Creature Feature: Horsetails

Today we’ll take a step back in time–100 million years, to be exact. Our time machine is humble Equisetum, which you may know as Horsetails, Snake Grass, or Puzzle Grass. Today, horsetail’s whispy fronds can be found along stream beds and other damp areas, but during the Paleozoic era they were one of the most common plants on the landscape. Many different species of horsetails flourished in ancient times, including some that grew as tall as 90ft! Equisetum is the only genus of this wide-ranging group that survives today, and serves as a “living fossil” of a time long past.

Horsetails are often called “primitive plants” because of the strange way they reproduce. Before flowering plants took over, ferns and mosses dominated the plant world on Earth. Horsetails come from a time when flowers and seeds were relatively new inventions, and spores were the tried-and-true method of reproduction. Horsetails borrow a little of both: they are vascular plants (like flowering plants), but they use spores to reproduce (like ferns). These strange plants walk the line between fern and flower, and provide us with a window into the world 100 million years ago.

Photo: Steve Slater on Flickr
Sources: Wikipedia–Equisetum