SPECIES: Ephedra nevadensis

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Ephedra nevadensis: INTRODUCTORY

INTRODUCTORY

SPECIES: Ephedra nevadensis

 

Nevada ephedra on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Photo
courtesy Dennis Woodland, Andrews University.
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION:
Anderson, Michelle D. 2004. Ephedra nevadensis. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [].

FEIS ABBREVIATION:
EPHNEV

SYNONYMS:
None

NRCS PLANT CODE [74]:
EPNE

COMMON NAMES:
Nevada ephedra
Mormon-tea
Mormon tea
Nevada jointfir
gray ephedra

TAXONOMY:
The currently accepted scientific name of Nevada ephedra is Ephedra nevadensis S. Wats. (Ephedraceae) [20,27,31,32,33,77].

LIFE FORM:
Shrub

FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:
No special status

OTHER STATUS:
None

DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE

SPECIES: Ephedra nevadensis
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION:
Nevada ephedra occurs in the West, from southeastern Oregon south to Baja California Norte, Mexico, and east to eastern Utah and Arizona [27,31,32,48,50].

The Flora of North America provides a distributional map of Nevada ephedra.

ECOSYSTEMS [23]:
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES40 Desert grasslands

STATES/PROVINCES: (key to state/province abbreviations)
UNITED STATES
AZ CA NV OR UT

MEXICO
B.C.N.

BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS [10]:
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau

KUCHLER [38] PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K033 Chaparral
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K039 Blackbrush
K040 Saltbush-greasewood
K041 Creosote bush
K042 Creosote bush-bur sage
K043 Paloverde-cactus shrub
K044 Creosote bush-tarbush
K053 Grama-galleta steppe
K057 Galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe

SAF COVER TYPES [19]:
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper
242 Mesquite

SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES [65]:
105 Antelope bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
206 Chamise chaparral
210 Bitterbrush
211 Creosote bush scrub
212 Blackbush
401 Basin big sagebrush
402 Mountain big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
405 Black sagebrush
406 Low sagebrush
408 Other sagebrush types
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
414 Salt desert shrub
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
416 True mountain-mahogany
417 Littleleaf mountain-mahogany
501 Saltbush-greasewood
502 Grama-galleta
503 Arizona chaparral
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
505 Grama-tobosa shrub
506 Creosotebush-bursage
507 Palo verde-cactus
508 Creosotebush-tarbush

HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES:
Nevada ephedra grows abundantly at the edge of the salt desert zone [9], but is also common in a variety of sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), desert shrub, and pinyon-juniper (Pinus-Juniperus spp.) communities [13,47,66]. It generally grows as scattered plants or in small clumps but also occurs in isolated, large, pure stands [66].

In California, common associates of Nevada ephedra in singleleaf pinyon-California juniper/western juniper (Pinus monophylla-Juniperus californica/J. occidentalis) woodland include California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), green ephedra (E. viridis), desert almond (Prunus fasciculata), peach thorn (Lycium cooperi), Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), and Mojave yucca (Y. schidigera) [47]. In desert chaparral communities, Nevada ephedra commonly occurs with chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), red shank (A. sparsifolium), jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis), California juniper, and  Mojave yucca [48]. Other common associates are mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus spp.), saltbush (Atriplex spp.), creosotebush (Larrea tridentata), and prickly-pear (Opuntia spp.) [13,66].

In Nevada, Nevada ephedra may codominate with Colorado pinyon (Pinus edulis) [79], spiny hopsage (Grayia spinosa), spiny menodora (Menodora spinescens), winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), or eastern Mojave buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) [26,52]. In Utah, it may codominate with winterfat, Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides), blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), or galleta (Pleuraphis jamesii) [36]. Nevada ephedra is particularly common as a community dominant in the transition zone between the Mojave and Great Basin deserts [26].

West and others [79]  classify Nevada ephedra as a plant community dominant in Nevada.

BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS

SPECIES: Ephedra nevadensis
 

Cone-bearing stem. Photo 2004, James M. Andre.


GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
The following description of Nevada ephedra provides characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology, and is not meant for identification. Keys for identification are available (e.g. [32,33,77]).

Nevada ephedra is a native erect, spreading shrub that reaches 1 to 4 feet (0.3-1.2 m) tall [9,50,59,77]. It is essentially aphyllous with jointed [1,9,9,50,50,77], evergreen stems [83]. The thick, woody roots can grow to 6.5 feet (2 m) deep [41,83], and may spread laterally and produce clones [41].

Ephedra spp. are gymnosperms. Stamens bear 1 to 8 pollen sacs, and 1 to 2 ovules are exposed at the tips of small, scaly cones. After pollination, these ovules develop directly into seed [50]. The male cones are 0.16 to 0.3 inch (4-8 mm) long, while female cones are 0.2 to 0.4 inch (5-11 mm) long. Seeds are 0.16 to 0.35 inch (4-9 mm) long [77] and occur singly or in pairs [16,73].

A study of replicated photographs in Arizona estimates that Ephedra spp. can survive over 100 years (80-95% of 3 different populations survived from the late 1800s to 1994) [11]; however, the study did not specifically document the longevity of Nevada ephedra.

RAUNKIAER [60] LIFE FORM:
Phanerophyte

REGENERATION PROCESSES:
Nevada ephedra regenerates vegetatively [41] and by seed [77].

Breeding system: Nevada ephedra is primarily dioecious with small cones [17,66].

Pollination: Ephedra pollen is wind-distributed [50].

Seed production: Nevada ephedra produces large quantities of small seeds at erratic intervals [16,58,76].

Seed dispersal: Seeds are dispersed by small mammals and deposited in shallowly buried caches [45].

Seed banking: No information is available on this topic.

Germination: Germination requires 21 days prechill at 37 to 41 oF (3-5  oC), with germination most successful at 68  oF (20  oC). Average germination under these conditions ranges from  80%-100%. Other effective germination temperatures are 41, 50, 59  oF (5, 10, 15  oC) constant and 68/77  oF (20/25  oC) alternating [9,87].

After 15 years of warehouse storage, germination rates of Nevada ephedra seeds did not decrease appreciably; rates remained above 85% [68]. Nevada ephedra germination rates were >85% during the1st 10 years of storage in an open, unheated, uncooled warehouse, with rates only decreasing to 77% after 25 years of storage [67]. In another study, however, seed storage for 12 months at room temperature substantially reduced germination (from 65%-75% to 15%-20%) [87].

Seedling establishment/growth: No information is available on this topic.

Asexual regeneration: Manning and Groeneveld [41] describe a Nevada ephedra community in California in which clones are produced from lateral roots. Others describe crown sprouting of Nevada ephedra in response to herbicides [29].

SITE CHARACTERISTICS:
Nevada ephedra grows at elevations ranging from 2,000 to 7,000 feet (610-2,150 m) elevation [59,77], most commonly on dry slopes and hills below 4,430 feet (1,350 m) [9]. The following table lists elevation ranges for some areas within Nevada ephedra's range:

Baja California 3,900-4,200 feet (1,190-1,280 m) [48]
Great Basin 2,790-7,050 feet (850-2,150 m) [77]
California <3,600 feet (1,100 m) [27]
Nevada 2,500-6,000 feet (760-1,830 m) [12,32]
Utah 4,000-6,000 feet (1,220-1,830 m) [18]

Nevada ephedra is commonly found on ridgetops as well as upper and lower slope positions. It also grows well in floodplain areas. Nevada ephedra is associated with shallow, rocky soils (to 2 feet (0.6 m) deep) [13], often limestone-derived [26]. Nevada ephedra has a high saline tolerance [59] and is common on the margins of salt deserts [9]. However, it has no tolerance for acidity [59]. Nevada ephedra is drought tolerant [28] and requires approximately 7 inches (178 mm) annual precipitation [59].

SUCCESSIONAL STATUS:
Nevada ephedra occurs in recently disturbed (6-12 years post-disturbance) and undisturbed desert communities [22,53].

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT:
In a southern Nevada study, Nevada ephedra seeds germinated between October and March [2]. Seedlings emerge February through June [28].

Nevada ephedra leafs out in early to late spring and in September after summer rains [1,3]. It forms buds in early spring, and cones open from March through May [1,3,9,41,72], though lack of available soil moisture may inhibit cone production [3]. Seed matures in early summer [1,3,9,72]. Nevada ephedra is physiologically inactive during hot summer months [1,3].

FIRE ECOLOGY

SPECIES: Ephedra nevadensis
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS:
Fire adaptations: Nevada ephedra generally sprouts after fire damages aboveground vegetation [76,78,84]. However, severe fires may kill shallowly buried regenerative structures [43,82].

Fire regimes: Most plant communities in which Nevada ephedra commonly occurs historically experienced stand-replacement fire regimes. Sagebrush types historically had fire intervals from 20 to 70 years, while other desert shrub types and desert grassland communities had fire intervals of <35 to <100 years [54]. Fires may not carry on some Nevada ephedra sites due to insufficient fuels. Periods of above normal precipitation can contribute to increased stand flammability by promoting the growth of annuals [43]. Pinyon-juniper communities are subject to a mixed-severity fire regime, with fire intervals <35 years or 400+ years [21,24,35,54]. On less productive sites with discontinuous grass cover, fires are less frequent and small. On sites where grass cover is more continuous, fires are likely more frequent and extensive. Stage of stand development also contributes to fire susceptibility and severity. Young open stands may have sufficient understory fuel to carry fire, but as stands mature this cover becomes sparse. The trees may remain too widely spaced to carry crown fire, except under extreme conditions [54].

Some sagebrush and desert shrub ecosystems are experiencing changes in fire regime, particularly in response to invasion by annual grasses such as red brome (Bromus madritensis ssp. rubens) and cheatgrass (B. tectorum). Cheatgrass expansion has dramatically changed fire regimes and plant communities over vast areas of western rangelands by creating an environment where fires are easily ignited, spread rapidly, cover large areas, and occur frequently [85]. Cheatgrass promotes frequent fires by increasing the biomass and horizontal continuity of fine fuels that persist during the summer lightning season and by allowing fire to spread across landscapes where fire was previously restricted to isolated patches [37,69,85].

Fire regimes for plant communities and ecosystems in which Nevada ephedra occurs are summarized below. For more information on the fire regimes of these communities, see the FEIS species summary for the dominant species listed below.

Community or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
California chaparral Adenostoma and/or Arctostaphylos spp. < 35 to < 100 [54]
basin big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata 12-43 [62]
mountain big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana 15-40 [4,14,46]
Wyoming big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40**) [75,86]
coastal sagebrush Artemisia californica < 35 to < 100
saltbush-greasewood Atriplex confertifolia-Sarcobatus vermiculatus < 35 to < 100
desert grasslands Bouteloua eriopoda and/or Pleuraphis mutica 5-100
grama-galleta steppe Bouteloua gracilis-Pleuraphis jamesii < 35 to < 100 [54]
cheatgrass Bromus tectorum < 10 [56,80]
curlleaf mountain-mahogany* Cercocarpus ledifolius 13-1,000 [5,63]
mountain-mahogany-Gambel oak scrub Cercocarpus ledifolius-Quercus gambelii < 35 to < 100
blackbrush Coleogyne ramosissima < 35 to < 100
western juniper Juniperus occidentalis 20-70
Rocky Mountain juniper Juniperus scopulorum < 35
creosotebush Larrea tridentata < 35 to < 100
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. < 35 [54]
Mexican pinyon Pinus cembroides 20-70 [49,71]
Colorado pinyon Pinus edulis 10-400+ [21,24,35,54]
galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe Pleuraphis jamesii-Aristida purpurea < 35 to < 100 [54]
mesquite Prosopis glandulosa < 35 to < 100 [44,54]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species review
**mean

POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY [70]:
Small shrub, adventitious bud/root crown
Initial off-site colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)

FIRE EFFECTS

SPECIES: Ephedra nevadensis
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT:
Nevada ephedra is top-killed by fire [43,78]. Underground regenerative structures commonly survive when aboveground vegetation is consumed by fire [78]. When subject to severe fire, however, Nevada ephedra may be killed [66,82].

DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT:
Following a June wildfire, unburned transects in an Arizona study had approximately 40 Nevada ephedra plants per hectare, while adjacent burned transects had 0 plants at postfire year 1 and only 5 plants/ha at postfire year 2. Total Nevada ephedra mortality was 76%; 84% of plants were top-killed with 9% sprouting after fire [43].

PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE:
Nevada ephedra may increase after fire due to sprouting [6,78]. Following a wildfire in California (30 years), Nevada ephedra increased from 5% to 11% of plant cover [6]. To date (2004), no information is available on methods of postfire seed dispersal and seedling establishment for Nevada ephedra. More research on postfire regeneration strategies is needed.

DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE:
No additional information is available on this topic.

FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
No information is available on this topic.

MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS

SPECIES: Ephedra nevadensis
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE:
Mule deer [39], bighorn sheep [12], and pronghorn browse Nevada ephedra, especially in spring and late summer when new growth is available [7]. It is browsed by domestic livestock also [25,57,81]. Nevada ephedra is important winter range browse for domestic cattle, sheep, goats, and mule deer, with up to 50% of stems utilized in some localities [17,61,73]. Its value as winter forage is due to the large number of twigs produced and the relative abundance of this species on winter range [17]. Nevada ephedra is browsed to a lesser extent in the other seasons [17,61,73].

Nevada ephedra seeds provide food for small mammals and birds [45].

Palatability/nutritional value: Nevada ephedra has been rated as fair forage for domestic sheep, cattle, goats and horses; it also provides fair forage for pronghorn, mule deer, small nongame birds, and upland game birds [18,30,61]. It has been rated poor forage for elk and waterfowl, but good for small mammals [18]. Tests of Nevada ephedra in pregnant domestic sheep showed no maternal or embryo/fetal toxicity [34].

Specific nutrient content varies according to plant part, phenological development, and site characteristics. Nutrient composition for Nevada ephedra sampled in Nevada is as follows [76].

Element

-------- Date sampled ---------

Feb. 11 March 17 April 4 May 21 June 19 July 29 Sept. 24 Dec. 31
-------------------percent dry weight-------------------
P 0.06 0.09 0.12 0.08 0.08 0.05 0.04 0.07
Na 0.003 0.007 0.012 0.007 0.006 0.008 0.007 0.009
K 0.25 0.31 0.86 1.80 2.26 1.45 0.91 0.61
Ca 2.43 2.21 2.65 1.02 1.41 1.72 2.37 2.37
Mg 0.18 0.30 0.34 0.17 0.20 0.18 0.21 0.19
Si 0.04 0.07 0.12 0.05 0.04 0.05 0.10 0.11
-------------- ppm --------------
Zn 23 19 17 20 21 24 22 27
Cu 14 10 5 20 14 12 19 14
Fe 101 142 143 186 161 248 240 121
Mn 77 136 149 13 17 26 38 47
B 14 12 22 18 12 9 10 16
Al 82 134 167 145 149 184 188 152
Sr 82 97 67 50 66 91 96 52
Be 45 24 30 11 12 13 18 33

The National Academy of Sciences lists the following values for Nevada ephedra samples (% dry matter): calcium 5.81%, magnesium 1.28%, and phosphorus 0.50% [51].

Cover value: Nevada ephedra provides good cover for small mammals; fair cover for pronghorn, small nongame birds, and upland game birds; and poor cover for game animals and waterfowl [18].

VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
Nevada ephedra is useful for erosion control [59], and seedlings have been successfully planted onto reclaimed strip mines, with survival ranging from 12 to 94% [40,64]. Nevada ephedra seeds are commercially available [42,59]. For enhanced seed germination, a 24 hour soak at 86  oF (30  oC) is recommended prior to prechill [9]. For additional information on germination of Nevada ephedra, see Botanical and Ecological Characteristics.

Nevada ephedra is easily propagated in the nursery or greenhouse, but root and shoot systems of the seedlings are fragile and easily damaged during transplanting [64]. A study of transplanted Nevada ephedra found heavy mortality, with only 10% of plants surviving after 6 years and  none surviving to 12 years [55]. Other efforts have resulted in successful transplanting of container stock, with 67% survival after 5 years on irrigated plots and 100% survival on nonirrigated plots [15]. Seedlings are drought tolerant and generally establish well after fall or winter plantings [58].

OTHER USES:
Native Americans used Nevada ephedra as a tea to treat stomach and kidney ailments [8,17].

OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Atrazine may be effective in controlling Nevada ephedra, though some plants can survive through crown sprouting. Irrigation may increase control by atrazine [29].


Ephedra nevadensis: References


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