Ephedra trifurca Torr. ex S. Watson
Longleaf Jointfir, Mexican Tea
Mexican tea is native to Baja Califormia, Chihuahua and Sonora in northwestern Mexico, as well as to much of the American southwest. It is fairly common in desert scrub habitats.
Plants: Shrubs are up to 6½' (2 m) high, made of erect, round, jointed branches that look like someone plunged a clump of slightly crooked straws into the ground together. The branches are pointed, and have fine grooves along their length, and are light green at first, aging to yellowish, then greenish gray.
Leaves: Small scaly leaves poke out of stem nodes.
Flowers: This species does not produce flowers.
Fruits: Male plants produce pollen cones up to ⅜" (1 cm) long, while female plants produce slightly larger cones containing a seed in a papery envelope. Cones appear at stem nodes, in late winter or early spring.
Medical: Plants contain a small amount of ephedrine, a drug that is used medically for relief of shortness of breath due to bronchial asthma. It reduces swelling and constricts blood vessels. Ephedrine is dangerous for people with some health conditions. The PDR for Herbal Medicines does not list this species at all. Tea made from this plant is so low in ephedrine that it is probably neither harmful nor efficacious. This doesn’t deter the snake oil sellers, though.
Ephedra trifurca at Southeastern Arizona Wildflowers and the Plants of the Sonoran Desert
Ephedra trifurca on The Gymnosperm Database
Ephedra trifurca on Wikipedia
Ephedra trifurca on SEINet—the Southwest Environmental Information Network
Ephedra trifurca from the Jepson Manual
Ephedra trifurca on Calflora
Ephedra trifurca description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.