Family: Horsetail [Equisetaceae]


[EQUISETUM] Horse-tails

Horsetails are primitive vascular plants descended from huge trees which lived in the Paleozoic era (600-375 million years ago) and were the product of the Carboniferous period (270 million years ago). Coal seams were derived from them. Botanically they lie between the Ferns and the Clubmosses. The Horsetails are split into two differing types:
Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense), Great Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia) plus two other less frequent horsetails Wood Horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) and Shade Horsetail (Equisetum pratense) have fertile stems which are stouter and arise before the photosynthetic shoots ('leaves'). In these the fertile stem has a sporangia-bearing part at the top where the sporangia consist of sacs containing spores. The two stems do not grow at the same time. These sporangia-bearing stems are stout and white to a pale-brown colour (not green) and arise in early spring before the green shoots of the photosynthetic part which is green.

The other type of common horsetails (and their hybrids) have cone-bearing photosynthetic shoots where the cones are again at the summit but this time on a stem which bears leaves as well. These are green.

Horsetails have a high silica content which once made them useful for polishing metal and wood.

Some Horsetails are poisonous, such as Marsh Horsetail (Equisetum palustre) and contain toxic alkaloids such as those based upon Palustrine (a macro-cyclic spermidine polyamine not to be confused with the habitat 'palustrine') and also Nicotine. Some of these are toxic thiaminase-like compounds.


Hybrid Chart: HORSE-TAILS (larger)

There are no species without hybrids, all hybridize. Moreover, hybrids are frequent.

Great Horsetail. (Equisetum telmateia) Photo: © RWD

Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) Photo: © RWD

Family: Horsetail [Equisetaceae]

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