Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Horse Tail

Equisetum- click to enlarge
One of the banks along Bull Creek is thick with an evergreen that doesn't get much press.  It doesn't flower, has no cones and stands less than three feet tall.  It is definitely a "horse of a different color."

Equisetum (horsetail) is as primitive as it looks.  The genus equisetum is a group of living fossils, the only surviving members of it class named Equisetopsida which was quite common 100 million years ago.  There were many diverse species filling the understory of the forests, some growing 90 feet tall. 

Our species is most likely Equisetum hyemale, a.k.a. scouring rush. so named because to the silica concentration in its stem.  Native Americans used it for polishing and settlers scoured pans with it.  Modern day craftsmen still use it for fine polishing and clarinetists use it to polish their reeds.

Critter trail through scouring rush

Fortunately, it is a survivor and is likely to outlast these few uses.  It grows aggressively along the water and is considered an invasive species om South Africa and Australia.  It has another virtue appreciated by children.  In the fall while it is more tender, you can pull them apart and slip the joints together like a fly rod.

Equisetum reproduce primarily by rhizomes which are more numerous than their stems.  They can work their way down 6 feet into the soil and are therefore resistant to pulling.  They also reproduce sexually like ferns by producing spores.  This complicated process is explained at this site and is far to complicated to go into here.

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