Horsetails (Equisetum species)

Profile

Impact

Horsetails are primitive, non-flowering perennial plants that are highly invasive. Horsetail is the common name used to refer to 30 species in the Equisetum genus, 12 of which are considered weeds around the world. Common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and scouring rush horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) are of most concern in Australia. In high densities they also reduce crop yields by producing inhibitory substances that depress the growth of neighbouring plants. All except the common horsetail are toxic to livestock.

Horsetails have been grown and sold as ornamental plants in Australia.

Distribution

Horsetails are native to the northern hemisphere including Europe, Northern America and Asia. Horsetails are now naturalised in New Zealand, Madagascar and parts of South America. Common horsetail is used for medicinal purposes as a silica supplement and the buds are eaten as a vegetable in Japan and Korea.

There are two known infestations in New South Wales (NSW) near Leura in the Blue Mountains and Warringah in north Sydney. Horsetails have been reported growing as potted plants around NSW and from Tasmania to Brisbane in both cultivated and naturalised conditions.

Distribution map

Spread

Plants nearly always spread by rhizomes that produce new stems (shoots) throughout the growing season from spring to autumn. Small parts of the rhizomes from mature plants can break off and grow into new plants. Horsetails also produce spores that require prolonged periods of moist conditions to germinate successfully. Most spores die from moisture stress. New infestations can result when garden waste containing rhizomes is dumped or when plants are sold illegally for ornamental or medicinal purposes.

Description

Horsetails are non-woody herbaceous plants. Depending on the species, heights vary from 5 to 120 cm with scouring rush horsetail up to 120 cm and common horsetail up to 80 cm high.

Key identification features

  • Two types of stems are produced: pale-brown, unbranched stems that produce fruiting cones and then die back to the ground; and green, branched, hollow stems that do not produce fruit. The stems of common horsetail usually die back to the rhizomes each year, but in other species the above ground growth may survive over winter. Stems break easily at the joints and feel hard and rough due to their silica content.
  • Inconspicuous leaves grow in whorls of 6 to 18 on the main shoots, joined at their edges to form black-tipped sheaths of teeth around the stems.
  • Fruiting cones 1-4 cm in length grow at the ends of the stems and produce pale-greenish to yellow spores.
  • The root system consists of rhizomes which can extend horizontally for up to 100 m below the ground.

Habitat

Horsetails naturally occur in cold to temperate regions with temperatures ranging from 5°C to 20°C and rainfall between 100 and 2000 mm. They are mostly found in wet areas such as the banks and edges of swamps, rivers and lakes. They tolerate low nutrient levels and grow on many soil types. Common horsetail will grow in most places were there is sufficient moisture below altitudes of 300 metres. It usually grows in damp conditions in open woodlands, pastures, stream banks, embankments, arable land and roadsides. In Australia it has become invasive in areas with rainfall of around 1400 mm.  Scouring rush horsetail also prefers moist environments and infestations have occurred in NSW in areas below altitudes of 620 metres with annual rainfalls of 1100 – 1500 mm.

Acknowledgements

Written by Charlie Mifsud; Edited and prepared by Elissa van Oosterhout; Technically reviewed by Birgitte Verbeek, Melissa Kahler, Andrew Petroeschevsky.

References

CRC Weed Management (2003) Horsetails - Equisetum species Weed Management Guide

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Control

Your local council weeds officer will provide assistance and control advice if you think you have found this plant. Control can be difficult. Silica in the plants limits herbicide penetration into the stems, and the extensive rhizome system also limits herbicide effectiveness. Mechanical controls such as slashing, mowing and excavating are likely to leave rhizomes that will regrow. Digging plants out by hand is effective over small areas if care is taken to find and remove all rhizomes and plant material.

Herbicide options

WARNING - ALWAYS READ THE LABEL
Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must always read the label and any permit, before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. Users are not absolved from compliance with the directions on the label or the conditions of the permit by reason of any statement made or not made in this information. To view permits or product labels go to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website www.apvma.gov.au

See Using herbicides for more information.


PERMIT 13917 Expires 31/03/2020
Dichlobenil 67.5 g/kg (Casoron G®)
Rate: 18 g /m2
Comments: Spread granules evenly over the soil in area to be treated. Granules must be watered immediately after application.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: O, Inhibitors of cell wall (cellulose) synthesis
Resistance risk: Moderate


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Biosecurity duty

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation, and the Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans (published by each Local Land Services region in NSW). It describes the state and regional priorities for weeds in New South Wales, Australia.

Area Duty
All of NSW General Biosecurity Duty
All plants are regulated with a general biosecurity duty to prevent, eliminate or minimise any biosecurity risk they may pose. Any person who deals with any plant, who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Central Tablelands Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Notify local control authority if found.
Greater Sydney Regional Recommended Measure*
Whole region except Northern Beaches local government area: The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. Notify local control authority if found. Plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Northern Beaches local government area: Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread from their land. Plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Notify Local Control Authority if found.
Hunter Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Notify local control authority if found.
This Regional Recommended Measure applies to Equisetum arvense
Murray Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Notify local control authority if found.
North Coast Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Notify local control authority if found.
North West Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Notify local control authority if found.
South East Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Notify local control authority if found.
*To see the Regional Strategic Weeds Management Plans containing demonstrated outcomes that fulfill the general biosecurity duty for this weed click here

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Reviewed 2017