Equisetum variegatum

Variegated Scouring Rush

Equisetum variegatum, Variegated Scouring Rush, Photo Courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and  William S. Alverson
Variegated Scouring Rush
Photo Courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and William S. Alverson

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Equisetum, from the Latin, equus, "horse", and seta, "bristle, animal hair"
  • variegatum, from the Latin, variego, "to make or be different colors, to variegate"
  • Scouring Rush, a reference to its early use for cleaning pots, made possible by its high silica content. Variegated, from the distinctive black and white leaf sheaths.
  • Other common names include Variegated Horsetail, Prêle Panachée (Qué), Smalfräken, Fjällfräken (Swe), Fjellsnelle (Nor), Liden Padderok (Dan), Kirjokorte (Fin), Beitieski (Is), Bunter Schachtelhalm (Ger), Tarka Zsurló (Hun), Chishimahimedokusa (Jpn)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Equisetophyta, the Horsetails
      • Class Equisetopsida, the Horsetails
        • Order Equisetales, the Horsetails
          • Family Equisetaceae, the Horsetails
            • Genus Equisetum, the Horsetails
            • Subgenus Hippochaete, the Scouring Rushes
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 17149
  • Also known as Equisetum tenue, Hippochaete variegata


  • A perennial, tufted scouring rush of the north and far north, with very slender stems to 18" tall.
  • Stem dark green, erect, straight, and rather stiff, evergreen; conspicuously jointed with 3-12 ridges, matching the number of sheath teeth at each node. Central hollow 1/3 or less the diameter of stem; vallecular channels large. Plants prostrate (under 6") and wiry in form in the high Arctic regions.
  • Leaf Sheaths membranous; black at the base with prominent white margins, 3-12 teeth.
  • Rootstalk semi-exposed near surface; slender, dark, creeping; 0.5–1.5 mm wide.
  • Roots black to very dark brown.
  • Cones with pointed apex, maturing late summer to shed spores in spring


  • Identifiable as a Horsetail by the upright, hollow, jointed, cylindrical stems with inconsequential and easily overlooked leaves.
  • Distinguished from similar, unbranched Horsetails (Scouring Rushes) by its distinctive
  • Field Marks
    • black and white leaf sheaths


  • Circumpolar; Aleutians across the Canadian Arctic to Newfoundland and Greenland, south to Oregon, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and New York.
  • Also Europe and northern Asia, east to Kamchatka.


  • Lakeshores, riverbanks, ditches, wet meadows, wet woods, marshes, calcareous sands, marly bogs, and tundra.



  • Shrubs: Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila), Willows (Salix spp.)
  • Herbs: Beach Wormwood (Artemisia campestris), Alpine Milk Vetch (Astragalus alpinus), Wooly Beach Heather (Hudsonia tomentosa)
  • Grasses: Canada Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis)




  • Reproduces by spores and vegetatively by rhizomes
  • Primarily reproduces by vegetative means; the majority of shoots arising from rhizomes.


  • By rhizome division


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 1 (average minimum annual temperature in excess of -50ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Sun to part shade
    • Constantly moist
    • Fertilization unnecessary
  • Good for bog gardens, pond margins, and naturalizing low, wet areas.
  • Available by mail order from specialty suppliers.



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Last Updated on 26 February, 2004