Equisetum hyemale

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Equisetum hyemale

Secure  (NatureServe)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Division: Polypodiophyta
Class: Polypodiopsida
Subclass: Equisetidae
Order: Equisetales
Family: Equisetaceae
Genus: Equisetum
Subgenus: E. subg. Hippochaete
E. hyemale
Binomial name
Equisetum hyemale

Hippochaete hyemalis (L.) Bruhin

Equisetum hyemale (commonly known as rough horsetail,[1] scouring rush, scouringrush horsetail and, in South Africa, as snake grass) is a perennial herbaceous fern in the horsetail family Equisetaceae. It is a native plant throughout the Holarctic Kingdom, found in North America, Europe, and northern Asia.


In nature Equisetum hyemale grows in mesic (reliably moist) habitats, often in sandy or gravelly areas. It grows from between sea level to 2,530 metres (8,300 ft) in elevation.[2]

It is primarily found in wetlands, and in riparian zones of rivers and streams where it can withstand seasonal flooding.[2] It is also found around springs and seeps, and can indicate their presence when not flowing. Other habitats include moist forest and woodland openings, lake and pond shores, ditches, marshes and swamps.

Colony in open woodland, Cap Tourmente, Québec


Equisetum hyemale has vertical jointed reed-like stalks of medium to dark green. The hollow stems are up to 3 feet (0.91 m) in height. The stems are seldom branched. The stems themselves have conspicuous ridges, which are impregnated with silica. This makes the ridges feel rough and harsh.[3][4]

The tiny leaves are joined around the stem, forming a narrow black-green band or sheath at each joint. Like other ferns and their relatives, the plant reproduces by spores and does not produce flowers or seeds.[3]

The stems are generally deciduous in cold climates,[5] and remain during winter in warmer climates. It forms dense spreading colonies, in full to partial sun.


Linnaeus was the first to describe scouring rush with the binomial Equisetum hyemale in his Species Plantarum of 1753.[6]

The subspecies Equisetum hyemale subsp. affine is endemic to North America.[7][8]

Two Equisetum plants are sold commercially under the names Equisetum japonicum (barred horsetail) and Equisetum camtschatcense (Kamchatka horsetail). These are both types of E. hyemale var. hyemale, although they may also be listed as varieties of E. hyemale.


Dried plant, used as traditional polishing material in Japan.


The rough stems have been used to scour or clean pots, and used as sandpaper.[9][10]

Boiled and dried Equisetum hyemale is used as traditional polishing material, similar to a fine grit sandpaper, in Japan.

Dried stems used to shape clarinet reeds.

The stems are used to shape the reeds of reed instruments such as clarinets or saxophones.


Some Plateau Indian tribes boiled the stalks to produce a drink used as a diuretic and to treat venereal disease.[11]

It is used as a homeopathic remedy.[3]


Equisetum hyemale cultivated as an ornamental plant, for use in contained garden beds and planters, and in pots. It is a popular "icon plant" in contemporary Modernist and Asian style garden design. Its tight verticality fits into narrow planting spaces between walkways and walls, and on small balconies.

It is also used as an accent plant in garden ponds and ornamental pools, and other landscape water features, planted in submerged pots.

The plant is sometimes sold in the nursery trade as "barred horsetail" or "Equisetum japonicum", but is different in appearance than Equisetum ramosissimum var. japonicum.


The plant spreads very aggressively by underground runners, reaching under/past pavements and garden walls. Root barriers or large sunken planters ease containment in the garden.[3]

In South Africa and Australia, the plant is an invasive species of moist natural habitats.[12]


  1. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  2. ^ a b Jepson
  3. ^ a b c d Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Database: Equisetum hyemale (scouring rush)
  4. ^ Webb, S.A., Parnell, J. and Doogue, D. 1996. Dundalgan Press (W. Tempest), Dundalk ISBN 0-85221-131-7
  5. ^ Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. and Warburg, E.F. 1968 Excursion Flora of the British Isles Cambridge University Press ISBN 0 521 04656 4
  6. ^ Linnaeus, C. (1753). Species Plantarum. Vol. II (1st ed.). Stockholm: Laurentii Salvii. p. 1062.
  7. ^ Jepson Manual treatment for Equisetum hyemale subsp. affine
  8. ^ CalFlora Database: Equisetum hyemale subsp. affine
  9. ^ Johnson, Derek; Linda Kershaw; Andy Mackinnon; Jim Pojar (1995). Plants of the Western Boreal Forest and Aspen Parkland (Digitized online by Google books). Lone Pine Publishing and the Canadian Forest Service. p. 281. ISBN 1-55105-058-7. Retrieved 2009-01-25.
  10. ^ Wilkinson, Kathleen (1999). Wildflowers of Alberta A Guideto Common Wildflowers and Other Herbaceous Plants. Edmonton Alberta: Lone Pine Publishing and University of Alberta. p. 34. ISBN 0-88864-298-9.
  11. ^ Hunn, Eugene S. (1990). Nch'i-Wana, "The Big River": Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land. University of Washington Press. p. 353. ISBN 0-295-97119-3.
  12. ^ "Lifeisagarden.co.za: "Invasive alien plants—Equisetum hyemale."". Archived from the original on 2011-06-27. Retrieved 2011-06-06.

Further reading[edit]