Friday, April 24, 2020

The Horsetails Are "In Bloom!"

The weather was much nicer on Thursday, sunny and warmer, with little wind. I thought I'd enjoy a walk at Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail outside Saratoga, but wow, was it mobbed! Lots of families were out, with lots of children. It's great to see the kids in the woods, but I'm used to having the woods to myself, and I often had to step off the trail to maintain essential "social distancing." Consequently, I didn't stay long.  But I did stay long enough to find four species of Horsetail Reeds (Equisetum spp.), all in "bloom" (so to speak), being crowned with their strobili (spore-producing organs). Related to ferns and among the most ancient of plants on the planet, all of the horsetails I found today are woodland species that prefer a shaded and damp environment. 

Accessing the main trail from the Meadowbrook spur, I found the first of these horsetails, the Dwarf Horsetail (E. scirpoides), abounding in a low muddy swale that is crossed by a boardwalk. There, among the convoluted tangles of tiny wiry green stems, I found for the first time I've ever seen them, several strobili held aloft on the ends of some stems.  This horsetail species is said to prefer a calcareous habitat, a soil chemistry confirmed by the nearby presence of many Maidenhair Ferns, which are often an indicator of lime-rich soil.

The horsetail species most commonly encountered along Bog Meadow Trail (and probably everywhere else) is the Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense). This species is at its most interesting stage of growth in spring, which is when it produces two very different looking plants, the tan-colored fertile stalks crowned with strobili and the sterile green plants that look like tiny Christmas trees. The green ones will persist by photosynthesizing throughout the growing season, growing taller and with longer branches. The fertile stalks will wither away, once the spores are dispersed.

Another species often encountered at Bog Meadow is the Wood Horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum). This is our only horsetail with multiple branching, which gives the plant a very lacy look as it matures. This species bears its strobili atop some of its green stalks. The strobili will fall off once the spores are dispersed, while the rest of the plant will continue to grow, spreading its lacy branches throughout the summer. At Bog Meadow, Wood Horsetail occupies the same low swales as Field Horsetail and often intermingles with it. (I added a photo of the two species growing side-by-side later in the growing season.)

As its name implies, Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile) grows in standing water. There are many areas along Bog Meadow Trail that meet that condition, and that's where you will find abundant populations of this very attractive species. Some of the individuals in a population will bear strobili atop their stalks, spore-bearing organs that will fall off once the spores are dispersed. I think this species has a very beautiful strobilus, as ornamental as a jeweled Easter egg.

Here's what that Water Horsetail will look like a bit later in spring, adding beautiful textural detail to the botanical mix that flourishes in the watery spots along this trail.

Quite often, when I mention my admiration for Horsetail Reeds, the response from others is "Ugh! What a nasty invasive!"  I guess they must be thinking of another native horsetail called Scouring Rush (E. hyemale), a sun-loving species that can indeed be quite an aggressive colonizer of its preferred habitat.  But the Horsetail Reeds I'm usually waxing enthusiastic about all grow in shady wooded wetlands,  where they coexist quite happily with many other native plants: Skunk Cabbage, Red and Nodding Trilliums, Golden Ragwort, Wood Anemone, Clintonia, Toothwort, Spring Beauty, Foamflower, Hooked Crowfoot, Marsh Marigold, Bog Buckbean, Dog Violets, Miterwort, Leatherwood, Spice Bush, and many other native plants too numerous to list.  After examining the mixed-plant photos I included here, I think most folks would certainly agree that "MY" horsetails are not behaving invasively or aggressively here along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail.

1 comment:

The Furry Gnome said...

A not-very-well known but fascinating group of plants!