Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Horsetail invasion

My garden is being taken over by these badboys, Equisetum arvense. Known popularly as horsetails, or snake grass, they are notorious invasive weeds that are difficult to eliminate. If you google it, you'll mostly find advice on how to get rid of it - easier said than done. The thing is, I can't help but like them!

They are living fossils,

 surviving remnants of a genus that was one of the very first land plants, thriving in the Paleozoic. Some of their ancient cousins were giants, growing up to 30m high. If I squint I can easily imagine these critters towering over me, reaching up into the sky to the roar of passing dinosaurs, pterodactyls soaring around their summits.

Furthermore, their sparse and geometric modular design is really quite attractive, all bright green stems with regularly spaced dark bands and feathery needles spanning out in circles at each band.

My garden. Yeah i need to do some weeding
Their perniciousness as weeds is partly a consequence of their simplicity. As modular plants, they can regenerate from small fragments of stem left in compost. They have roots up to 2m deep and achieve much of their colonisation by vegetative growth via rhizomes. But they're such multitaskers they produce spores too. They are resistant to many weedkillers because they reproduce without seeds. In my garden they are (it is? how many are there?) popping up in every possible crack and crevice.
.....and take the recycling out.

 I'm tempted to try and get hold of some Equisetum laevigatum and really go for it on the dinosaur-plant front, but i'm not sure my neighbours would thank me for it.

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