Welsh, Rhawn, or Rhownyn y march. - French, Prele, Queue de cheval, Caqueue. - German, Kannenkraut, Asprella. - Dutch, Akkerig paardestaart. - Italian, Equiseto, Codadi di cavallo. - Spanish, Equisito, Cola de mula. - Portuguese, Equiseto. - Russian, Chwosch. - Lap, Aske. - Cochin China, Ma hoang.
The Equisetum more than any plant, perhaps not even excepting the palms and reeds of tropical climates, carries us back, in thought, to the days of the early world, when the earth was peopled with the strange monsters whose records are their rock-entombed bones; and clothed with those peculiar vegetable creations which, even now, wherever they are simulated by newer forms, impart so singular an aspect to the surrounding scenery. The same forms which now constitute a humble undergrowth in our woods, or a very troublesome weed in our marshy meadows, once grew as trees, and saw the appearance of the earliest warm-blooded animals in the Cetaceae* and Didelphis; † or shadowed the slimy waters, and yet more slimy earth, where des-ported the huge Sauroids of the Secondary Period. The mighty Plesiosauri, Phytosauri, Megalosauri, or Hylosauri, whose titles we write with labour-ing pen, as a scattered few amongst the ruthlessly hard names with which geologists have loaded these extinct creatures, as if in ghastly mockery of their cumbrous proportions.
* Trans. Geol. Soc., vol. i.
† A genera allied to the present opossum. See Lyell's "Princip. of Geol." etc.
"We must not, however, conclude that none of these plants now attain to a greater size than that which we are accustomed to see in our northern cli-mate. When Dodonseus wrote that the horsetail of Olympus had a stalk as big as a man's arm, his addition that it produced berries which had the flavour of mulberry-juice did not appear necessary to confirm the whole account as a fable; and when Bellonius in his "Singularities," described these, as well as a species found near Ragusa, as growing to the height of a plane-tree, he was but supposed to have exaggerated the account of the first writer, whom he had followed: and the supposition was correct, as the climate indicated is incapable of producing, in such luxuriance, plants which pre-eminently require heat and moisture for so full a development. In Brazil, however, where-these con-ditions are fulfilled, Gardner actually found them attaining to a height of fifteen feet,* or five feet beyond that which M. Brongniart gives, as the greatest height discovered amongst the fossil spe-cies. It is, however, to be remembered, that while the former exhibited but a circumference of three inches, the latter have actually a diameter of no less than five or six inches,* - a circumstance which leaves the balance of size still considerably in favour of the fossil plants.
* Between Ouro Preto and Rio de Janeiro; "Travels in Brazil".
It is, however, with our more diminutive British species that we have now to deal; with the "Dutch rushes," "pewterwort," "shave grass," or "joints," of our different rural districts. Most pathetically the author of "Adam in Eden, or the Paradise of Plants,"† laments that "country housewives" no longer scour their pewter, brass, or wooden vessels, with the flinty stems of these plants; mourning that "that piece of thriftiness, with many others, is laid aside, which might be profitably revived if they knew it." But we could tell him of farmers' wives, in Wales, at least, and very probably else-where, who still retain both the knowledge and the practice; we could shew him, were he still alive, wooden pails, snowy as the milk they are to contain, ranged in certain sunny court-yards, and daily scoured with the Rhawn y march, just as were their ances-tors - if pails can be supposed to have a genealogy - in the days of old Gerarde, and long before. Nor, in the higher branches of mechanical art, is the horsetail without its use.
Formerly, no comb-maker, metal-worker, or cabinet-maker, could com-plete his work without Dutch rushes to polish it; and even yet, with the assistance of the manifold improvements with which science is daily lessening every species of toil, the plant retains its place, and is still imported to this country in considerable quantities from the moist shores and canal banks of Holland. It is particularly the rough-horsetail (E. hyemale), or a species very closely allied to it,* which is thus imported; the plant is of immense value in its native country from the extraordinary length and interlaced growth of its root-fibres, which mat together and consolidate the loose and swampy soil in which they grow, and thus form one of the most effectual water-dams of so level a land. A very familiar example of the extraordinary deve-lopment of the roots of the equisetum is, that which we may observe in the marsh-horsetail (E. palustre); the plant that fills and clogs our draining-pipes in such an extraordinary manner as to render closed drainage quite impracticable in localities where it abounds.
Insinuating its fibres at every joint of the pipe, they luxuriate in the constant flow of water within, and shoot out to an extraordinary length, intertwining in such a manner, that when the mass is taken out and dried, it might be taken for a very bulky bird's nest.
* "Annales des Sciences Naturelles," November, 1828. † William Coles, the herbalist.