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Great Horsetail

Equisetum telmateia

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Plant Profile

Equisetaceae (Horsetail)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
2 metres tall
Hedgerows, marshes, riversides, roadsides, sea cliffs, wasteland, waterside, wetland, woodland.
The Great Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia) produces unique cone-shaped structures that resemble "strobilus." These strobili consist of tiny spore-bearing structures, and they lack traditional flowers or petals. The Great Horsetail's reproductive structures are relatively simple and differ from typical flowering plants.
The Great Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia) does not produce traditional fruits like many flowering plants. Instead, it reproduces via spore-bearing structures in its cone-shaped strobili. These structures release spores for reproduction, rather than developing fruits as seen in angiosperms.
The leaves of the Great Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia) are narrow, lance-shaped, and have a unique segmented or "jointed" structure. They are arranged in whorls around the stems and can appear needle-like or scale-like. These leaves are typically small and contribute to the plant's distinctive appearance, resembling the appearance of miniature branches or stems.
The Great Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia) does not have a distinctive aroma. It is primarily a visual and textural plant, and it is not known for emitting any noticeable scent or aroma.
Other Names:
Giant Horsetail.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Other Information


Equisetum telmateia, commonly known as giant horsetail or great horsetail, is a perennial herbaceous plant that belongs to the Equisetaceae family. It is native to the Northern Hemisphere and is commonly found in Europe, Asia, and North America. The plant is known for its tall, green, jointed stem, which can grow up to 2 meters in height, and has a woody appearance. The stem has a rough texture due to the presence of silica crystals. It prefers damp, shady areas such as stream banks, wetlands and wooded areas. It has been traditionally used to scour and polish metal and wood, and also has medicinal properties. It is rich in silica and other minerals, and has been traditionally used to treat skin and joint problems, and also as a diuretic.


The Great Horsetail, also known as Equisetum telmateia, is a plant species that belongs to the Equisetaceae family. This plant is native to Europe, Asia, and North America and is widely distributed throughout these regions. The Great Horsetail is a fascinating plant that has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties and has played an important role in traditional medicine.

Physical Characteristics

The Great Horsetail is a perennial plant that can grow up to 2 meters in height. It has a long, hollow stem that is segmented with small, pointed leaves at the joints. The stem of the Great Horsetail is covered in small, silvery scales, which give it a unique appearance. The plant produces spore-bearing cones at the top of the stem, which are yellow or brown in color.

Habitat and Distribution

The Great Horsetail is commonly found in damp habitats such as marshes, fens, and wet woodlands. It is also found in open areas such as meadows and along riverbanks. The plant is distributed throughout Europe, Asia, and North America, and it is particularly common in the northern regions of these continents.

Traditional Uses

The Great Horsetail has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. It is said to have diuretic and astringent properties, and it has been used to treat urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and bladder problems. The plant has also been used to treat wounds, skin irritations, and respiratory ailments.

The Great Horsetail was also used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of conditions, including tuberculosis, jaundice, and gonorrhea. The plant was also used by Native American tribes for its medicinal properties.

Modern Uses

In modern times, the Great Horsetail is still used in herbal medicine to treat a variety of conditions. It is commonly used as a diuretic to treat urinary tract infections and kidney stones. The plant is also used to treat skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.

The Great Horsetail is also used in the production of cosmetic products, such as shampoos and conditioners, due to its high silica content. Silica is known to strengthen hair and nails and improve skin elasticity.

Conservation Status

The Great Horsetail is not currently listed as an endangered species, but its habitat is under threat due to habitat destruction and pollution. Wetland habitats are particularly vulnerable to development and human activity, and this can have a negative impact on the Great Horsetail populations. Efforts are being made to protect wetland habitats and preserve the populations of the Great Horsetail and other wetland species.


The Great Horsetail is an important species in wetland ecosystems. Its roots help stabilize the soil and prevent erosion, while its aerial parts provide cover and habitat for small animals and insects. The plant is also a food source for some herbivores, such as deer and beavers.


The Great Horsetail belongs to the Equisetaceae family, which includes other species of horsetails. It is classified under the genus Equisetum and has several synonyms, including Equisetum maximum and Equisetum hyemale var. robustum.


The Great Horsetail has a distinctive appearance due to its segmented stem, small leaves, and silvery scales. The stem is hollow and contains silica, which gives it a rough texture. The spore-bearing cones at the top of the stem are also unique, with their yellow or brown coloration.

Cultural significance

The Great Horsetail has played a role in human culture for centuries. In medieval Europe, it was used as a scouring pad to clean pots and pans. The plant was also used as a dye, producing a green color. In Japan, the plant is used in traditional tea ceremonies as a symbol of springtime and new beginnings.


The Great Horsetail contains several bioactive compounds, including flavonoids, alkaloids, and saponins. It is particularly high in silica, which has been linked to improved bone health and cognitive function. The plant also contains antioxidants, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

As you can see, there are many different aspects to the Great Horsetail that make it a fascinating plant to study and appreciate. Its ecological role, taxonomy, morphology, cultural significance, and phytochemistry are just a few examples of the diverse fields of knowledge that this plant touches upon.


The Great Horsetail can be propagated from spores or by dividing the rhizomes. Spores are collected from the cones and can be sown in a pot of moist soil. Rhizomes can be divided in the spring or fall and planted in a damp location with plenty of sunlight.


The Great Horsetail can be grown in a garden setting, but it should be contained as it has a tendency to spread quickly. It prefers damp, well-drained soil and full to partial sunlight. In a garden, the plant can be used as a groundcover or as a backdrop for taller plants.

Invasive potential

Due to its ability to spread rapidly, the Great Horsetail is considered invasive in some regions. It can outcompete native species and disrupt natural ecosystems. In areas where it is invasive, efforts are being made to control its spread.

Modern research

Modern research has shown that the Great Horsetail has potential as a treatment for several health conditions. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, which make it useful for treating infections and skin conditions. The plant's high silica content may also have a positive effect on bone health and cognitive function.

Culinary uses

The Great Horsetail is not commonly used in culinary applications, but in some cultures, the young shoots are eaten as a vegetable. They are said to have a mild, asparagus-like flavor and can be used in soups or stir-fries.


Overall, the Great Horsetail is a versatile plant with many uses and applications. From its traditional medicinal uses to its modern research potential, it is clear that this plant has much to offer. However, its invasive potential and tendency to spread rapidly mean that it must be managed carefully to avoid disrupting natural ecosystems.


Great Horsetail filmed in Coppull, Lancashire at different times of the year.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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