- Photo: Bob Wenrick
Ephedra species are in the group of seed producing plants called Gymnosperms that includes conifers, cycads, Ginkgo and gnetophytes
Joint-fir, Mexican Tea or Canutillo are just a few of the common names that this plant has been known by. Scientifically, it’s known as Ephedra trifurca. Ephedra species are green, woody shrubs which grow 2-5 feet tall and wide. They are easily identified by the skeleton or broom like appearance. Terminal stems are thin, green and essentially leafless. The green stems are photosynthetic, such as in the Palo Verde. The stems of these shrubs contain caffeine and ephedrine. A stimulating and/or medicinal tea was made by early settlers and Native Americans by steeping dried stems. Ephedra trifurca is a dioecious plant. The Male and Female plants can be easily identified by examining the cones which
appear at the stem joints. As in other dioecious plants, the male has the pollen bearing organs and the female plant will be the seed or fruit bearer. Ephedra species are generally wind pollinated. Enclosed photos show the male flowers as having a rounded end surrounded by the pollen bearing stamens, and the female flowers are pointed and cone shaped. The flowers or cones do not have ‘petals’ as such but have papery cones which cover the maturing seeds. Seed producing plants that we are most familiar with are divided into gymnosperms and angiosperms. The term “gymnosperm” comes from the word gymnospermos, meaning “naked seeds” after the unenclosed condition of their seeds, i.e the seeds are not surrounded by fruit. Gymnosperm seeds develop generally on the surface of scale- or leaf- like appendages of cones. Angiosperms are plants that have flowers and produce seeds that are enclosed within a carpel. Most plants in lower Sabino Canyon are angiosperms. Ephedra species are in the group of seed producing plants called Gymnosperms that includes conifers, cycads, Ginkgo and gnetophytes. Ephedra are in the phyla classification of gnetophytes. Ephedra species, except for one Alligator Juniper that I know of (across Sabino Creek from mile marker 1) are the only gymnosperms in lower Sabino Canyon.