Phylum Monilophyta: Class Equisetopsida (Horsetails)


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 In the photo, bushy horsetail plants grow in water.
Horsetails. Horsetails, named for the brushy appearance of the sporophyte, thrive in a marsh. (credit: Myriam Feldman)

OpenStax Biology 2e

Horsetails, whisk ferns, and ferns belong to the phylum Monilophyta, with horsetails placed in the class Equisetopsida. The single genus Equisetum is the survivor of a large group of plants, known as Arthrophyta, which produced large trees and entire swamp forests in the Carboniferous. The plants are usually found in damp environments and marshes.

The stem of a horsetail is characterized by the presence of joints or nodes, hence the name Arthrophyta (arthro- = “joint”; -phyta = “plant”). Leaves and branches come out as whorls from the evenly spaced joints. The needle-shaped leaves do not contribute greatly to photosynthesis, the majority of which takes place in the green stem.

 Photo shows a horsetail plant, which resembles a scrub brush, with a thick stem and whorls of thin leaves branching from the stem.
The jointed stem of a horsetail. Thin leaves originating at the joints are noticeable on the horsetail plant. Because silica deposited in the cell walls made these plants abrasive, horsetails were once used as scrubbing brushes and were nicknamed scouring rushes. (credit: Myriam Feldman)

Silica collected by in the epidermal cells contributes to the stiffness of horsetail plants, but underground stems known as rhizomes anchor the plants to the ground. Modern-day horsetails are homosporous. The spores are attached to elaters—as we have seen, these are coiled threads that spring open in dry weather and casts the spores to a location distant from the parent plants. The spores then germinate to produce small bisexual gametophytes.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: