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SPECIES: Ephedra viridis | Green Ephedra


Green ephedra is a native, erect evergreen shrub [13,24] that is drought resistant and winter hardy [73,99]. Growth occurs in the cool season [65].

Green ephedra typically reaches 0.75 to 5 feet (.25 to 1.5 m) in height  [18,65,69,99], though it has been reported to grow up to 6 feet (2 m) tall and 10 feet (3 m) wide [92]. It has numerous parallel stems that point upward resembling a broom, with branchlets clustered around nodes. Stems are generally less than 0.12 inch (3 mm) in diameter [18,19,99] and are bright green, with thicker growth developing gray, shreddy bark [18,99]. The jointed branches have small, scale-like, inconspicuous leaves growing opposite on the stem joints [65,69,111].

The fragile [5,75], deep-rooting system of green ephedra consists of several taproots extending almost straight down from the shrub's base, spreading only slightly and subdividing at intervals into somewhat smaller roots [4].

Green ephedra is dioecious [94], producing nut-like seeds partly or entirely enclosed in large bracts that form a cone structure [69]. It has been reported displaying spatial segregation of male and female plants [12,76].




Green ephedra regenerates from seed and by sprouting from the roots and woody crown.  Green ephedra is readily established from seed [49,52,96], though seed production is erratic under natural conditions, with an abundant seed crop occurring very infrequently [111]. Seeds are pollinated by wind [58,76], and seed dispersal occurs via small mammals [58]. Seeds undergo a period of dormancy, which can be broken by a 4-week prechill [60]. Constant warm temperatures decrease germination rates, suggesting green ephedra responds to the stratification effect of cold periods [111]. Seed remains viable for 5 years stored dry at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 C) [96]. Seed germination rates have not been found to drop significantly over 15 years with temperatures ranging from negative 21 to 101 degrees Fahrenheit (-29.9-38.3 C) [84]. After 15 years stored in an open unheated and uncooled warehouse, germination has been found to decrease significantly, from 88% at 15 years to 24% at 20 years (p<0.05). After 25 years, germination rates dropped to 2% [83].

Vegetative regeneration: Green ephedra has also been identified as a resprouting species following disturbance. It sprouts from root tissue [6,7,26] and woody crown tissue [97,109]. Shrub clumps over an extensive area may represent individuals or multiple clones [109]. Stem cuttings were found to root readily under greenhouse conditions [103].

Green ephedra seedling vigor is described as weak. Initial growth is often slow, with seedlings reaching 2 feet (0.6 m) in height after 5 to 10 years of growth [99].  Many multistemmed plants appear to be single individuals, but are actually 2  or more genetically distinct plants which originated from a common rodent cache [17].


Green ephedra is found on dry, rocky, open sites in valleys and washes, and on slopes, alluvial fans, mesas, and foothills [4,18,24,41,61,65,107,111]. It is typically found at elevations ranging from 3,000 to 7,500 feet (914-2,286 m) [1,13,14,48,55,65,80,107] though it has been reported at elevations up to 10,000 feet (3,048 m) in California and Utah [80,104]. Green ephedra has been reported growing on north [1,31,61], south [91], southwest, and west aspects [48]. Average precipitation on sites supporting green ephedra ranges from 8 to 15 inches (200-380 mm) [6,48], and green ephedra has been found to require 6 to 10 inches (150-250 mm) annual precipitation [65].

Green ephedra grows primarily on sandy, gravelly or rocky, well-drained, undeveloped soils [13,14,20,47,74,99]. Soil parent material is often granitic [1,49,90,106]. Green ephedra grows well on shallow, medium or deep soils [55,93,99] and is tolerant of calcareous, weakly saline, moderately alkaline, slightly sodic soils [6,34,71,87,99]. It is found on silty loam soils with low infiltration rates [87], but it is intolerant of wet, poorly drained sites [99].

The following sagebrush site characteristics are examples of sites where green ephedra occurs [93]:

  basin big sagebrush mountain big sagebrush Wyoming big sagebrush black sagebrush
annual precipitation 13+ inches (330 mm) 12-17 inches (300-430 mm)


soil deep, well-drained soil deep, well drained soil, moisture available most of the growing season moderately deep to shallow soil, well-drained, gravelly well drained soil, rocky to gravelly, carbonates present at the soil surface
location valleys, foothills mountain brush, pinyon-juniper communities xeric valleys, foothills, gravelly outcrops, high plains, alluvial fans lower foothills, valley edges and bottoms, alluvial fans, rocky ridges and saddles at high elevations

Cover values for green ephedra vary based on site characteristics; in Arizona, washes with active soil and gravel deposition had a green ephedra cover value of .5%, while slopes above the washes that had shallow soils and little soil development had a cover value of 1.8%.  The transition zone with stabilized soil formed from wash deposits but with no active soil movement had the highest cover value, 3.2% [24].


Though not usually reported as a species of major importance, as a plant community component green ephedra occurs in early, mid-, and late successional stages [48,106]. It grows vigorously in full sun and more slowly in partial shade [99]. Green ephedra has been reported as having a cover value of 0% in the first stage (grass-forb) of succession in a pinyon-juniper woodland, 0.8% in the second stage (shrub-tree), and 0.1% in both the third and fourth stages (tree-shrub and tree, respectively) [49]. It appears in both shrub dominated and tree dominated pinyon-juniper and sagebrush sites in the Great Basin [86].  On Spy Mesa in Arizona, green ephedra was identified in both grass-dominated areas (early succession) and shrub-dominated (mid-succession) areas of a pinyon-juniper woodland [87]. In a pinyon-juniper woodland where no successional change occurred over 23 years, green ephedra plants and clumps demonstrated variable increases and decreases in size [91], and green ephedra was present in a nearly mature pinyon-juniper woodland at less than 1% cover [106]. Green ephedra is considered weakly competitive due to its slow growth rate [99]



Vegetative growth of green ephedra occurs during the cool season [65]. Seed development begins in the spring and seeds mature by late summer [99,111].  Seed maturation dates have been established at July 15 to September 1 [75]. Green ephedra seed germination occurs following a minimum 4-week chill to break seed dormancy [60].

Related categories for SPECIES: Ephedra viridis | Green Ephedra

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