Ephedra chilensis

Today’s photograph is courtesy of Douglas Justice, who captured this image a couple weeks ago in the Alpine Garden.

I’m fairly certain there isn’t an English common name for this species. While researching this species yesterday due to some confusion over its scientific name and description, we (Douglas, Eric and myself) learned that little work had been done on the taxonomy of the genus Ephedra since the late 19th century. Some modern work has occurred in the past fifteen years or so, but it certainly hasn’t trickled into the horticultural literature yet. Of the older horticultural texts we examined, it seemed like the descriptions of Ephedra were all slight variations from the late 19th century work. Ephedra has often been regarded as having little ornamental value, though perhaps that will no longer be true with changing tastes or the propagation of exemplary species.

This plant is presently labelled in the garden as Ephedra americana var. andina. Most information in books (what little there is) will be under that name, though it is now treated as a synonym of Ephedra chilensis. Both names, however, hint at the current distribution of the species: the Andean (andina) mountains of Argentina and Chile (chilensis).

If you’d like to read more about Ephedra, you’ll likely find search engine results filled with commercial sites. Instead, I suggest visiting a previous entry on BPotD, Ephedra frustillata.

Ephedra chilensis

5 responses to “Ephedra chilensis”

  1. Alex Jablanczy

    This beautiful plant is of course not responsible for the notoriety of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine which are probably the most misused and abused drugs of all. Nearly all cold remedies and decongestants contain this chemical which are illegal competition enhancers and as such have caused more loss of medals than any other doping agent sometimes innocently and inadvertently. It’s effect is purely symptomatic useless as therapy. Supposedly basement criminal labs make crystal meth from it but I dont have my organic chemistry texts to check this out.
    How this highly poisonous substance became the most easily obtained over the counter poison…
    They have just removed it from childrens cough syrups at last. It can cause heart attacks strokes death. People are surprised when they hear this how can an over the counter medication… Or an innocent little flower…

  2. Judith Solberg

    It’s amazingly unlike in appearance the ephedra of southern New Mexico, commonly known as Mormon tea.

  3. sheila

    I really hope Daniel that you or someone else are able to continue the Photo of the Day, although I can appreciate the amount of time it takes. Anyhow, I learn soooo much from this, as everyone who logs in must also. My plant i.d. skills have soared!

  4. Douglas Justice

    Daniel’s link to Ephedra frustillata is particularly appropriate. Those images show a male plant covered with pollen cones. I suspect that species is responsible for pollinating this plant (though technically, I suppose it’s the wind that’s really responsible). We have no male plants of E. chilensis anywhere, but E. frustllata is located a few metres away on the hillside.

    Female cones—the reddish structures are also sometimes called female “flowers,” but technically, the structure is composed of a naked ovule enclosed by an urceolate integument (also called a perianth) contracted at the apex into a more or less elongated tube, the tubillus, which has the appearance of a style: seed with leathery integument, enclosed by the bracts, which [in this case] form a berry-like syncarp (description from Rehder, Manual of Cultivated Trees and Shrubs)—were collected from E. chilensis for a botany class a day or so after I snapped this picture, and those cones were placed in the refrigerator. Within days, the seed began to germinate. It should be interesting to see what the resulting plants look like, as reports of hybridization in Ephedra are rare.

    As to ephedras having little ornamental value, I say not so! Beyond the interesting and occasionally beautiful species in UBC Botanical Garden, I recently heard that Denver Botanic Gardens/Colorado State University is advertising a selection of E. equisetina (“bluestem joint-fir”) in their plant introduction program.

  5. Eric La Fountaine

    This is a really beautiful plant when it is in fruit. I stopped in the botany lab to check on those sprouting seeds this morning. Unfortunately it seems that what appeared to be germination was just drying or ripening of the fruit. They all began to rot and were discarded.
    Ephedra spp. should be studied for more ornamental use. They require very little water and can provide a nice evergreen structural element. Breeding work would probably result in some wonderful plants with long lasting fruit in fine colours.

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