General: Mormon Tea (Ephedra viridis) is a medium-sized, erect
shrub with bright green, apparently leafless stems. Individual twigs
come off the stems and all point upward. The actual leaves are reduced
to scales, which are in sets of two on opposite sides of the stems, and photosynthesis takes place in the stems. Members of this
plant family are cone-bearing plants more closely related to pine trees
and other conifers than to flowering plants. The small cones (about
1/3-inch long) can be seen in the spring when the shrub is flowering.
Around Las Vegas, there are two common species of
Ephedra (eight species in Nevada). Mormon Tea grows in the mountains and can be recognized by the bright
green twigs that all point upward. Nevada Jointfir (Ephedra
nevadensis), the other most common species, grows at lower elevations and can be recognized by the dull, gray-green twigs that come
off the stems at widely diverging angles. Both of these species have leaves in pairs (not in threes).
Mormon Tea is a common component of vegetation communities in the Upper Sonoran (Mojave
Desert Scrub and Pinyon-Juniper Woodland) life zones and can be found on higher bajadas and
the side slopes of mountains.
Family: Jointfir (Ephedraceae).
Other Names: green ephedra, mountain joint fir, Brigham tea
Plant Form: Erect shrub, apparently without leaves, younger stems bright green.
Height: To 3-5 feet tall and 3-5 ft wide.
Bark: Gray, shredding.
Stems: Stems and twigs jointed with joints 1-2 inches
apart. Twigs rigid, angling upward and parallel to the stem (like a broom).
Twigs bright green or bright yellowish-green.
Leaves: Tiny scales at the stem joints; in pairs on opposite sides of the stem (not in threes).
Flowers: Blooms in the spring. Plants are male or female. Males have Pollen cones that grow from
nodes; oval to 7-mm long. Female plants have seed cones that grow from nodes in pairs; oval to 10-mm
diameter, set on short stalks.
Seeds: 2 by 8 mm, brown, smooth.
Habitat: Dry, well-drained sandy, gravelly, and rocky
soils on upper bajadas and moderate slopes in the lower mountains; rocky areas.
Elevation: Typically 3,000 to 7,500 feet (to 10,000 feet).
Distribution: Oregon to Wyoming and southward across the southwestern deserts.
Comments: Tea can be made by steeping the twigs in boiling
water. The stems of most members of this genus contain ephedrine, which
is useful in the treatment of breathing problems.