Identification & Description:
Erect, evergreen, unbranched or irregularly branched when older, .2 to .75 inch in diameter, hollow, jointed, ridged; ridges with silica deposits.
Inconspicuous, reduced to small tooth-like scales fused together in a cylindrical sheath at each node.
Flattened or flared at the top, .2 to .75 inch long, green when young, developing dark brown or black ring, portion above the ring becoming tan, white, or grayish; teeth numerous, persistent or shed, lanceolate, less than .2 inch long, firm and stiff to thin and paper-like, twisted, blackish, margins colorless, tips pointed.
Cones, solitary, sessile or short-stalked, ellipsoid, .2 to 1 inch long, terminal; tip ending in abrupt, flexible point; cone composed of spore-bearing bodies; spores numerous, minute, spherical.
Perennial growing to 1m. It is hardy to zone 5. The seeds ripen from July to August. We rate it 2 out of 5 for usefulness.
The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil.
Strobil (the fertile shoots in spring) – cooked. An asparagus substitute. Caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.
Roots – dried and then cooked. A source of starch. Caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.
A further report says that the peeled stems, base of the plant, root and tubers were eaten raw by the N. American Indians, the report went on to say that this may be inadvisable.
Dye; Fungicide; Liquid feed; Musical; Paper; Parasiticide; Polish; Sandpaper; Scourer.
The stems are very rich in silica. They are used for scouring and polishing metal and as a fine sandpaper. The stems are first bleached by repeated wetting and drying in the sun. They can also be used as a polish for wooden floors and furniture.
The infused stem is an effective fungicide against mildew, mint rust and blackspot on roses. It also makes a good liquid feed. Used as a hair rinse it can eliminate fleas, lice and mites.
A light pink dye is obtained from the stem.
The hollow stems have been used as whistles. Another report says that the stem joints are pulled apart and used by children to produce a whistling sound.
Prefers a moist soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5.
Plants are hardy to about -30°c.
The stems of this species were once exported to Britain in quantity from Holland so that they could be used as an abrasive for cleaning pots and pans.
Plants have a deep and penetrating root system and can be invasive. If grown in the garden they are best kept in bounds by planting them in a large container which can be sunk into the ground.