Horsetail, which is the English name for the genus Equisetum, is a genus that comprises fifteen varieties, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. It is also known as “scouring rush.”


The horsetail is the only living genus in the class Equisetopsida. This is a prehistoric plant, and the only of its kind to survive to this day! So, it’s hardy, millions-of-years hardy, which is likely how it survived so long.

Equisetopsida (division Pteridophyta), class of primitive spore-bearing vascular plants. Most members of the group are extinct and known only from their fossilized remains. The sole living genus, Equisetum, order Equisetales, is made up of 15 species of very ancient herbaceous plants, the horsetails and scouring rushes. Extinct members of the division, some of which have been traced back as far as the Devonian Period (416 to 359 million years ago), include many herbaceous Equisetales, shrubby Hyeniales, vinelike Sphenophyllales, and trees of the family Calamitaceae.”

Encyclopedia Britannica
Horsetail reeds in Northern California

Despite horsetail’s resilience, at the beginning of summer, I did nearly kill the plant in trays in my back yard. These long trays are useless—even some strawberries (also a hardy plant that has survived for weeks in my one-inch-deep sand path) didn’t survive a day in these trays. So—I recommend sticking with pots.

Horsetail, dried up

I took the horsetail out of those narrow, plastic troughs and noticed something I hadn’t seen before. They had formed one mass with a shared skin at the bottom.

The bottom of the horsetail mass

It turns out that horsetail, being a sort of bamboo-like plant, has a rhizome. This is a shared sort-of-root that extends and connects all of the shoots. So, although you may see different shoots or reeds, they are all one plant.

The bottom of the horsetail mass

In fact, this is why a new horsetail reed shoots up a foot away from the other reeds. The plant doesn’t have seeds like other plants do to spread. The rhizome has extended underground far enough to shoot up another reed.

Horsetail reeds are hollow. You can pick it and use it as a straw if you want. The reeds have “joints” and a section at the top can dry and break off. This is normal as far as I can tell, although not good if the entire reed dries up.

Sections of horsetail dying

While horsetail looks like bamboo and acts like bamboo in many ways, the biggest difference between horsetail and bamboo is that horsetail does not have leaves. Bamboo grows leaves.

After I stuck the mass of dried-up horsetail into the ground, it has started to sprout again… I think. Or, the other horsetail that was there extended it’s rhizome a foot or so. Either way, I have spreading horsetail and it does well as long as it only gets part sun, not full sun.

Because it spreads so well, and is hard to get rid of once it is established in the ground, we planted it in an area by the walkway where it is surrounded on all sides by cement (underneath as well).

Another neat feature of this plant is that sometimes it gets “split ends.” Smaller reeds will split off the primary reed. I have a lot more to learn about the Horsetail plant.

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