Horsetail - Equisetum hyemale


Evergreen aquatic plant widespread in most of the northern hemisphere. It produces large underground rhizomes that develop into large colonies; from the fleshy roots branch off erect thin stems, even 120-150 cm high, characterized by a silver band, followed by a dark one, to the internodes, which show conspicuously the rough surface, bright green of the stems; sometimes they have short ramifications to the internodes, where often there are also leaves rolled up along the stem. On stems in summer there are short oval spikes that carry spores.
Equisetum is a very widespread plant in all environments characterized by high soil moisture.
Some species belonging to this genus are mostly considered weeds (such as equisetum arvensis). Others, such as the equisetum hyemale, common also in the spontaneous state, are instead used successfully in the creation of wetlands within the gardens. The tall erect stems, which grow very thick, are beautiful in every season, thanks to their bright green coloration that remains even in winter. Furthermore, the verticality is an element able to create a pleasant contrast with other wider and more rounded leaves, giving a modern and “architectural” appearance to outdoor spaces.


The horsetail grows without problems both in the sun and in the shade; preferring bright places anyway. It does not fear the cold and in fact it is also found in the wild in many regions of the Italian peninsula; if desired, it can also be cultivated in an apartment, keeping it in jars full of water.
The winter horsetail grows well in rather rich but light soils with a neutral to subacid pH. Being able to choose the ideal are those where the sand is predominant.
An essential element is humidity at the level of the roots. We can choose to place it on the banks of a body of water, or inside. The roots grow optimally when they are immersed about 10 cm from the surface.
It is not demanding regarding exposure. Certainly the growth is more vigorous in full sun (having plenty of water available) or in partial shade, but a luminous shadow will not cause deterioration.


These plants love wetlands, ponds and water meadows, where the water is quite low and still; they are very suitable to be planted on the banks of small water gardens. They do not need fertilization, and prefer fairly rich and deep soils. Given the rapid and noticeable growth of underground rhizomes it is advisable to limit their development by periodically extirpating a part, to prevent them from becoming weeds.

Type of plant Perennial herbaceous, evergreen
Height width Up to 60 cm / up to 40 cm
Culture Very rustic
Maintenance low
Water needs high
Growth Fast / invasive
Rusticitа Very rustic
Exposure Full sun, half shade, bright shadow
Ground Sandy, rich
pH From neutral to subacid
Propagation Division of the rhizome
Use On the edge or on the shore of bodies of water, in pots with water reserves
Planting Autumn Spring


this plant, like ferns or fungi, reproduces by releasing spores in the air; for the difficulty of finding and using the spores themselves, we usually proceed with the propagation of horsetail by dividing the tufts of rhizomes. It is sufficient to dig up the roots and take a part of them with a sharp knife, the new plant thus obtained must be immediately placed at home.

Pests and diseases

These plants are very rustic and are hardly attacked by pests or diseases.

Origins and diffusion Horsetail

Equisetum hyemale (winter horsetail or rasperella) is a plant widespread as endemic throughout our continent, although it is easier to find in northern and eastern European countries. However, it can also be found in other areas of the globe, such as in the American and Asian continents, particularly where the climate is temperate.
To develop and spread it requires a humid environment with sandy and rather poor soil, from the plain up to even more than 2500 m above sea level. It is in fact very resistant to low temperatures, keeping, among other things, the stems intact and always with a beautiful bright color. It is not uncommon for it to survive even in small pools of water, where the surface is completely frozen.
Precisely for this reason its name is horsetail in winter, to distinguish it from other species (such as the arvensis) which, during the cold season, completely lose the aerial part.

Horsetail characteristics

The underground part is composed of long rhizomes from which, from each node, underground stems (also with roots) and aerial stems branch out. Precisely this structure is the cause of its incredible resistance and ability to colonize large areas.
The stems are not branched, but appear thick and rigid, of a beautiful bright dark green. They can reach 60 cm in height. They are surrounded, at a regular distance (3 to 10 cm) from cream and black rings. This makes them similar, from an aesthetic point of view, to bamboo.
An interesting feature is the strong concentration of silicon inside them which makes them very rigid and particularly resistant to herbicides (which cannot penetrate deep). In the past this peculiarity was exploited in various ways. It was very common to use them instead of sandpaper, to smooth or polish wood or metal artifacts.

Horsetail as a "fossil plant"

The horsetails, unlike most plants, do not produce inflorescences or seeds. This is because they have evolved very little since their appearance (about 400 million years ago). The great family of the Equisetaceae was once very widespread, especially during the Carboniferous period. They included large species that formed vast forests.
The species left today are more contained, but the way of spreading has remained the same, very similar also to that of ferns (other very ancient plants). They produce on top of some specific stems of cones whose color goes from orange to dark brown, in correspondence of spring and summer. They are called stroboli: they release spores into the air which will then be fertilized when they touch the ground or enter the water.

Species or varietyDescriptionHeightCultivationFeatures
Equisetum hyemale Herbaceous with evergreen stems
Erect habit with white and black rings and orange strobes
60 cm Up to 10 cm deep
Wet soil
Ideal for oriental or architectural gardens
Very robust and rustic
Less invasive than others
Equisetum hyemale 'Japonicum' Very similar to the previous one, but of a more subtle green.
The stems fade when they reach -10 ° C
Up to 90 cm It bears slightly calcareous soils Very similar to the previous one, but with orange nuances in winter.
Equisetum hyemale var. robustum Semi-persistent stems, up to -10 ° C
The young stems have slightly pinkish rings
Up to 120 cm Very invasive
Ideal for the shore
Higher and more robust than the species
Equisetum scirpoides Very rustic
Dwarf plant, but it expands quickly
Up to 15 cm Acid substrate, even more than 10 cm deep Tiling for small bodies of water
Endure the ice
Equisetum camtschatcense Rustic and evergreen Up to 150 cm It always wants well-moist soil
Very invasive
Very big
Suitable for floral arrangements
Equisetum fluviatile Rustic up to -10 ° C
Fine light green stems, less rigid
Up to 60 cm Very invasive, it must be contained effectively Less architectural
The young shoots are orange
Equisetum telmateia Rustic up to -10 ° C, then transitory
Similar to arvensis, but stiffer and thicker
Produces sterile stems in summer, with branches
Up to 120 cm Very invasive
Suitable for large bodies of water
Very decorative due to the white color of its stems and the abundance of secondary stems that give the whole a feathery appearance

Use horsetail

At one time the horsetail was not at all considered a decorative plant, given its diffusion, even excessive, in the spontaneous state.
The trend was reversed when the oriental-inspired gardens in Japanese or Zen style became widespread. We began to appreciate its sober and at the same time very architectural aesthetics. It was also very easy to insert in small spaces, but to fill quickly, and in need of ornament in every season.
Its presence has even become indispensable in the context of aquatic or marsh areas.
Create beautiful contrasts when combined with ferns or sunirolias, which share the same soil and exposure needs.
It is also an excellent solution for capacious vases on balconies or terraces, with a contemporary appearance, provided they are watertight.


The insertion of this plant can be done in spring or autumn. The first option is to be preferred if we live in an area with cold winters.
On the shore of a pond it is good to plant up to 5 specimens per m2: in this way, in a short time, a dense and very decorative bush will be obtained
In water instead it is good to insert the seedlings in special vases filled with suitable soil. Set them at a maximum depth of 10 cm. The ideal density is always of 5 specimens per m2.
In pot we opt for a deep container at least 40 cm wide. On the market there are specially designed products, fitted on the bottom of a large water reservoir. We fill the remaining space with soil for green plants with abundant sand.
Since it is a highly invasive plant, it is highly recommended, in the open ground, to set up barriers (at least 30 cm deep in the ground) that block the expansion of the rhizomes.

Crop care

It is a rather autonomous vegetable. To preserve its beauty it is recommended to devote from time to time to the elimination of the crooked, damaged or dry stems, cutting at about 10 cm from the base.
We also check that the specimens do not leave the area we have assigned to them.


As we have said, the horsetails do not produce seeds. The only practical way to get new plants is to devote to the division of rhizomes. We need to extract the root system and obtain sections with roots and stems each.
This is usually done in spring or summer, but avoiding the hottest months.


Winter horsetail is the species that is most easily found on the market. Given the appreciation that this plant has found in recent years, researchers have, however, selected and included in the catalog equally interesting varieties that are worth considering when designing our water mirror. Some have only bare stems, others develop secondary ones giving the whole a "vaporous" appearance.

Other uses horsetail

From the horsetails, and in particular from the very common equisetums arvensis, an extract can be obtained to be used as a fertilizer for plants. The strong silicon content, in fact, is of help for weak or weakened plants.
Proceed by soaking one kg of stems in ten liters of rainwater for about two weeks.
It seems to be also effective in preventing the advent of cryptogams.
  • Horsetail plant

    Horsetail is a perennial herbaceous plant very ancient and widespread in almost all over the globe with the exception of Australia and Anta

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