Equisetum pratense

Tracheophyta EquisetopsidaEquisetaceaeEquisetumEquisetum pratense


An evergreen herb, typically found on sloping sites where the substrate is derived from calcareous alluvial silts or sand, especially lightly wooded stream banks in the lower parts of upland valleys. It can also extend onto open moorland, and is found on grassy slopes beneath base-rich upland cliffs. 0-915 m (Breadalbanes, Mid Perth).



World Distribution

Circumpolar Boreal-montane element.

Broad Habitats

Fen, marsh and swamp (not wooded)

Light (Ellenberg): 7

Moisture (Ellenberg): 7

Reaction (Ellenberg): 5

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 4


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 1.8

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 12.7

Annual Precipitation (mm): 1406

Life form information

Height (cm): 60

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Non-bulbous geophyte (rhizome, corm or tuber)



Clonality - primary

Rhizome far-creeping

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 170

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 35

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: 0.11

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Equisetum pratense Ehrh.

Shade horsetail

Status: scarce



A plant of often sloping, and thus well-drained, sites, on alluvial silt or similar sandy soils. It requires a fairly high base content in the soil and develops best in shady situations where calcium- or magnesium-­rich water flushes the site, where it often grows with Crepis paludosa, Galium odoratum, Melica nutans and Trollius europaeus. In areas of higher rainfall it can become a moorland plant on micaceous schistose soils, but it is then often small in stature. It ranges from sea-level in the Hebrides to 850 metres on Sgorr Dhearg in Glen Coe. 

E. pratense is a rhizomatous perennial. According to Page (1982), cone production is extremely poor and spasmodic in most British populations, a fact that he relates to the general trend for milder winters. The species is, however, persistent in the vegetative state.

Most of the sites known a century or more ago are still extant. It appears that many of the pre-1970 records are moorland sites where E. sylvaticum may have been erroneously recorded as E. pratense in the past or where E. pratense may have been overlooked in recent years.

E. pratense is an arctic-alpine species. It is common in Iceland and Scandinavia, and extends south to the Alps and Romania; central and northern Asia and the Caucasus. Its European distribution is mapped by Jalas & Suominen (1972). In North America it is found from Alaska to Nova Scotia, and south to New York, Michigan and South Dakota.



A. C. Jermy

PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Atlas text references

Atlas (4c)
Curtis TGF, McGough HN
1988.  The Irish Red Data Book. 1. Vascular Plants.
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Jalas & Suominen (1972)
Bangerter EB, Cannon JFM, Jermy AC
1978.  Ferns and their allies. The Island of Mull: a survey of its flora and environment. :12.1-12.7.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.