Saw this out on a walk with Sheba, and took a picture because it was weird. My first thought was that it was some sort of mushroom, but something about the little node (almost at the bottom of the photo), which I've never seen on a mushroom before, made me keep looking.
Long story short, it's a horsetail (Equisetum) of some kind; this is the strobilus, a structure which, if Wikipedia is correct and I'm reading it correctly, produces spores. That's about as far as I can get into it before the vocabulary starts being a problem. (I'm writing this in kind of a hurry; I'd try to untangle the vocabulary if I had more time.) Strobili are commonly called "cones," but now that I've told you that, try to forget it, because that's a botanically incorrect term. (Botanists try to save the word "cones" for conifers, though, confusingly, the cones of conifers are called strobili. All cones are strobili, but not every strobilus is a cone. Or something like that.)
Equisetum is the last surviving genus in the class Equisetopsida, which dates back to the Devonian, the era in which Devo's first albums were recorded. (Actually the Devonian goes from 416 to 359.2 million years ago, and rocks of this time period were first studied in Devon, England. Hence the name.) You may have met some ancient Equisetopsida specimens as coal; they used to be the dominant type of understory plant in forests and swamps. Species of Equisetum are currently found everywhere on Earth except Australasia (Australia, New Zealand, and the smallish islands to the north and east of them, but not as far northwest as Indonesia) and Antarctica.
This particular plant is most likely (but by no means certainly) Equisetum arvense, field horsetail, which is distinguished by, among other things, having a truly absurd number of chromosomes (108 pairs). I hear this is a record.
Among the other trivia bits about horsetails in general, and the field horsetail specifically:
The stems are coated with abrasive silica particles, which in the past has made them useful for cleaning metal. (Possibly Equisetum arvense should go on the zombie apocalypse list; dunno whether they can be grown as houseplants, though.)
They're also pesticide-resistant, and can concentrate gold from the soil. Not economically useful amounts of gold, but still.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Posted by mr_subjunctive at 2:30 AM