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You are here >1Up Info > Wildlife, Animals, and Plants > Plant Species > Shrub > SPECIES: Ephedra viridis | Green Ephedra

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SPECIES: Ephedra viridis | Green Ephedra


Green ephedra is an important browse species for big game and domestic livestock [9,21,37,51,53,57,92,111]. It is heavily browsed by livestock and big game on winter range but only moderately or lightly browsed during other seasons [21,42,51].  Green ephedra stems and twigs are nearly all within reach of grazing animals, and can serve as winter forage because they extend above the snow [62,69,81].  Green ephedra is considered a highly important browse species in California due to its wide distribution and relative abundance [69]. Green ephedra is also of importance to small mammals; the stem parts and sizeable seeds are favored by many small mammals [37,97]. The seeds were ranked 12-13 out of 18 and 16 out of 28 in shrub-seed preference of deer mice [27], and are also eaten by mountain quail [57].


Green ephedra is moderately palatable to all domestic livestock and many big game species, especially as winter browse [22,37,53,69]. Palatability typically decreases in the summer months [99]. Overall palatability of green ephedra for domestic livestock and wildlife is rated as follows [22,37,69]:





Cattle Fair Fair to poor Fair
Sheep Fair Fair to poor Fair
Horses Fair Poor Fair
Pronghorn --- --- Fair
Elk --- --- Fair
Mule deer --- Fair to poor Fair
Small mammals Fair --- Good
Small nongame birds --- --- Good
Upland game birds --- --- Good
Waterfowl --- --- Poor


Green ephedra has fair energy and protein value [22]. Specific nutrient values vary according to plant part and seasonal development. Mineral content was examined in detail in a study at the Nevada Test Site [97], and the results are as follows:


percent dry weight

Site 1 P Na K Ca Mg Si
new shoot 0.16 0.039 2.34 0.66 0.27 0.10
old shoot 0.15 0.023 0.50 2.72 0.25 11

Site 2

new shoot 0.39 0.023 3.03 0.36 0.22 0.04
old shoot 0.14 0.046 0.67 2.27 0.40 0.15

Site 3

new shoot 0.28 0.008 2.59 0.61 0.20 0.03
old shoot 0.16 0.025 0.92 3.19 0.24 0.12


ppm of dry weight

Site 1

Zn Cu Fe Mn B Al Ti Co Ni Mo Sr Ba
new shoot 17 4 141 62 18 165 6 2 10 4 121 73
old shoot 17 4 112 70 15 120 4 4 12 4 132 74

Site 2

new shoot 19 10 109 32 20 56 4 2 7 2 61 --
old shoot 23 5 141 115 16 186 7 3 9 4 110 26

Site 3

new shoot 4 11 102 49 29 29 6 6 10 2 72 3
old shoot - 2 74 86 17 85 4 3 10 4 78 4

Nutritional value is fairly high in the winter months relative to dormant grasses [65].

Green ephedra is highly toxic to both domestic sheep and cows during gestation, even at low doses. It causes ruminal impaction, diarrhea, vomiting, fecal mucus, anorexia, and in some cases death. However, this study reported no negative effects on offspring, either lambs or calves. Green ephedra plant tissue contains ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, norephedrine, N-methyl pseudoephedrine, norpseudoephedrine, N-mehtyl pseudoephedrine, and a high tannin content [46].


Green ephedra provides some cover for small birds and mammals. The value of green ephedra as cover for wildlife is rated as follows [22]:

Small mammals Fair Good
Small nongame birds Poor Good
Upland game birds --- Fair
Waterfowl --- Poor


Green ephedra is listed as a successful shrub for restoring western rangeland communities [63] and can be used to rehabilitate disturbed lands [16,25,29,30,40,66]. It also has value for reducing soil erosion on both clay and sandy soils [65,92]. Green ephedra establishes readily through direct seeding, transplants, and stem cuttings [67,92]. Container-stock green ephedra has  potential value for rehabilitation of arid road cuts, with more than 80% of plants surviving for at least 2 years on both north and south exposures. However, major plant losses occurred on the southern exposures during the winter [25]. Container stock also showed high survival along roadsides in the Mojave Desert [16]. Green ephedra also shows promise for reclamation use of surface-mined lands and coal fields in the pinyon-juniper shrubland of Utah [29,30]. Seedlings require protection from trampling by livestock until they are well established [92].

Green ephedra seed is being used to restore disturbed areas to native vegetation, though in 1996 the amount of seed sold (1605 lbs.) by Utah distributors was relatively small compared to sagebrush and saltbrush species [59,82]. Green ephedra has been listed as a species selected for forage, cover, productivity, adaptability and ease of establishment for reseeding degraded rangeland in the Intermountain Region of the United States [40], but green ephedra is very site-specific. When seeded on marginal or poor sites, green ephedra plants are less vigorous and fail to spread by natural seed; the young plants grow slowly and do not survive if subjected to herbaceous competition [62]. Green ephedra is highly sensitive to soil salinity; on soil with conductivity of 0.20 mmhos/cm plants displayed normal, healthy growth and color, but on soil with conductivity of 6.92-25.8 mmhos/cm, all green ephedra plants died within the first three months [97]. On studies of disturbed sites, green ephedra was found to be poorly suited for mixed-seed revegetation due to its inability to compete with grass and legume seed mixtures [29,36].

Germination rates of seed be improved by a period of afterripening [96]; fresher seed lots had germination rates of 28% over a 28 day period, whereas older seed lots experienced full germination over 28 days [60]. In laboratory tests, optimum germination of seeds was achieved with alternating temperature regimes with 16 hour cold periods of 35.6  to 41  degrees Fahrenheit (2-5 C) and 8 hour warm periods of 59 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit (15-25 C) [111]. 


The stems of green ephedra were traditionally brewed by Native Americans to make a nonmedicinal beverage [111,112] as well as a medicinal tea considered to be a remedy for a backache [46,92,112]. Native Americans also made flour and a coffeelike beverage from the seeds [92]. Ephedra species also provided Native Americans with good charcoal for tatooing [112]. Green ephedra can be used for xeriscaping projects [38], and has been widely used as a landscape species for roadsides, mine dumps, and recreational sites. It is valuable for its vivid green color in an often dull gray sagebrush environment [111].


Green ephedra transplants as well as seeds have been planted with success [16,52]. Container stock has experienced 100% survival on both irrigated and non-irrigated sites after two years, with 67% of irrigated stock and 100% of non-irrigated stock surviving after 5 years [17]. Successful seeding requires a shallow planting depth of 0.39 to 0.79 inches (1-2 cm) [96].

Mixed results have been found regarding green ephedra's reponse to grazing. It is described as a constituent of communities that are productive for grazing in Nevada [91], and has been found in greater abundance on grazed sites than on ungrazed sites in Canyonlands National Park, Utah [47]. A limited increase in the presence of green ephedra after grazing has been reported in Utah [47,65], while others found the shrub decreasing or absent on heavily grazed and recovering sites in Arizona and Utah [43,65,81]. Generally, green ephedra is found on ungrazed sites as well as sites subject to light or moderate grazing pressure [43], and green ephedra found in Utah's Pine Valley pinyon-juniper woodlands has demonstrated an increase in live plant cover following a reduction in grazing [104]. 


Related categories for SPECIES: Ephedra viridis | Green Ephedra

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