You might think of them as weeds, and well, they sorta-kinda are. Well, not the smoking kind. Not sure if smoking this stuff is a good idea or not, and I am not suggesting that anyone tries. Who knows what effects it would have on the human body. But anyway, these things are quite the survivors, having been around since long before the dinosaurs. But not before the horseshoe crabs, not that ancient. But horsetails are still pretty fucking old, and quite the survivors. Mazel tov! You weird ass ancient weeds that probably shouldn’t be smoked.
Like I mentioned, they are an ancient group of plants, they first appeared in the late Devonian, about 375 million years ago. [i]It wasn’t long before they became one of the most dominant plants on the planet. Huge forests of them grew all over the place. Over 300 million years ago, they had a close relative called Calamites, and they grew to over 100 feet tall![ii] And those giant calamites also formed much of the coal that found in parts of New England.[iii] And yes, coal is found here, mostly in the Narragansett Basin in parts of Rhode Island and southeast Massachusetts.[iv] Fossils of calamites as well as other plants and animals are still found in many of these coal deposits.[v] There are also other species of large prehistoric horsetails, those ones being somewhat more recent – from the Mesozoic – have been found in Connecticut as well.[vi]
Horsetails are distantly related to ferns, which are their closest living relatives.[vii] Like their relatives the ferns, they reproduce through spores, which are produced in a cone–like reproductive organ called a sporangium.[viii] However, unlike ferns, their leaves are much simpler. Horsetail leaves (If you want to call them that) are small and spindly and form in whorls around the stem of the plant, and in most species not important for photosynthesis. Instead, photosynthesis generally takes place in the stem.[ix] Species found in New England are small, the largest ones are less than 1.5 meters tall.[x]
These plants were once quite diverse, but now there is just one family (equestacaea) with one genus (equisetum) with just 15 species.[xi] Of those 15, 8 are found in New England.[xii] But I’m not gonna list them all, because: no. Besides, they are all kinda similar anyway.
The stems of these plants contain silica,[xiii] also known as silicon dioxide, is quite hard and commonly found in nature.[xiv] And because of this, these plants have been used as abrasives, and can apparently do a better job on woodwork than any kind of sandpaper,[xv] so don’t spend any more money on sandpaper and go out and look for this stuff. To this day, some kinds of horsetail are called scouring rushes.[xvi]
These plants are generally found in marshy or swampy areas.[xvii] They do very well in sandy or clayey soils.[xviii]One of the reasons they do so well, is that there are very few species that will eat them, and are very resistant to disease as well![xix] Even more surprising, it is also difficult to poison these things. These things are tough, and that is probably why they have been around for an extremely long time.
So if you happen to notice these weird scrubby looking weedy plants, take some time to appreciate their toughness and their long history, and if you don’t like the way they look, don’t waste your time getting rid of them, because they ain’t going anywhere for a very long time.
[i] Author Unknown “Equetopsida” Wikipedia 05MAY2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equisetopsida#Fossil_record
[iv] Skehan, James “Roadside Geology of Massachusetts” Pg. 56-7. Mountain Press, 2001. Missoula, Montana
[v] Skehan, James “Roadside Geology of Massachusetts” Pg. 56-7. Mountain Press, 2001. Missoula, Montana
[vi] Alter, Lisa “Geology of Connecticut” Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. 2016 http://teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/1995/5/95.05.01.x.html
[vii] Author Unknown “Equetopsida” Wikipedia 05MAY2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equisetopsida#Fossil_record
[viii] [viii] Author Unknown “Horsetail Facts” Softschools.com 2005-17 http://www.softschools.com/facts/plants/horsetail_facts/503/
[xi] Author Unknown “Equetopsida” Wikipedia 05MAY2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equisetopsida#Fossil_record
[xii] Author Unknown “Genus: Equisetum” GoBotany. The New England Wildflower Society. 2011-2017 https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/genus/equisetum/
[xiii] Author Unknown “Horsetail Facts” Softschools.com 2005-17 http://www.softschools.com/facts/plants/horsetail_facts/503/
[xvii] Author Unknown “Horsetail Facts” Softschools.com 2005-17 http://www.softschools.com/facts/plants/horsetail_facts/503/
[xviii] Author Unknown “Horsetail Facts” Softschools.com 2005-17 http://www.softschools.com/facts/plants/horsetail_facts/503/