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Home > Landscaping > Native Plants for Western Washington Gardens and Restoration Projects

Equisetum arvense

Field Horsetail

Partial sun Mostly shady Full shade
Wet soil Moist soil

At a Glance: Succulent, hollow, jointed stems with whorls of branches.

Height: 6-24 inches (15-60 cm).
Growth Form: Fern.
Stems: Stems have regularly spaced nodes or joints; two stem types - sterile stems, which are more common and last longer with 10-12 ridges, and fertile stems, which produce spores in early spring and soon whither.
Leaves: Reduced to tiny scales that are fused into 6-14 sheaths at stem nodes. Dense whorls of branches (often mistaken for leaves) form at stem nodes; branches are 1-1.5 mm thick, sometimes branch again.
Flowers: Horsetails reproduce by spores, and do not have flowers; green spores are produced in flesh-colored cone at tip of fertile stem.
Fruits: Fertile stems appear before sterile stems, unbranched; spore cone at tip. New shoots emerge mid-February to early May; shape: blunt-tipped cones; size: fertile stems 30 cm (12 in) tall, 8 mm thick; cones 2-3.5 cm long; color: whitish to flesh colored (become brownish just before withering).

Equisetum arvense
Photo © 2003, Starflower Foundation
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Sun/Shade Tolerance Hydrology Elevation Range
full sun > 80%
mostly sunny 60%-80%
partial sun and shade 40%- 60%
mostly shady 60%-80%
full shade > 80%


Wetland Indicator Status:
Below 3000 meters.

low elevation
mid elevation
high elevation

Soil Preferences
sandy soils
gravelly soils
clay soils
muddy soils
peaty soils
well drained soils
shallow soils
deep soils
acidic soils
basic soils
humic soils
nutrient rich soils
nutrient poor soils
mineral soils
organic soils

Habitat Preferences
Aquatic and Wetland:
Ponds or lakes
Shallow pools
Swales or wet ditches
Seasonally inundated areas
Marshes or swamps
Aquatic bed wetlands
Emergent wetlands
Scrub-shrub wetlands
Forested wetlands
Bogs, fens
Seeps, springs
Shorelines and Riparian:
Lake shores
Bog margins
Streams or rivers
Stream or river banks
Riparian corridors
River bars
Alluvial areas
Saltwater Areas:
In or near saltwater
Mud flats
Tidal areas
Brackish water
Coastal dunes or beaches
Rocky or Gravelly Areas:
Coastal bluffs
Rocky slopes
Glacial outwash
Slide areas
Sub-alpine and Alpine:
Snow beds
Avalanche tracks
Forests and Thickets:
Forests and woods
Open forests
Coniferous forests
Old growth forests
Deciduous forests
Mixed forests
Nurse logs
Forest edges, openings, or clearings
Meadows and Fields:
Pastures or fields
Meadows or grassy areas
Mossy areas
Disturbed Areas:
Logged sites
Burned areas
Disturbed sites

Wildlife Value
(data not available)

Ethnobotanical Uses and Other Facts
Material Uses: The silicated stems were used by Native Americans (and still used by some people today) to start hand-drilled fires.
Food Uses: Some people cook and eat the young fertile shoots as a sort of asparagus substitute, its best to eat other early spring wild plants. Ancient Romans ate young, fertile shoots as if they were asparagus. They also used them to make tea and as a thickening powder.
Toxicity: Toxic to horses..

Ecological Importance: Often exists in thick stands of shoots that can choke other plants. Requires prolonged effort to remove from sites due to rhizomes. The fertile stems of common horsetail appear in early spring before the vegetative stems have grown tall enough to block spore dispersal by the wind. The spores have appendages on them that curl when wetted and uncurl when dried, which helps disperse the spores and move them deeper in the soil.

Name Info: arvense means of the fields. Horsetails are named for a fanciful resemblance between a horses tail and the plants sterile green stems with whorls of wire-like branches.
Interesting Facts: One of the most widespread plants in the world. Often considered a bad garden weed. Horsetails, also known as scouring rushes, have silica in their tissues, which makes them gritty. A ton of horsetails can accumulateas much as 4.5 ounces of gold in its cells, but profitable harvesting is impossible. Can be used as an emery board substitute or crumple in your hands to make a gentle scour, like fine-textured sandpaper, for dishes. Herbalists have used it, though not to a great extent, to heal broken bones. The first vascular plant to send green shoots up through the debris of the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

Suggested References

The landscaping and restoration information provided on this page is taken from the Starflower Foundation Image Herbarium. All photographs © Starflower Foundation unless otherwise noted.