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Horsetails

Scotland's largest horsetail species grows up to 2m tall, while the Isle of Skye is particularly notable for its horsetail hybrids.

These ancient plants have changed little since they covered much of the land before the age of the dinosaurs. In that period, some horsetails were as tall as our modern trees. Today, Mexico still has horsetails that reach heights of nearly 8m.

Scotland’s largest species is the great horsetail (Equisetum telmateia), which grows up to 2m tall. It is particularly striking when its spore-producing ‘cones’ appear in early spring.

The Isle of Skye is notable for its horsetails and, in particular, hybrids (crosses) between horsetails. The first recorded hybrid between field horsetail and marsh horsetail anywhere in the world was on Skye in 1972.

Long ago, before people had access to scouring pads, the rough stems of some horsetails were used to clean pots and pans. Rough horsetail (Equisetum hyemale), sometimes known as Dutch rush, was particularly popular for cleaning metal.

Protection of horsetails

Discover how Scotland’s wild plants and fungi are protected.