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Book cover - Common Weeds of New ZealandAn Illustrated Guide to
Common Weeds
of New Zealand


Equisetum arvense
field horsetail


Reproduced from
Common Weeds of New Zealand
by Ian Popay, Paul Champion & Trevor James
ISBN 0 473 09760 5
by kind permission of the
New Zealand Plant Protection Society

Publication or other use of images or descriptive text on these pages is unauthorised unless written permission is obtained from the authors and publisher.
Appropriate acknowledgement of the publication Common Weeds of New Zealand must always be given.

Available from Touchwood Books

Equisetum arvense - field horsetail

Erect, rhizomatous, colony-forming perennial. Shoots with whorls of needle-like branches similar to spurrey. Aerial parts die back each winter and appear again in spring. Cone-like structures at the tip of fertile shoots. Allied to ferns.

  • Flowers No flowers, but cone-like structures, 1-4 cm long, at the tips of fertile stems contain spores.
  • Fruit No fruit.
  • Leaves Long, thin, needle-like branches in whorls resemble leaves.
  • Stems Erect, green, grooved, with branches in whorls, sterile, up to 80 mm long by 5 mm diameter. Smaller but thicker, unbranched, brown fertile stems appear in spring and die after shedding spores in summer.
  • Roots Extensive underground rhizomes, bearing round tubers, creeping and branching freely penetrate to considerable depths, especially in shifting sand banks in rivers.


Damp ground, river-banks, lake margins and sandy or gravelly soils.


Uncommon but recorded from Kawhia, Havelock North, New Plymouth, Wanganui, and lower Rangitikei in NI. Marlborough, Nelson (200 ha infestation in a valley near Karamea), Christchurch and Dunedin in SI. Originally from temperate regions of northern hemisphere.


Used a pot scourer in olden days in Europe, and for some homeopathic preparations. Very difficult to control either with herbicides or by cultivation. Common weed in parts of Europe. Species is toxic to animals. Of limited distribution in NZ, and could become more widespread. Listed on the National Pest Plant Accord (see Introduction for details).

Derivation of name

Equisetum (Lat.) = horse bristle, the sterile stems resembling horses' tails; arvense (Lat.) = of cultivated fields.

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Last updated: July 13, 2014