A dense growth of horsetail reed

Horsetail Reed

  • DIVISION: Tracheophyta (vascular plants)
  • CLASS: Polypodiospida
  • ORDER: Equisetales
  • FAMILY: Equisetaceae
  • GENUS: Equisetum
  • SPECIES: hyemale



This ancient grass is a survivor from the Paleozoic era. Its slender stems are hollow and jointed, similar to bamboo, and a clump of stems together creates the bushy look that is the inspiration for the common name. It is native to Eurasia and North America and usually grows near water, particularly along marshes, pools, and streams.


Slender, hollow stems can reach 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall. They don't branch, but have nodes between sections, much like bamboo. A blackish ring around each node breaks up the overall bright green coloring. The stems are impregnated with silica, giving them a rough feeling, like fine-grit sandpaper.


Horsetail reeds thrive in moist sandy or clay soils with some shade. Although the individual stalks are slow-growing, this plant can spread rapidly and is considered extremely invasive. So much so, that many people grow it in large pots, to curb its enthusiasm for taking over a landscape.

Key to its ability to roam is the vigorous rhizome system underground. It's the fastest way for this plant to gain more ground, as horsetail reeds don't produce flowers or seeds. Instead, a spore-bearing conelike structure called a strobilus forms at the tip of the stalk. When the spores are released, they must find just the right place and conditions to become a new plant.


Pieces of the stem are used to adjust the reeds in instruments such as saxophones and clarinets. Long ago, the harsh stems (loaded with silica crystals) were used to scour pots and even used as a sanding tool. In Japan, it's used for polishing, either as a liquid from boiled stalks or the dried stems themselves.

This type of reed is also a popular element in Asian style and Modernist garden design. Its upright habit adds visual interest, and is often just the thing for narrow planting spots between walkways or along fences.

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Musicians know it as "Dutch rush," but in South Africa, it's called "snake grass." In many other places, it is known simply as "scouring rush."


Having been on the planet for 300 million years, horsetail reeds are considered a living fossil. They are related to ferns.


Having almost no leaves is no problem; this plant's green stems are the photosynthesis hot spots that produce the food energy it needs to survive.