The horsetails are remarkable for the large quantity of silica they contain in the cuticle (hence their value in polishing), which often amounts to half the weight of the ash yielded by burning them; the roots contain a quantity of starch.
Our modern diminutive " horsetails " with scaly leaves were represented in the Carboniferous period by gigantic calamites, often with a diameter of I to 2 ft.
The stamens of Araucaria and Agathis are peculiar in bearing several long and narrow free pollen-sacs; these may be compared with the sporangiophores of the horsetails (Equisetum); in Taxus (yew) the filament is attached to the centre of a large circular distal expansion, which bears several pollen-sacs on its under surface.
The Ferns form the great majority of existing Pteridophytes; the importance and interest of the other groups, of which the Club-mosses and Horsetails are the most familiar examples, depend largely on the fact that they are the surviving representatives of large families of plants which flourished in earlier geological periods.
In addition to the three classes, Equisetales, Lycopodiales and Filicales, under which recent Pteridophytes naturally group themselves, a fourth class, Sphenophyllales, existed in Palaeozoic times, clearly related to the Horsetails and more remotely to the Ferns and perhaps the Club-mosses, but with peculiarities of its own demanding an independent position.
Vascular Cryptogams still include one or two large horsetails with stems over an inch thick, and also 37 species of Fern, amongst the most interesting of which are 5 species belonging to the climbing Lygodium, a genus now living in Java.