Equisetum hyemale

Scouring Rush

Scouring Rush, Photo Courtesy USDA Plants Database
Scouring Rush
Photo Courtesy USDA Plants Database

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


Name:

  • Equisetum, from the Latin, equus, "horse", and seta, "bristle, animal hair"
  • hymale, from the Latin, hiemis, "winter"
  • Scouring Rush, a reference to its early use for cleaning pots, made possible by its high silica content.
  • Other common names include Common Scouring Rush, Rough Scouring Rush, Bottlebrush, Horsetail, Field Horsetail, Rough Horsetail, Pewterwort, Dutch Rush (UK), Prêle d'hiver (Qué), Skavfräken, Skavgräs, Skurfräken, Skäfte (Swe), Skavgras (Nor), Skavgræs (Dan), Kangaskorte (Fin), Eski(Is), Winter-Schachtelhalm (Ger), Biorag (Gaelic), Cola de caballo (Mex), Lalenikan ("scour grass" - Lenape), Raudosi, Vaseosi, Körbe Osjad, Kidad, Kiviosi (Estonia)

Taxonomy:

  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Equisetophyta, the Horsetails
      • Class Equisetopsida, the Horsetails
        • Order Equisetales, the Horsetails
          • Family Equisetaceae, the Horsetails
            • Genus Equisetum, the Horsetails
            • Subgenus Hippochaete, the Scouring Rushes
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 17154
  • Also known as Equisetum hiemale, Equisetum robustum, Equisetum prealtum, Hippochaete hyemalis

Description:

  • Tall and slender, bamboo-like perennial of shallow waters and wet places. Height to 60"; base diameter ½".
  • Stems hollow, segmented, rough surfaced, and evergreen. Ashy grey bands mark segments. Internodes about 4" apart. Sterile and fertile stems alike. Branching rare, often following injury.
  • Cones usually 1" long with sharp pointed tips, borne on short stalks at the tips of fertile stems.
  • Rootstalk branching and wide spreading.

Identification:

  • Identifiable as a Horsetail by the upright, hollow, jointed, cylindrical stems with inconsequential and easily overlooked leaves.
  • Distinguished from similar, unbranched Horsetails (Scouring Rushes) by its rough surfaced, evergreen stems, and its ashy grey bands at the stem joints.
    • Smooth Scouring Rush (Equisetum laevigatum) has smooth surfaced, annual stems, with dark bands at stem joints.
    • Variegated Scouring Rush (Equisetum variegatum), shows a distinct white margin at the stem joints, hence "variegated"
  • Field Marks
    • large, erect, rough surfaced, evergreen stems
    • ashy grey bands at the stem joints

Distribution:

  • Circumboreal, Alaska and Canada south to Mexico, the Gulf Coast, and Guatemala.
  • Also Europe and temperate Asia

Habitat:

  • Low wet places in woods, moist shaded hillsides, watersides and shallows.

Fire:

Associates:

History:

  • Contains so much silica that bunches of the stem have been sold for polishing metal and used to be imported into England from Holland for the purpose, hence the popular name of Dutch Rushes. It was also called by old writers Shave-grass, and was formerly much used by whitesmiths and cabinet-makers.
  • Was employed in England for scouring pewter and wooden kitchen utensils, and hence called Pewterwort. Fletchers and combmakers rubbed and polished their work with it, and the dairy-maids of the northern counties used it for scouring their milk-pails.
  • Native Americans and Mexicans used the dried stems to scour cooking pots while early American carpenters and other craftsman used the dried stems to smooth and polish woods, ivory, and metals.
  • Used in the past to give wood, ivory, silver, pewter and brass a fine finish. The high silicon content in the stems acts as a gentle but effective polish. Bunches of the rush were used to scour milking pails or scrubbing pots in the kitchen. Even now, it could be very useful to campers.
  • According to Linnaeus an excellent food for horses in some parts of Sweden, but that cows are apt to lose their teeth by feeding on it and to be afflicted with diarrhoea. Cattle probably avoid these plants instinctively and would probably only eat them in the absence of better fodder.
  • Medicinally, Native Americans used it as a diuretic when there was difficulty expelling urine.

Uses:

Reproduction:

  • Reproduces by spores and vegetatively by rhizomes
  • Primarily reproduces by vegetative means; the majority of shoots arising from rhizomes.

Propagation:

  • Division most successful method

Cultivation:

  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Sun or shade
    • Cool, moist, even boggy woodland soils
    • Constantly moist soils to standing water to 4"
    • Fertilization unnecessary
  • Good for bog gardens, pond margins, and naturalizing low, wet areas.
  • Spreads by underground rhizomes and can become invasive.
  • As an indoor plant, grows well immersed in water.
  • Available by mail order from specialty suppliers.

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Last Updated on 26 February, 2004