Tuesday, October 14, 2008

100 Species Challenge -- Species # 26

Specimen #26

Scouring Rush

AKA Horsetail

Equisetum laevigatum

Photos taken at Ledges State Park

If I can located a cache near water, we're in good shape. The kids will play for hours in the water while I search for caches. This plant is found in most places where there is a creek bed. You won't find them in the water, but on the creek banks. I include close-up pictures to show the joints (here they look like white rings), the hollow stem (the tip was already broken off when I found this specimen), and a view of the creek bed -- on the left side of the creek (it's really north), what looks like grass is really clumps of scouring rush. I was not able to get a good photo of the cone you find at the tip. All of the photos were tough to get with the weather.

We've found Smooth and Rough Scouring Rushes in various wild places, always near water. The writer of this article says that it's in her housing subdivision. These plants are named "scouring rush" because they were once used for cleaning pots and pans. If you feel one, you'll understand. We've tested it, and maybe you will too. They do not branch and we always find them grouped in a clump. When the kids were very young, they would blow through the hollow stem and try to whistle through them. "N" declared this is favorite plant when he was in preschool.

All Horsetails have ridged, segmented stems. Equisetum is its Latin genus name -- equi for horse, and setum for hair. They are survivor plants left from ancient times, a living fossil. I frequently refer to Illinois Wildflowers, which has information near the bottom about the age of this plant genus.

According to www.rook.org:
  • Contains so much silica that bunches of the stem have been sold for polishing metal and used to be imported into England from Holland for the purpose, hence the popular name of Dutch Rushes. It was also called by old writers Shave-grass, and was formerly much used by whitesmiths and cabinet-makers.
  • Was employed in England for scouring pewter and wooden kitchen utensils, and hence called Pewterwort. Fletchers and combmakers rubbed and polished their work with it, and the dairy-maids of the northern counties used it for scouring their milk-pails.
  • Native Americans and Mexicans used the dried stems to scour cooking pots while early American carpenters and other craftsman used the dried stems to smooth and polish woods, ivory, and metals.
  • Used in the past to give wood, ivory, silver, pewter and brass a fine finish. The high silicon content in the stems acts as a gentle but effective polish. Bunches of the rush were used to scour milking pails or scrubbing pots in the kitchen. Even now, it could be very useful to campers.
  • According to Linnaeus an excellent food for horses in some parts of Sweden, but that cows are apt to lose their teeth by feeding on it and to be afflicted with diarrhoea. Cattle probably avoid these plants instinctively and would probably only eat them in the absence of better fodder.
  • Medicinally, Native Americans used it as a diuretic when there was difficulty expelling urine.

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