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Oh, my aching muscles...

By Mary Gutierrez

As I wrote the brief piece on Equisetum (horsetail) for this issue, I began thinking about plant fads—and what a sucker I am for most of them, even in the face of logic.

I complain about the feathery Equisetum arvense that sprouts in my front yard each spring. I bemoan this weed because it’s impossible to eradicate (really!). Horsetail has managed to survive for over 300 million years--so don’t think they’ll be fazed by a squirt of Roundup. It outlasted the dinosaurs and it's going to give cockroaches a run for it!

Here’s how horsetail ties into my musing on plant fads. For the past five years or so, I’ve been gaga over plants from the family Restionaceae. Once upon  a time in plant taxonomic history, horsetails and restios (the term used to refer to plants in this family) were believed to be related. It’s easy to see why—they look very much alike. 

I won’t mention how much I’ve spent acquiring a few scarce restio specimens—one of which remains alive. I’ve even gone so far as to order restio seeds from South Africa, the only part of the world where they are widely indigenous.

So while I whine about the horsetail invasion out front, in my backyard greenhouse I’ve got 50-odd seedlings of various types of restios that will all grow up to resemble my front yard nemesis. The main difference is—and this is key—restios are a lot harder to grow. It all boils down to wanting what one can’t easily have.

When  my seedlings get big enough, I’ll trot them out for the summer and coddle them through the winter and will point them out to all my garden visitors. One consolation is that I’m not alone in my fascination with these plants. But I don’t think my fancy was out on the cutting edge. I’ve just hopped onto another horticultural bandwagon.

Click on "Mary Gutierrez in South Africa" to view a page devoted to these unusual plants.

Chondropetalum tectorum--one of the lovely restios.

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