WiseAcre Gardens

north of the adirondacks – wildflowers & perennials that survive winters colder than my wife's feet

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Posted by WiseAcre on Apr 28th, 2009

Field Horsetail

Apr 28

When spring doesn’t deliver flowers as fast as I want my attention often gets diverted to things easily overlooked. Earlier this month Field Horsetails were about the only thing besides moss and lichens that were feeling that reproductive urge. Back on April 9th I took a photo of a horsetail that never made it to a post because there were more interesting things to write home about. I did make a desktop background and used it for a while but actually following up on the plant was not high on my list. I did take more photos of it over time – stashed away waiting for a rainy day.

Not quite what you expected? – this is the spore bearing shoot. Later the more familiar green shoots will emerge.
Field Horsetail
Interesting looking but not really inspiring. At least not yet.

Here’s another photo taken on April 16th. It’s starting to give a hint to why I’ve followed it up.
Field Horsetail - spore bearing stem

There are two forms of shoots. The spore bearing stems precedes the sterile bushy horsetail that most people are familiar with. As the fertile stems start to fade the green ones begin to emerge.

Emerging green tails before leafing out.
Field Horsetail

On April 24 I took the last photo of the spore head.

You can say WOW now.
What I found fascinating was the progress of the spore head. It really struck home when I touched one and a cloud of spores drifted away. That tight head looking much like an ear of corn had opened up. Not until I got home and had a chance to get a close look did I realize that the ‘kernels’ looked like tiny flowers. Again a macro shot reveals the unseen and unexpected.

Field Horsetails are very common and invasive. Their range covers nearly the whole northern hemisphere. The plant grows and spreads from rhizomes and just pulling the plant will leave the root behind ready to sent up another shoot. It grows in wet to dry areas, sunny to shady and in fact I can’t think of places it won’t grow given a chance. I like them but won’t invite them to any garden party, once they arrive they don’t go away.

It must be the wide spread distribution that’s responsible for this horsetail’s many common names.

AKA: Scouring Rush, Bottlebrush, Fox’s Tail, Horn Pipes, Snake Grass, Mare’s Tail, Horse Pipes, Shave Grass, Paddy’s Pipe, Pinetop, Poor-Man’s-Tinker-Toys and Pewterwort (once used to polish pewter). And I’m sure there are others, including some colorful words not suited for polite company.

This thing has more names than I have endearments for my wife. And I love my wife, really I do.


Equisetum arvense

Field Horsetail - mature spore head

10 Responses

  1. Tatyana Says:

    WOW! A big WOW! What a story! Stunning picture of a head! If you didn’t touch it, we would never know how it really looks! Thank you!

    You may like this one too:
    Spore Cloud
    Side Effects:
    After Effects

  2. Ratty Says:

    I’ve never seen anything like this before, but I can say that about a lot of things you post. I thought of an ear of corn when I saw the first picture too. I like these strange ones.

    Sure you have but they never caught your notice before. I’m sure if you look during your Everyday Adventures you can find some of the last of the cone heads. They’re probably starting to fall apart by you now but the new green shoots will help you spot where they’re growing. (mainly in open wet areas but they can be almost anywhere)

  3. rainfield Says:

    I thought of the ear of corn as well and hoping that you have not mentioned. I’ll then pretend I am slightly imaginative than you.
    A big WOW!!! You are same as me.

    Believe me, you don’t want to be like me. I run the risk of getting a nice new coat with extra long arms that tie behind the back or a new room with padded walls.

  4. betchai Says:

    yes, a big WOW! they look strange, but so strangely beautiful. i like all your photos of them, they show its character.

    I should have waited for a sterile stem to fill out in order to complete the set but that WOW macro was burning a hole in my hard drive.

  5. cindee Says:

    The Macro lens is just an awesome thing! I wish we had one(-: That Horse Tail really is cool!
    In one picture it looked like asparagus(-:
    Interesting it has so many names. I wonder why that is.
    Thanks for sharing(-:

    It is fun. Be good and put it on your list for Santa. and make sure your other half knows Xmas is going to be celebrated in May this year.

    Ouch, that would be silica to eat.

    It must have been named by a committee.

  6. Heather Says:

    WiseAcre- Do you live in Siberia? How come I never seem to see these kinds of things? Maybe it requires I leave the house a little more often. Soon, I promise.

    Nope. I live in northern northern NY along the Canadian border.

    By all means yes. The only way you’ll see these indoors is if you have a moist sandy dirt floor.

  7. Elaine Says:

    Wow, that’s fantastic! I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before.

    Glad I could show you something ‘new’.

  8. Barbara Says:

    I am intrigued by your pictures. What kind of camera do you use? Lens? Any tips on how you get such clear and vivid close-ups?

    Panasonic – Lumix DCM-FZ28 (18 x zoom – 10 mega pixel) I chose it because the lens was Leica. Camera is a year old now so there are newer models out.

    Hold still. I use a mini tripod (about 6 inch high) Other than that I just point and shoot on my camera’s close up (flower) mode.

  9. Monica Says:


    Getting warmer

  10. mlc Says:

    I do need to get a different camera! I saw these in the flood debris line in our field and was going to look them up and never did. So that’s bottlebrush!. I don’t know if I’ve added you to my fave or reader–they are all kind of blurring together right now–but if I haven’t your blog is going there–so be warned.

    Well those are the spore stalks. The green shoots are what most refer to as bottlebrush – almost ready to follow up on since they’re beginning to ‘leaf’ out.

    Well you’ve been here so no sense warning you about me now.