Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Old Ephedra

"Old Ephedra" 1, 2, 3, 4 (Click any to see larger)
West Odessa, Texas

Do these plants look 200 million years old?

Of course, these three specimens (the two on the left are the same plant) are not anything near that old, but they do have a long lineage as members of a class of plants that goes back to the Triassic period. Ephedras, of which there are about 40 species worldwide, are unique enough to have their own genus, family, and order.

As you can see, they don't have leaves, but rather conduct photosynthesis in their stems. Ephedra is a small, sprawling perennial shrub, prefers dry climates, and reproduces by cones. The appearance of cones explains one of their common names, "jointfir." Ephedras are also sometimes called "Mormon tea," prepared as tea and used medicinally by American natives and settlers for everything from colds to syphilis. Another common name is "clapweed," although I believe the poor souls who used it continued to suffer.

According to the Sibley Nature Center, there are three common species of ephedra locally: Ephedra torreyii, ephedra coryii and ephedra antisyphillitica. I'm not sure which I have pictured but next time I talk to founder and director Burr Williams, I'll ask if he can distinguish them in these photos. The Sibley site has lots of information and photos of ephedras, depicted in a great variety of environments and throughout the seasons. As always, the center is a valuable resource to me and countless others in the Llano Estacado.

The funny thing to me about ephedras is that it's not one of the plants commonly known here, although it is plentiful. Granted, it's not showy, so perhaps that's why. I'm thinking with some pruning, it could be a nice xeroscape specimen. Its flowers are tiny and stunning in macro. When spring comes, I'll share some close-ups with you.
The University of Arizona Geosciences department, focusing on its pollen
Wikipedia's Ephedra genus article (mostly above my head)
Very informative article by Susan E Meyers of the USDA National Forest service (pdf)
More than 50 results for ephedra on the Sibley Nature Center site.


Lucky Dip Lisa said...

Bottom left, simply stunning!
Interesting sounding plant too!

Godinla said...

They do look pretty damned old.

Carolyn said...

Janet Kincaid sent me. I'm now a follower. Like me, you don't have an exotic or 1000 year old city to photograph. So I learn from all of the CDP folks in the new world. Thanks. Especially like your interview with the old gentleman who worked the oil fields. On the hoof local anthropology. I like it.

Bobbie said...

I think this plant would be excellent in your landscape. Plus it doesn't have any stickers or burrs :)

Maya said...

I used to get tea with Ephedra and it worked wonders for my sinusitis. Now they are not allowed to sell it anymore with Ephedra and it doesn't work as well. Too bad. I was on a river trip down the Grand Canyon once when they were talking about it and I was wishing they'd make me some of that Mormon Tea!