Equisetum pratense (Meadow Horsetail)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Equisetaceae (Horsetail)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade, sun; moist woods, wet meadows
Fruiting season:mid to late spring
Plant height:8 to 16 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: whorl

[photo of stem sheath and first internode] The sterile stem is slender, green and has whorled branches that grow horizontal (parallel to the ground) to drooping. The “leaves” are reduced to a toothed sheath that surrounds the stem, with 8 to 19 teeth that are dark brown with white edging. The stem has a small central cavity; branches are solid and rough to touch. The first sheath on the branch (aka first internode) has 3 or 4 teeth. The first internode on the lowest branch is shorter than the stem sheath, though the first internode on branches higher up may be as long as or very slightly longer than the stem sheath.

Fruit: Fruit type: spores on stalk

Fertile stems are not like sterile stems, identified by the blunt-tipped, 1-inch cone at the tip of the stem. Initially, the stem is pale pink to brownish and there are no branches, but after the spores are released the fertile stem turns green and branches develop, becoming like sterile stems.


Meadow Horsetail spreads both by spores and vegetatively from rhizomes and may create large colonies. It may be confused with Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)  or Marsh Horsetail (E. palustre), both of which have spreading to ascending branches, not drooping. In addition, while E. palustre also has branch internodes shorter than the stem sheath, it has 5 or 6 teeth on the branch sheath and hollow branches. While E. arvense has 3 or 4 teeth on the branch sheath like E. pratense, the first internode on the branch is distinctly longer (by 3-4mm) than the stem sheath. In contrast, E. pratense has 3 teeth on the branch sheath and the first internode on the branch is shorter than the sheath on the main stem. Note that when comparing the internode length to the stem sheath, it is important to look at the lowest branch. On E. pratense, the first internode on upper branches may be as long as or very slightly longer than the stem sheath, which can make it difficult/confusing to identify.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Richard T. Anderson Conservation Area, Hennepin County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Charles A
on: 2017-12-08 09:53:03

Perhaps you can clarify something for me. Both Hauke, in Flora of North America, and Chadde, in Minnesota Flora, state that the first internodes on the lowest branches of Equisetum pratense are equal to or longer than the adjacent stem sheath on the main stem. Is this incorrect? Your photograph shows the opposite.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-12-08 19:15:19

Charles, that's a very interesting observation. I went back and reviewed all of our E. pratense images looking at the lowest branch on a number of plants. On those where I could actually make it out, more often than not the branch sheath was shorter than the stem sheath, only one was longer. Perhaps there is an age factor in play here, and the specimens in the photos weren't mature enough to exhibit that trait. It's certainly something to review when we're out next season.

Posted by: Charles A
on: 2018-02-13 16:40:55

FYI: Chadde has apparently reversed himself in "Midwest Ferns." He is now saying that the first internodes of each branch are shorter than the corresponding stem sheaths.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2018-02-14 18:02:51

It's always helpful when live specimens correspond to the descriptions in botanical references! :-)

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