So now they are all trendy and chic and look great in pared down modern gardens or Japanese styled settings. The vertical, jointed stems are reminiscent of leafless bamboo. They are evergreen and very hardy and therefore perfect for year-round containers. When dealing with restricted areas of as little as a few inches, they are a great option. But to me, they are a sentimental favorite.

Equisetum hyamale mosaic

1. A place called home #1, 2. fräken, 3. Equisetum hyemale – Scouringrush horsetail – Skavfräken, 4. Rough Horsetail — strobilus, 5. Common Horsetail / 砥草, 6. Green Rush, 7. equisetum hyemale, 8. Equisetum hyemale ‘Rough-Horsetail/Common Scouring Rush’, 9. horsetail / Equisetum hyemale L. / 砥草(トクサ)

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  1. I just had to say, I love Horsetail- I have some nice photos I’ve taken of it. You’re right, it is a very interesting and special plant. For people in St. Paul, MN there is a nice crop of Horsetail growing in the Como Park Conservatory, in the fern room.

  2. Kari Lonning says:

    I used to see them as tiny castle turrets, especially the ones that might have a second top. They remain magical to me.

  3. Joanne Brundage says:

    Can’t believe it, but I have almost the same fond childhood memory! I grew up in west suburban Chicago in the late 50’s/early 60’s and my neighborhood friends and I used to walk along 2 sets of old railroad tracks till we got to our favorite summertime hangout, Salt Creek, where we’d sit on the train trestle and throw stones in the water below.

    Anyway, horsetail grew in between the two sets of tracks (now this stretch is part of the Illinois Prairie Path) and we just loved to pick them and pull them apart and stick them back together again, like Tinker Toys. We thought they were just the coolest thing. But we called them Indian pipes.

    I got really nostalgic for them recently (haven’t seen them growing around here for years), so I finally figured out what they were really called, found a nursery in North Carolina that sells them, and ordered 3 plants so I could–what else? Plant them in a cool, sleek pot on our patio because now, they are just so chic.

    But make no mistake. Once they get firmly established, I’m going to start picking them, and pulling them apart and sticking them back together again. Maybe I’ll show my 3-year-old grandson how to do it, too. 🙂

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