Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and Bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra)

Picture it...

A beaker of silica (silicon dioxide) on a bed of horsetail, Equisetum arvense. Also showing the molecular structure of silicon dioxide and the tetrahedral arrangement adopted in the solid state. A beaker of silica (silicon dioxide) on a bed of horsetail, Equisetum arvense. Also showing the molecular structure of silicon dioxide and the tetrahedral arrangement adopted in the solid state.

Imagine my surprise when I saw a little glass container with dry brown needles, labelled “Horsetail, Devon, UK” on the desk of a Professor of Inorganic and Materials Chemistry in Texas (Jeffrey L. Coffer at TCU). Horsetail (Equisetum arvense), an invasive, deep-rooted weed, along with members of the grasses family (Poaceae), which includes bamboo, rice, grass and sugarcane, accumulates silica (silicon dioxide) throughout its stems and leaves. This silica, perhaps more familiar from little sachets of drying agents when you buy new shoes, can be converted into mesoporous silicon, used as a benign additive in food and cosmetics, but is also of interest in biomedicine as a template for bone and cell growth…

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