Meadow Horsetail

Equisetum pratense Ehrh.

Equisetum pratense
Stephen M. Young

Equisetopsida (Horsetails)
Equisetaceae (horsetail family)
State Protection
Listed as Threatened by New York State: likely to become Endangered in the foreseeable future. For animals, taking, importation, transportation, or possession is prohibited, except under license or permit. For plants, removal or damage without the consent of the landowner is prohibited.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Imperiled in New York - Very vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to rarity or other factors; typically 6 to 20 populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Secure globally - Common in the world; widespread and abundant (but may be rare in some parts of its range).


Did you know?

Species in the genus Equisetum are living members of a group of plants, the sphenophytes, that dominated the landscape during the age of dinosaurs. Some grew up to 100 feet tall but today's plants of the Equisetum family are much smaller, even though some species in South America may reach 15 feet in height.

State Ranking Justification

There are 15 existing populations but only five of them are in good to excellent condition. The rest of the populations are 100 or fewer plants in small areas that are easily threatened. There are 10 additional historical occurrences and some of them still require surveys.

Short-term Trends

Most populations seem to be stable although many of them have not been resurveyed. One population was not rediscovered after an ice storm covered its habitat with downed trees.

Long-term Trends

The long-term trend seems to be stable to increasing as some historical populations have not been rediscovered while many new populations have been added. There are now more existing populations than historical populations and it is hoped that this trend continues.

Conservation and Management


Threats include trampling by people, erosion or high water in riverside habitats, logging and improper maintenance of roadsides including allowing succession to crowd out plants.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Plants need to be protected from direct impact by humans using their shoreline habitat. Roadside maintenance should avoid impacting plants by using proper mowing schedules and equipment. Open wetland habitats where these plants occur should not be allowed to succeed to shrubs or trees.

Research Needs

More research is needed to determine habitat preference since it is not known why these plants prefer certain areas of extensive wetland habitats this would help guide future surveys and modeling efforts.



In New York state Equisetum pratense has been found in a diversity of different upland habitats, both shaded and open, usually in rocky or gravelly soil, on slopes or banks adjacent to rivers, roads, or railroads (New York Natural Heritage Program 2007). Alluvial woods, thickets, mossy glades, rich slopes and calcareous meadows (Fernald 1970). Stream banks and moist woods in neutral soil (Gleason 1952). Stream banks and moist woods (Gleason & Cronquist 1991).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Red maple-hardwood swamp* (guide)
    A hardwood swamp that occurs in poorly drained depressions, usually on inorganic soils. Red maple is usually the most abundant canopy tree, but it can also be codominant with white, green, or black ash; white or slippery elm; yellow birch; and swamp white oak.
  • Riverside sand/gravel bar (guide)
    A meadow community that occurs on sand and gravel bars deposited within, or adjacent to, a river channel. The community may be very sparsely vegetated, depending on the rates of deposition and erosion of the sand or gravel.

* probable association but not confirmed.

Associated Species

  • Equisetum arvense (field horsetail, common horsetail)
  • Equisetum sylvaticum (wood horsetail)
  • Toxicodendron radicans


New York State Distribution

In New York most records of Equisetum pratense are from three counties in the extreme northern portion of the state: St. Lawrence, Clinton, and Essex. It seems to be most common along the Ausable River. There is a single disjunct population known from the Catskill region, and a single historical record from Long Island.

Global Distribution

Meadow horsetail occurs from Northern New England and Maritime Canada across the Great Lakes Region and Central Canada to British Columbia, The Yukon, and Alaska. It also occurs in Eurasia, including China and northern Japan.

Identification Comments

General Description

All horsetails are perennial from rhizomes, have hollow stems with prominent nodes and whorled leaves, and produce spores rather than seeds. Meadow horsetail has annual above-ground stems, the fertile and sterile stems not alike, and it fruits in the spring. The sterile stems are 16 to 50 cm tall and 1-3mm thick, with a hollow center 16 to 1/3 the diameter of the stem, and the tips of the leaf sheaths separate except at the base. The upper half of the stem is covered with spicules (small projections of silica). The first branch internode is shorter than the stem leaves. The branches are mostly horizontal and delicate.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Equisetum pratense can be identified from vegetative or fruiting stems.

Similar Species

Equisetum arvense's fertile stem is not persistent and soon withers (not becoming green and branched). On vegetative stems the first branch internode is longer than the stem leaves, and the stems lack spicules. The branches of E. arvense are often ascending, and appear coarser than those of E. pratense.

In both E. arvense and E. sylvaticum the teeth of the leaf-sheaths are not free, rather cohering in several broad lobes, and in E. sylvaticum the fertile stems give rise to mostly compound branches.

Best Time to See

Equisetum pratense produces spores in May and June.

  • Vegetative
  • Fruiting

The time of year you would expect to find Meadow Horsetail vegetative and fruiting in New York.

Meadow Horsetail Images


Meadow Horsetail
Equisetum pratense Ehrh.

  • Kingdom Plantae
    • Phylum Sphenophyta
      • Class Equisetopsida (Horsetails)
        • Order Equisetales
          • Family Equisetaceae (horsetail family)

Additional Resources


Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. D. Van Nostrand, New York. 1632 pp.

Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 1993. Flora of North America, North of Mexico. Volume 2. Pteridophytes and Gymnosperms. Oxford University Press, New York. 475 pp.

Gleason, Henry A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. 910 pp.

Holmgren, Noel. 1998. The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Lellinger, David B. 1985. A Field Manual of the ferns and fern-allies of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 389 Pp.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2010. Biotics database. New York Natural Heritage Program. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Weldy, T. and D. Werier. 2010. New York flora atlas. [S.M. Landry, K.N. Campbell, and L.D. Mabe (original application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research University of South Florida]. New York Flora Association, Albany, New York

Weldy, Troy W. and David Werier. 2005. New York Flora Atlas. [S.M. Landry, K.N. Campbell, and L.D. Mabe (original application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research. University of South Florida]. New York Flora Association, Albany, NY. Available on the web at (


About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: January 26, 2009

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Equisetum pratense. Available from: Accessed May 26, 2024.