Equisetum Snakegrass (Horsetail)

Equisetum Snakegrass (Horsetail)

Snakegrass (Horsetail, Flutegrass, Equisetum)

There has always been a patch of snakegrass growing in my front yard. Generally it has not been too bad and controllable to acceptable levels by weeding. However this year (2010) it has become horrendous! Apparently it is due to the extensively moist and wet spring we had this year which is the perfect environment for it to propagate not only by root or rhizome growth but also by spore dispersion....

Equisetum Snakegrass (Horsetail)

So how to get rid of this snake-in-the-grass snakegrass?

I am unable to convince all the neighbour-hood kids to weed it by showing them flute or whistle properties of the pernicious plant. Even creating intricate headbands, necklaces and wristbands and wearing them on around-the-block walks has failed to entice even the most curious of lot kids to mimic creation of these articles. 

I've put together a bunch of different pieces of information from all over the world and essentially it appears it is bloody hard to control. So I am not sure what to do!

Any suggestions? For now we are just weeding it in huge swaths and throwing it over the fence into the neighbours yard. :0)

Equisetum Snakegrass (Horsetail)


Snake Grass Equisetum is a naturally dried tall tubular grass. They are dark green with a pencil-size diameter, segmented and approximately 2 1/2 feet tall.

It is also more commonoy called "horsetails". I found you can buy it online and in floral shops by the bunches. Apparently its bamboo like features make it kinda spiffy for some styles of flower arrangments. Well! Perhaps we will let it grow and sell it off to floral shops. I'll let you know how that goes! I suppose if you got enough of it and stuck it in a vase all by itself it might actually look kind of interesting. If I try it before weeding it all out, I'll add the photo of how it looks here.

There are at least sixteen (16) species of Equisetum, generally referred to as horsetail. The main forms are the leafless scouring rush which has green stems with two black bands at the stem joints and, the major troublemaker, is field horsetail (Equisetum arvense) also sometimes called mares tail, horse pipes or snake grass.

The horsetails or scouring rushes are a group of perennial plants intermediate between the ferns and club-mosses. Like the ferns they possess a more or less branching, creeping rootstock which persists from year to year and sends out new shoots each year.

The rootstock of the field horsetail develops also short tuber-like branches, which act as storehouses of reserve material. As in some of the ferns, the rootstock sends up two distinct kinds of leaf-shoots, a fertile and a sterile shoot, each of which is distinctly jointed and hollow. The fertile stems, which bear the spores, or reproductive bodies, appear early in May, before the sterile or vegetative shoots have yet unfolded.

They are from four to ten inches high, usually unbranched, light-brown, with darker brown, scale-like leaves arranged in circles at each joint or node. At the apex of each fertile stem is a group of sporophylls known as the cone, from which the spores fall to the ground and produce new plants.

The spores are round, and each is furnished with two spiral bands or elaters (so attached as to appear to be four) which assist in its dispersal. The sterile stems are from four to twenty inches high, bright green, grooved, with angled, solid branches.

Equisetum Snakegrass (Horsetail)


Horsetail is native to North America, and is typically found in gravelly or sandy soil from Newfoundland to Alaska and my frontyard.


The tenacious root system of horsetail makes long term control a very difficult prospect.

An integrated control approach can help alleviate the problem. Improve drainage and encourage growth of a healthy perennial grass cover. Cut or burn fertile stems prior to spore formation to reduce spread potential. Porous landscape fabrics or black plastic mulch effectively prevent horsetail growth. Sawdust or bark mulches are ineffective. Deep cultivation can be effective in the short term. Be aware that rhizomes cut into very short pieces will regenerate. Shallow cultivation and dragging the rhizomes are not advised.

This weed may be held in control by draining, enriching, and cultivating the ground. It thrives best in sandy or gravelly soil that is wet in the spring and early summer, or where the underlying water is not far from the surface of the soil. Good drainage and good cultivation will eventually exterminate it as, although the rootstocks lie lower than the depth of ordinary cultivation, they will starve if the green food-producing shoots are kept cut.

Few herbicides are registered for control and their use is dependent on the situation in which horsetail grows. Casoron (dichlobenil) can be used in many woody ornamentals, tree fruits, nurseries and shelterbelts and in raspberries, cranberries and blueberries.

Amitrol-T (amitrol) controls horsetail in non-cropped areas and established shelterbelts. Various MCPA formulations will provide topgrowth control in grass pastures and cereals.

Before use of any herbicide READ THE LABEL to ensure it is registered for your cropping situation. Follow label directions!

Equisetum Snakegrass (Horsetail)

Poisonous Properties

The harmfulness of field horsetail has for many years been the subject of much discussion and difference of opinion but some studies have suggested it can kill livestock when eaten in large enough quantities. The toxic principle has not been determined.

Animals Affected

Horses suffer most from eating this weed in the hay, particularly young horses. It is also known to be injurious to sheep, but there is a difference of opinion as to its effect upon cattle. The weed does not appear to be as poisonous when eaten in a green state. This may be due to the laxative properties of other fresh food eaten at the same time, or to the fact that the plant is not as common in pastures as in meadows and, in consequence, is not eaten to the same extent. Animals grazing in pastures containing horsetail, should be watched and removed from the field of danger at the first symptoms of poisoning.

Equisetum Snakegrass (Horsetail)

Symptoms of Poisining

The first general symptoms are a certain excitement, unthriftiness, diarrhoea, good appetite; later, staggering gait, partial loss of motive power, craving for the weed, pulse accelerated, respiration difficult, sometimes convulsions and death or a state of unconsciousness and coma. Sometimes the attack is very acute, death occurring in a few hours; usually, however, the disease lasts from a few days to several weeks.


The first and most important thing to be done is to change the food. Remove all hay and bedding containing equisetum. Administer a purgative (something that makes the animals vomit), such as raw linseed oil or aloes, to remove any undigested portion of the plant, and give stimulants, camphor, or powdered nux vomica with grain feed three times a day. Blisters along the spine are beneficial (Friedberger and Frohner). In severe cases, slings should be used to support the animal before it loses the power to stand. If this treatment is begun in time, the animals will recover in practically all cases.

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