Equisetum pratense

Meadow Horsetail

Meadow Horsetail, Photo © 2002 by Earl J.S. Rook
Meadow Horsetail
Photo © 2002 by Earl J.S. Rook

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


Name:

  • Equisetum, from the Latin, equus, "horse", and seta, "bristle, animal hair"
  • pratense, from the Latin, pratum, "meadow"
  • Meadow Horsetail, from its preferred habitat
  • Other common names include Shade Horsetail, Shady Horsetail, Prêle des Prés (Qué), Ängsfräken (Swe), Engsnelle (Nor), Lund-Padderok (Dan), Lehtokorte (Fin), Vallelfting (Is), Wiesen-Schachtelhalm (Ger), Hvostch Meadowovoii (Rus), Earball an Eich Dubharach (Gaelic), Aasosi, heinamaa kuusk, kaseosi, nurmekuusk (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
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 17159

Description:

  • A delicate and airy plumed horsetail of the cool north.
  • Stems dimorphic; slender, erect, hollow, and annual. Central canal about 1/6 to 1/3 diameter of the stem.
    • Sterile stems to 18", upright and whitish green; branched, with long, thin, tapering tip and 10-18 minutely roughened ridges. Internodes about 1" apart.
    • Fertile Stems to 15", upright, brown; initially unbranched, branching and greening up only after cones have disappeared.
  • Branches 5" long, thin and delicate, straight, smoothed, solid, 3-sided, and unbranched; horizontal to drooping; borne in whorls. First branch segment not longer than adjacent stem sheath. Teeth deltoid, slightly incurving, with thin white margins.
  • Leaf Sheaths pale, 2-6 mm long, 2-4.5 mm wide, with 8-10 brown, white-edged teeth, 1.5-4 mm long.
  • Rhizomes dull, black, slender, deeply creeping, and branching.
  • Roots black, wiry kinky.
  • Cones 1" long, blunt tipped, on very long stalks; at the tips of fertile stems.

Identification:

  • Identifiable as a Horsetail by the upright, hollow, jointed, cylindrical stems with inconsequential and easily overlooked leaves.
  • Distinguished from our other Horsetails by its deltoid branch teeth on horizontal to drooping branches. Further distinguished:
    • from Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) by its stems, all of which are green and have whorls of branches. Only Field Horsetail has small, brown, unbranched, fertile stems.
    • from Wood Horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) by the absence of compound branching.
    • from Marsh Horsetail (Equisetum palustre) by its branches which are horizontal to drooping, rather than ascending
    • from Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile) by its terrestrial habitat and much smaller central hollow
  • Field Marks
    • horizontal to drooping branches in whorls
    • deltoid teeth on branches

Distribution:

  • Circumpolar, Alaska to Newfoundland, south to British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey.
  • Eurasia south to Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Russia, Manchuria, NE China, Korea, and Hokkaido.

Habitat:

  • Moist woods, thickets, and meadows
  • Partial shade to full sun.

Fire:

Associates:

History:

Uses:

Reproduction:

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

Propagation:

  • By rhizome division

Cultivation:

  • Hardy to USDA Zone 2 (average minimum annual temperature -50ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Sun to part shade
    • Soil wet to moist
    • Fertilization unnecessary
  • Good for naturalizing low, wet areas
  • Available by mail order from specialty suppliers

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Last Updated on 26 February, 2004