Until July 2017, documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say! Meanwhile . . . I've now moved to Halifax in West Yorkshire. Click on the link below to collect the new URL. Don't forget to follow there!

Monday, 2 May 2011



There's a grassy bank near where I live where strange things grow. Every spring, disgusting little stalks appear. They look like fungi which have muddled their identity with plants - or the other way round. Then they vanish. Grass and spring flowers grow up around them and, over and over, I loose track of what happens next. Do they wither and die or grow into something prettier . . . and if so . . . what? How come I never notice an unfamiliar plant in with the rest?

This year, I decided to watch. I became a sort of private eye, going back and back and back to see what was going on but, yet again, I missed the magic moment when they disappeared. What was going on?

Well, one thing happened . . . that I missed it again. Simply missed it. The magic must have happened very quickly.

Meanwhile Horsetails (Equisetum sp.) were growing up all around - up the bank, across on the other side of the path. Lots of them. Very pretty. Gardeners don't like them because once they get a grip, they don't go away. But in the right context - wonderful.   (I think these ones are Equisetum arvense.)

Long and short . . . and going round in circles . . . these plants - whose forbears lived as ground cover in prehistoric forests - have several ways of growing. The yucky things on stems are the same variety of plant as the familiar green horsetails which come later. They spring from the same source and . . .  I've given up trying to understand (for the moment). If you are interested to learn more, it would be worth it. I'm reluctant to explain anything because my knowledge is thin and I don't know enough to weed out mistakes from facts when it comes to Horsetails on the internet. Fortunately, Happy Mouffetard has kindly provided a link to a diagram and more information - so that's a start! 

For this post, I'll confine myself to observation - how the first kind came; how they were superceeded by the (very different looking) rest - and encourage you to look out for them. They aren't fully grown yet. I don't want to delay this post until they are fading. You will want to marvel at them now!

2nd April 2011. A grassy bank with things sticking out of it.
The tall ones are four or five inches high.
The smallest are like this.
Ones at the next stage are like this.

The tops may be (to my eyes) ugly but this part of the stem (to my eyes) is beautiful and fascinating.

April 8th 2011
Then . . . spores are released. (I think this is what is happening!) Hopefully, someone will say - which is a good moment to thank Toffee Apple, Rob and Michael Peverett for identifying the plant (with blue flowers) in the last post as Green Alkanet.

Moving from 2nd April to the 8th . . .
April 8th 2011

The plants with spores (in the photos above) disappeared and new kinds of plant began to grow nearby. The photo above is of early Horsetails. But so were the others. Am I able to say they are the same plant? (You might like to refer back to the link Happy Mouffetard found.)

Close up - with dew! - Also April 8th.

By the 17th April they are coming up everywhere - here they are in the bushes, along with bramble, in a kind of hawthorn den, along with the blue bluebells and white bluebells too. (You can tell I am not a botanist!)

April 17th 2011. (Peer in closely or look at the close-up below!)

Look at the foot of the picture for emerging horsetails.
April 17th 2011
Gradually, a short forest grows. The horsetails below are about seven inches high. This is how they were on 22nd April.

22nd April 2011

And, in their most recent state, on the 1st of May. This one is nine or ten inches high.

May 1st 2011 - this one is leaning because of the wind and direction of the sun.
Mostly, they are upright.
This is not the end of the story. Their arms will lower to 90 degrees from the stem.

Watch out! There are horsetails about! And, now you know - remember the spot if you find them and see if you can find the early versions next year.


Dimple said...

Interesting post, thanks for going back and recording their progress!

Donna said...

Oh how I love and hate them..I have them everywhere since my land was a forest before it was cleared for the house...and I love the look of them...but I am constantly hoeing them to keep them under control all season...just gave them a mention in today's [ost as well...beautiful pics and a great post...

HappyMouffetard said...

Thank you for reminding me that they are beautiful and fascinating plants, and not just pernicious weeds.
In bad years on the allotment, my index finger wears a groove in it where I try to pull these things up - it is very satisfying when you get a good length of root coming up. Mind you, I say good length meaning around 5-10cm; I believe their roots can go metres down.

Mark Willis said...

Absolutely fascinating! I travel up to London quite often for work purposes, and my train often pauses for a few minutes just outside Clapham Junction. From the train window I have been observing the lifecycle of the Horsetail, just like you!

Diana Studer said...

I grow Elegia capensis, a restio, because the 'leaves' come in whorls like your horsetails. Apart from the ickky stage, I love the green stage of your plant.

Laura Bloomsbury said...

Truly wild Lucy! Weirdly beautiful images but most of all love your enthusiastic narrative and your non botanical approach to the wonders of the grassy bank.
p.s. Horsetails on an allotment are a nightmare

Anonymous said...

Great commentary on the Horsetail, love it, great pics too. Do you know it can be made into a tea used to control blight?

Bridget said...

Did'nt mean to be anonymous on prev post, pressed wrong thing!

Rosie@leavesnbloom said...

I think they look fascinating aslong as the wind is blowing in the other direction from my garden when it releases the spores. Our local ones are just about to release their spores. Your pics are great Lucy with my favourite being it's transistion from buff brown to green.

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

Hello Dimple. When I first started Loose and Leafy (June 20018) things were pretty random. I posted as I noticed plants and flowers and trees which I found interesting. It's been going on long enough now to know what I'm looking for and where. It makes time go by a bit faster than I would like - but I enjoy it.

Hello Donna. Each time I see them I am awed, not by their beauty alone, but by the knowledge that plants like these have been growing on earth for so long.

Hello Happy Mouffetard. I'm wondering whether chopping them off with a hoe as they emerge might work. They'd keep appearing but it would save your fingers and, as they keep appearing anyway . . . ?

Hello Mark. I like the idea of you sitting outside Clapham Junction, observing horsetails.

Hello Elephant's Eye. I doubt, reading the comments of the others, you would be likely to be tempted to grow horsetails on purpose so I'm glad you have a tamed equivalent.

Hello Patio Patch. I can't avoid it - Horsetails in gardens and allotments can be a nuisance - but so would a tiger be! But that doesn't detract from the beauty of the tiger any more than the nuisance value of horsetails detracts from theirs!

Hello Bridget. I didn't know horsetail tea can control blight. That might be worth testing. (Though it would be better still if there were no reason to!)

Thank you all for your comments. I'm always pleased to see and read them.


Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

Dear Everyone,

You might like to know the latest post is now on the blog - it's a catch up on where the tree we are following was 'at' on 25th April.



Shaheen said...

I have horsetail growing in the driveway, every year they come - fascinating to watch, but I've enjoye watching the way you've captured them.

Janet/Plantaliscious said...

Fabulous! I've often wondered what those weird pre-recognisable-horsetail things were, and never made the connection. I hated horsetail when it was invading the veg patch on Anglesey, but think it is really pretty in the ditches round here. Glad I finally got around to catching up with your blog.

Gardens at Waters East said...

Lucy, It’s another wonderful rainy Spring day, so I’m taking time to look over the Blogs I follow. Wanted to see what you have been up to. Your horsetail "weed" are similar yet not the same I will admit, to one here we call "pot scrubber". That is its common name here. It starts out much the same but stays wrapped tight all year long. I will have to post a photo in an upcoming blog. They are called "pot scrubber" because the early pioneers here use them to wash the pots after cooking. They are one of the few silicon based plants not carbon as is the case with most plants. Because they are silicon they are very rough and thus good for scrubbing. I'll check in again soon. Jack

Rowan said...

The wood horsetail grown along the path through the woods that leads up onto Blackamoor and I love watching their progress, I was up there earlier this week and they are now at a stage of being airy and graceful. It's fascinating to watch their progress.

Rob said...

Wow, thanks for this post - I never realised that they were connected. Some species of horsetail are edible, high in silica and supposed to be good for your teeth.