The Gymnosperm Database


Illustration from Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé, Flora von Deutschland Österreich und der Schweiz, 1885, Gera, Germany (Stüber 1999).


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Conservation status

Ephedra distachya

Linnaeus 1753, p. 1040

Common names

Csikófark (Hungarian); Meerträubel (German); Efedra dvukhkoloskovaya (Russian); Deniz usumu (Turkish); Efedra dvykhkoloskova (Ukrainian) (Dyatlov and Vasilieva [no date]), 双穗麻黄 shuang sui ma huang (Chinese) (Fu et al. 1999).

Taxonomic notes

Syn: Ephedra vulgaris Rich., Ephedra helvetica C.A. Mey. "It is not certain if the plants from China and Kazakstan are the same as those from Europe" (Fu et al. 1999).


Shrubs up to 25(-100) cm tall, sometimes prostrate, shoots partly subterreanean. Branchlets gray-green or more rarely yellow-green, apex often curved or twisted, internodes 1.5-5 cm long, up to 2 mm across. Leaves opposite, connate for 1/3-2/3 their length, free part triangular, apex obtuse or subacute. Pollen cones solitary or in clusters of 3 at apex of short branchlets, often pedunculate; bracts in 4 pairs; staminal column ca. 2 mm, exserted, with 7 or 8 sessile or shortly stipitate anthers. Seed cones terminal in short branchlets or axillary, narrowly ovoid; bracts in 3 or 4 pairs, with narrow, membranous margins, apical pair connate for ca. 1/3 their length, red and fleshy at maturity; integument tube 1-1.5 mm, straight. Fruit globose, 6-7 mm across, red. Seeds usually 2, dark brown, glossy, ovoid, 4-5 × 2-3 mm, smooth. Pollination May-Jun, seed maturity Jul. 2n = ?24, 28, ?36 (Vidakovic 1991, Fu et al. 1999).

Distribution and Ecology

China: Xinjiang; France; Germany; Hungary; Kazakhstan; Russia; Slovak Republic; Turkey; Ukraine (Vidakovic 1991, Fu et al. 1999). Generally on stony or sandy soils, or grassy places, at 100-900 m elevation (Dyatlov and Vasilieva [no date], Fu et al. 1999); Zone 5.

Big tree





"At university we were taught not to underestimate the botanical knowledge of the general public. The rediscovery of Ephedra distachya was cited as an example. ... Shortly before World War II it was discovered growing on sand dunes in southern Slovakia. During the war Slovakia separated from what was left of Czechoslovakia, and the man who had published the article about this find died in a concentration camp. After the war a group of university botanists from Prague went to check the locality. They wandered around looking for what was described as 'sand dunes near Chenek's Sawmill' and lost their way. Finally they met a man on a bicycle, obviously a worker from a nearby gravel pit. The Prague scientists flagged him down and asked for directions to Chenek's Sawmill. The man looked at them and said: "Are you looking for Ephedra distachya?" It was he who had first noticed the strange shrub and brought it to the attention of his school teacher, who in turn had contacted professional botanists" (Martin 2003).


Linnaeus, C. 1753. Species Plantarum 2: 1040.

Martin, Malcolm. 2003.04.26. Ernie McNaughton - Nonagenerian. Botanical Electronic News No. 309. Archived at

See olso

Photograph of subsp. distachya at Botanischer Garten Ruhr-Universität Bochum.

Photograph of subsp. helvetica at Botanischer Garten Ruhr-Universität Bochum.

Photo, description, and chemical structure of Ephedrine (in German).

Photos of whole plant in habitat.

More good photos and text (in Hungarian).

Baranec, T., V. Rehorek, et al. 1994. Generative reproduction of ephedra (Ephedra distachya L.) in Slovakia. Biologia Bratislava 49(1):65-67.

Bezus, K.L.G. 1999. Distribution of Ephedra distachya L. (Ephedraceae Wettst.) during Late Glacial and Holocene on the territory of Ukraine (by palynological data). Ukrayins'kyi Botanichnyi Zhurnal 56(3):300-304.

Borisova, I.V. 1995. Some biomorphological peculiarities of Ephedra distachya L. in the Central Kazakhstan low hill land. Rastitel'nye Resursy 31(3):73-81.

Diamantoglou, S., S. Rhizopoulou, et al. 1989. Seasonal trends in energy content and storage substances in the Mediterranean shrub Ephedra. Acta Oecologica Oecologia Plantarum 10(3):263-274.

Kajimura, K., Y. Iwamoto, et al. 1994. Variation of growth and contents in ephedrine type alkaloids in Ephedra distachya. Natural Medicines 48(2):122-125.

Takhtajan, Ac.A. (ed.). 1981. Rare and vanishing plants of the USSR. Leningrad. 264 p.

Last Modified 2017-12-29