Saturday, May 19, 2018

AKA Puzzlegrass

It belongs here; it's a native. It grows enthusiastically in waste places, roadsides, ditches. "They" say it is edible, with caution. Sometimes it's useful; in a campsite, it makes a handy pot scrubber for those fire-blackened camp kettles. Along the edges of my lawn, and under my bedroom window, it's embarrassing, proclaiming to the neighbourhood that I'm not being careful; it's a pest. A pest that refuses to be exiled.

Horsetail. Weirdly fascinating. Beautiful, if I stop to look at it.

Sterile horsetail stems and a wilting, spore-producing strobilus on its own unbranched stem. With a pink and black fly for company.

The spore-producing stems appear first, then die down. The green, branched stems grow tall and hang around all summer. They grow from a rhizome that can be up to 4 metres underground, making them almost impossible to root out. They will thrive where nothing else except dandelions will take root, poking through gravel or cracks in the pavement, pushing aside stones in the drainage channels along the walls, and spreading out from there.

I wondered how far the spores disperse, and what is the mechanism; wind, water dispersal, shooting out under pressure, etc. I looked it up; now I'm itchy.

The spores have four elaters that act as moisture-sensitive springs, assisting spore dispersal through crawling and hopping motions after the sporangia have split open longitudinally. (Wikipedia)

Crawling, hopping? Legless hoppers? Just outside my window? Somehow it doesn't seem proper plant behaviour.

Branched stem. The green parts are the stems.

And these brown fringes are the leaves.

The hollow stems are photosynthetic, but not the leaves.

One of our local species, the giant horsetail, Equisetum telmateia, usually grows around a metre high, or a bit more, but can grow up to 2 1/2 metres in wet conditions, easy enough to find in our rainforest ecology. The ones under my window, field horsetail, Equisetum arvense, are usually just under a metre tall. I tear them all out several times in a summer; they always come right back up.

The whole plant feels rough, sandpapery. Our First Nations people used them for polishing wooden tools; I think I'll try them on my next project.

1 comment:

  1. Ever since I took botany in high school I've been fascinated by horsetail. I loved to draw it in my science journals. Every time I see it (and that is all the time around here) I have fond memories of learning about science topics in high school and college. - Margy

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