Field horsetail

Encyclopedia Article

Field horsetail                                                    Equisetum arvense L.

Family:  Equisetaceae
Life cycle:   Perennial, reproducing by rhizomes and spores
Native status:  Native
Habitat: Poorly drained disturbed areas, ditches

General description:  The plant produces two distinct stem-types.  The fertile shoots are produced in early-spring and are non-photosynthetic.  They are short-lived, up to 10” tall, tan to brown in color, topped with a brown spore cone that is up to 1.5” long, and typically go unnoticed.  Sterile shoots have numerous side branches, resembling small pine trees.  These shoots are green, reach heights of 12”, and are very wiry. 

Key ID traits:  Wiry, segmented stem with whorled branches of modified leaves.

Similar species:  Field horsetail and scouring rush are in the same genus, often found growing together, but their distinct growth habits make them easy to distinguish.  With reductions in tillage they are commonly found moving into crop fields, especially from road ditches or other wet areas.

Field horsetail produces a wiry, highly branched shoot of segmented stems and leaves.

The small, short-lived sporobili of field horsetail.  Photo by Meaghan Anderson.