Common Fern and Fern-Ally Species of the Northwest Forest






Terminology | Pictorial

Equisetum arvense
Common Horsetail
"Field Horsetail"

Equisetaceae (Horsetail Family)

Field Horsetail Description

General - perennial, spreads extensively by dark-felted rhizomes with tubers; stems hollow, usually erect, die back each year. 2 markedly different types; fertile stems unbranched, appear in early spring, usually thick and succulent, brownish to whitish, 10 - 30 cm tall; sterile stems bottlebrush-like (many whorls of slender branches), appear as fertile stalks wither 1-several in clusters, 10 - 50 cm tall; slender, green, 10 - 12 ridged, minutely-roughened; branches simple, first branch segment longer than adjacent stem sheath.

Leaves - reduced to small scales, usually fused into sheaths around stems and branches; sheaths of fertile stems have 8 - 12 large, pointed teeth; sheaths of sterile stems green, with 10 - 12 brownish or blackish teeth.

Spore Clusters - in long-stalked, blunt-tipped cones at tip of fertile stems.


Moist to wet woods, meadows, swamps, fens, roadsides and other disturbed sties; widespread across Northwestern Ontario, north through arctic islands to northern Ellesmere Island; circumpolar.


Like all horsetails, common horsetail reproduces by spores. However, this species grows a special shoot to produce its spores - a small, pale brown, branchless plant with a spore cone at its tip. After the spore-bearing shoot matures and starts to die back, the horsetail sends up its characteristic green, bushy shoots. The small, fertile shoots are easily overlooked, and many people think they have found a new plant when they discover them growing along roads n the spring, but both forms are part of the same plant, the common horsetail. Caribou, moose, sheep and bears eat this plant. In some parts of the Mackenzie Mountains, it is the main food of grizzlies in June and July.

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