Herbarium: Medicinal Plants as Information

Plant Specimen and their Alias : Exploring the Identity of Plants with Animal in the Name

Equisetum laevigatum 
Our project specimen, Equisetum laevigatum, was collected in the Santa Monica mountains by sandy banks near a stream. This was located in Los Angeles and collected on May 7, 1998 and recorded at the UCLA Herbarium. This is a frequent collection with 11K collected according to CCH2 records. Smooth Horsetail is often pictured as brown throughout literature although it is seen as green throughout nature. This plant has two main components: the long stem which makes the majority of the plant and its acorn-like cone at the top. The stem is green, which can grow 2 to 4 feet tall and 1 to 6 feet wide and can be fertile or sterile depending on the presence or absence of a cone. Moreover, the stem is thick and is circled by black teeth “leaves” every 2 to 6 inches. According to Southwest Colorado Wildflowers website, Equisetaceae are the sole survivors of a line of plants going back three hundred million years and gave rise to many of our coal deposits. Equisetum laevigatum, also known by their common name smooth horsetail or scouring rush, are widespread throughout North America, Canada, and Southern Mexico. Some of these plants claimed medicinal agents include antioxidants and silica. The former is meant to protect against free radicals in your body that could damage cells, while the latter is made of silicon and oxygen and may have benefits for skin, hair, and nails. Depending on the photos, there are different qualities we observe.

Equisetum laevigatum Connection to Animal
Equisetum laevigatum, a plant from the family Equisetaceae, goes by the common name Smooth Horsetail. The medicinal uses of Horsetail date back to ancient Roman and Greek times. It was traditionally used to treat wounds, tuberculosis and kidney problems. We can infer why this plant is called smooth horsetail by observing some of its key characteristics. For example, the long and branched stems fan out from the root like hairs of a horse’s tail. The long thick stems are further intertwined with shorter thin stems making the plant denser. The root is thick yet flexible which parallels the tail of a horse: it is usually thicker closer to the rear end and flexible for mobility. This specimen could also be deemed multi-purpose, much like the hair of a horse's tail. This specimen is not only known for its medicinal uses, but was also once used to scour and clean surfaces. The Equisetum stems also contain high concentrations of silica, which has benefits for hair, skin, and nails. While many specimens in the Equisetacea family are referred to as Horsetail, Equisetum Laevigatum is specified with the adjective “smooth.” This is likely due to the smooth nature of the stem in between it’s teethed ridges.

Lycium torreyi
Lycium torreyi is a type of flowering plant that is primarily found in the southwestern area of the US, particularly common in the southern California district. For this project, the preserved specimen of Lycium torreyi utilized for the physical analysis was obtained through the UCLA herbarium collection. The plant in the collection was collected from the Sonoran Desert in 1988 by Barry A. Prigge and David S. Verity. The plant has many unique physical characteristics, such as small green leaves across its branches (1cm), short yet sharp spikes, and little black fruits growing at the ends of the plant. Historically, the plant was used to treat a myriad of conditions because of its seemingly medicinal properties. In this project, we will explore these physical and medical characteristics in-depth to provide a more comprehensive and multidisciplinary perspective into the specimen in its entirety.

Lycium torreyi Connection to Animal
Lycium torreyi, commonly referred to as Torrey Wolfberry, is a flowering plant with an extensive history in medical usage. We can infer why the animal name of "Wolf'' is included in this colloquial name by looking at the plant's various features. We can begin by analyzing the thorns of Lycium torreyi. The long stem of Lycium torreyi is covered in thorns across its entire length. There are likely close to 100 thorns present across these two stems in the herbarium specimen. These thorns are sharp and could cause damage to any organism that attempts to eat or uproot Lycium torreyi. These thorns may serve as a defense mechanism to protect the growth and longevity of Lycium torreyi. Perhaps these thorns are similar to the common defense mechanism of wolves: their sharp teeth. Both these thorns and the sharp teeth of wolves can cause scratches and deep harm to outside invading species. In this herbarium specimen, there is an abundance of dried leaves. In the small white envelope, there are dozens - hundreds of leaves that have fallen off the plant. These leaves cover the plant/shrub. Perhaps, these leaves are similar to the fur covering the body of wolves. This is a small connection but it is an overlapping feature between Lycium torreyi and its colloquial name: Torrey Wolfberry. These are merely observations and inferences; however they are perhaps reasonable connections between Lycium torreyi and its namesake: the wolf.

E. laevigatum and L. torreyi Similarities and Differences
In the previous paragraphs, information about Equisetum laevigatum and Lycium torreyi have been presented. For this part, the two plants are being compared and contrasted. Although they look different, these plants have some similarities. Both came to have animals in their names because of their features. E. laevigatum resembled a horse's tail. Thus, the name smooth horsetail. L. torreyi's thorns and leaves contributed to the plant being named after a wolf, as in Torrey Wolfberry. In addition, both can be found in the United States. The plants were also found to have medicinal purposes. E. laevigatum was used to combat free radicals in the body. L. torreyi, on the other hand, was used for toothaches and chickenpox, among other ailments. Next, we move on to the plants' differences. Physically they are very different. E. laevigatum is like thick sticks but hollow. L. torreyi is like a tree branch but thinner and has thorns. Torrey wolfberry's leaves are evident. On the other hand, smooth horsetails have less apparent miniature leaves surrounding their joints. As for location, E. laevigatum can be found where there are sandy soils and wet ditches. L. torreyi prefers to be in coastal dunes. An in-depth look at each plant is on the following two pages.



Curtis, John. 1830. “A Horsetail Plant (Equisetum Species) with an Associated Beetle and Its Anatomical Segments. Coloured Etching, c. 1830.” Wellcome Collection. August 1, 1830. https://wellcomecollection.org/works/r9tueb3s.
Mount Sinai New York. n.d. “Horsetail Information.” Mount Sinai Health System. Accessed March 7, 2022. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/horsetail.
SEINet Portal Network. n.d. “Equisetum Laevigatum A. Braun.” SEINet Portal Network. Accessed March 7, 2022. https://swbiodiversity.org/seinet/taxa/index.php?taxon=1980.
Southwest Colorado Wildflowers. n.d. “Equisetum Laevigatum.” Accessed March 7, 2022. https://www.swcoloradowildflowers.com/Fern%20Enlarged%20Photo%20Pages/equisetum%20laevigatum.htm.
Tropicos.org. n.d. “Engelmann - s.n. - United States.” Missouri Botanical Garden. Accessed March 7, 2022. http://legacy.tropicos.org/Image/14796.

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