Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Horsetail detail

with 38 comments

Horsetail Detail 7461

From the Volo Bog State Natural Area in Lake County, Illinois, on June 7th comes this elongated closeup of a horsetail (Equisetum spp.).

Of the more than two thousand photographs that have appeared here over the past five years, this may be the one with the greatest height-to-width ratio.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 19, 2016 at 4:44 AM

38 Responses

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  1. I even have to scroll up/down to see all of it! But great details.


    July 19, 2016 at 8:28 AM

    • The original photo had plenty of space left and right, so I cropped off the extra to highlight the horsetail. Your mention of having to scroll reminds me of the Portuguese proverb “Uns sobem, outros descem,” which means “Some go up, others go down.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 19, 2016 at 12:09 PM

  2. I remember finding those in a ditch as a young boy. I discovered you could pull them apart at the joints and put them back together. I don’t know why, but it is a very clear and satisfying memory.

    Jim Ruebush

    July 19, 2016 at 8:49 AM

    • I don’t remember seeing your name imprinted on any of the segments. 🙂

      Jim Ruebush

      July 19, 2016 at 8:50 AM

    • I’ve read that pioneers used to call horsetails scouring rushes and used them to clean pots and pans. This is the first I’ve heard about being able to pull horsetails apart at the joints and put them back together.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 19, 2016 at 12:11 PM

  3. Steven, certainly a very interesting photograph! Closeup lens?? 🙂

    • Yes, I used my 100mm macro lens and because of the low light I had to open up to the maximum aperture of f/2.8, which I rarely use because few things tend to be in focus simultaneously then.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 19, 2016 at 12:13 PM

  4. Your image brings beauty to something that is often overlooked. Great details.


    July 19, 2016 at 10:57 AM

  5. There is something I like about horsetails, especially in their fruiting stages. This is a wonderful image, with fabulous detail.

  6. Recognized this right away. I’ve read that these contain a lot of silica and were used for pot scrubbing at one time in history.

    Steve Gingold

    July 19, 2016 at 2:44 PM

    • I’ve read the same thing about the silica. I only occasionally encounter horsetails in central Texas, but they were much more common in Illinois.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 19, 2016 at 2:53 PM

  7. I didn’t realize I’ve seen horsetail until I saw the photos of Equisetum hyemale at the Wildflower Center site. Another good reason for searching it out was mentioned there — it’s a favored perch for dragonflies. Now I’m wondering if Dylan Thomas might have found inspiration in this plant for his line about “the force that through the green tube drives the flower…” There’s no flower involved with horsetail, but it’s a perfect green tube, well-decorated with those black markings.


    July 20, 2016 at 6:41 AM

    • Your tube-like plant affected my memory. The line, of course, is “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower…”


      July 20, 2016 at 6:49 AM

      • And maybe you’ve also been watching a lot of YouTube videos. Besides, the one-syllable words tube and fuse both have four letters, with u as the second and e as the fourth, so their “frames” are similar.

        Steve Schwartzman

        July 20, 2016 at 6:57 AM

    • Speaking of the Wildflower Center and horsetails and dragonflies:


      I’ll bet you’ll see something similar over by the coast now that you’re tuned in to it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 20, 2016 at 7:01 AM

      • What a great photo of the dragonfly-horsetail combo. As for seeing one, it happened today at work. When flooding brings water hyacinth down from the bayous, it tends to get caught in the marinas. As it sits there, happily rotting away, the dragonflies and damselflies swarm in. Today, I saw what I think was a flame skimmer or neon skimmer zooming around the detritus — a real treat.

        I followed the link to the information about the strobilus, too, and figured out why the tips of horsetail stems seem famliar. They look very much like the cone of the sago palm. Eventually, I bumped into Oliver Sacks, hunting horsetails on the High Line. In the midst of the short piece, there’s this: “The segments grow smaller in such a regular way that the seventeenth-century Scottish mathematician John Napier, it is said, was inspired by them to invent logarithms.” I hope that’s true — it’s a wonderful story.


        July 21, 2016 at 6:25 PM

        • When I said I bet you’ll see something similar over by the coast, I had no idea that by the next day you’d oblige. A happy find.

          This is the first I’ve heard that horsetails might have inspired Napier to invent logarithms. I did some quick searching but turned up nothing earlier than Sacks’s article, which I read. From my math-teaching days I remember two stories about the clever Napier and birds:


          Steve Schwartzman

          July 21, 2016 at 8:01 PM

  8. Hey steve .. A classic! Love the detail .. Makes me think crisp .. Green and gorgeous


    July 20, 2016 at 2:57 PM

  9. very nice study, and yes, quite tall and slim… the plant also is supposed to supply calcium and other minerals, all good for bone, hair, teeth, so the medicinal-herbal books tell me! chikungunya also takes credit for lots of hair loss – there are many long-term partners in suffering with this evil mosquito-vectored virus!

    • Tall and slim indeed, which is why I chose this tight vertical cropping. Till your mention of medicinal properties, I had no idea that people can ingest horsetails. My they do you good!

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 29, 2016 at 2:43 PM

      • Here’s a bit of technical info about horsetail..

        • Those are promising. I’d like to see further research to determine which effects hold up, and to what extent. I also wish the article had given links to the studies mentioned, or at least detailed quotations from the conclusions of those studies. If I sound cautious it’s because I’ve had the experience of following up on an article’s claim about a certain study, only to find when I checked the original study that its conclusion was different from what the article had said.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 29, 2016 at 10:09 PM

          • si.. i was first interested in ethnobotany after reading ‘Rosita’s Sastun and the companion book, 100 Healing Plants of Belize. The latter book became my pharmacy when I lived in Costa Rica, and the nightshade berry worked miracles for a rainy-season athlete’s foot and continues to work if ever there’s a hint of ‘moist-foot’ syndrome.. The tea from the guayava/guava has helped pull friends from really bad cases of dysentary-type food illness.. I’ve witnessed it work almost 100 percent over a 10 year period when all else seemed to fail except for a trip to a pharmacy for big-guns antibiotics. those pharmacies would have been an hour or more away, and I’d say, ‘well it couldn’t hurt, and it’s totally safe, so why not try it?’ and wham, I continue to be amazed. then there’s the amazing tea made from hibiscus that’s not only good but also provides antioxidants and vitamins a, and c and more… the book is a great reference tool and tells the latin name, the name in spanish, english and often mayan as well… the book travels with me, especially to remote areas where no emergency medicine is available…



          • The 100 Healing Plants also provides the scientific information.. if it’s a slightly-dangerous plant, if it’s totally safe, and if it has anti viral properties and it also names the bacterial strains it’s effective against, etc etc – or if little scientific studies have been made.. it also shares how the traditional healers used the herbs/plants, and even the index is very organized, not only w/the plant’s name but also the medical problems, as in ‘headache’ or ‘high blood pressure.’

            • A few of those herbs might have done me some good when I lived in Honduras. I can’t believe that in 2017 I can start referring to my time in Honduras as being 50 years ago.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 29, 2016 at 11:02 PM

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