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Nº 65. Monday, May 22, 2017

Ephedraceae

1. n. Bot. Family of gymnosperms, in the order Ephedrales or Gnetales, that comprises around 40 species grouped in one only genus, Ephedra.

Etymology

From modern Latin Ephedra, name of the only genus of this family. For a more precise etymology, see ephedra.

Ephedraceae

Ephedraceae is a family of gymnosperms in the order Ephedrales. They constitute an evolutionarily early group of plants.

Its type genus (its only genus, actually) is Ephedra.

Origin, distribution and ecology

This family has species native to Europe, Asia, North America, and South America.

They are gymnosperm shrubs that live in deserts or sandy places. Some species thrive near the seashore.

Description

The species of this family are woody shrubs, somewhat short. Their stems are very branched and knotty, and the branches are green, crawling, or climbing.

Their leaves are tiny and scale-like, no more than 1 cm in length. Their arrangement is opposite or whorled about the nodes of green branchlets. This makes them resemble the horsetail.

Their flowers are unisexual, arranged in a catkin (ament).

Their fruits are red-colored berries.

In certain anatomical and reproductive features, the plants are close to the angiosperms.

Classification

Ephedraceae is a family of gymnosperms. Some old classifications do not recognize this family. Instead, they place its species in the family Gnetaceae.

This family constitutes the only family in the order Ephedrales. In some old classifications, however, it is assigned to the order Gnetales.

The family Ephedraceae is constituted by 40 species, approximately, organized in one single genus, ephedra.

Its type species is Ephedra fragilis, “ephedra”.

Importance

The leaves, flowers, and fruits of several of this genus' species around the world are used in folk medicine and have also been used as food.

In China, several species of ephedras (Ephedra sinica, etc.), collectively known as ma huang, are being used in folk medicine for more than 5,000 years now. Ephedrine, a commercial decongestant drug, was obtained originally from its leaves.

In North America, the species joint fir and Mormon tea bush are sources of food and medicine.

In Chile, the fruit and leaves of pingopingo (Ephedra andina) are used in folk medicine as a diuretic and depurative.