Significant pressurized (convective) ventilation has been demonstrated in some flowering wetland plants, for example water-lilies and reeds, but not previously in nonflowering plants. Here we investigated convective flows in the great horsetail, Equisetum telmateia, and the possibility that convections aerated the massive rhizomes of the Calamites, extinct giant horsetails of the Carboniferous.• Convection in E. telmateia was examined in relation to induction sites, anatomical pathways, relative humidity (RH), external wind-speed, diurnal effects, rhizome resistance and pressure-gradients. A mathematical model, incorporating Calamite aeration anatomy, was applied in assessing potentials for convective aeration.• Individual shoots of E. telmateia generated extremely high rates of humidity-induced convection: ≤ 120 cm3 min−1 (internal wind-velocity: 10 cm s−1) with rates proportional to branch numbers and 1/RH. Flows passed through branches, stem and rhizome via low-resistance lacunae (vallecular canals) and vented via stubble. Stomata supported internal pressures up to 800 Pa. Anatomically, E. telmateia resembles the Calamites and modelling predicted possible flows of 70 l min−1 per Calamite tree.• This is the first demonstration of significant convective flow in a nonflowering species, indicating that plant ventilation by a type of ‘molecular gas-pump’ may date back 350 million yr or more. Stomatal form and low-resistance pathways may facilitate high flow rates.