Monday, September 9, 2013

Underappreciation files #4: Torrey's Mormon Tea

I collect mormon teas, aka joint firs.  Plants in the forty-some species-rich genus called "Ephedra" from  pretty much all the major dry places on earth.  From Patagonia to Mongolia to the Sahara Desert to Utah, USA. Look it up if you want to know about some species' medicinal properties and that history, it won't be covered here.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a mormon tea/ joint fire species which never suckered? (The common green Ephedra viridis rarely rarely does, but it can...)  Wouldn't it be nice if it were a shorter, manageable size,  maybe blue or grey or silver instead of green and please- while we are asking- could it not only still be like the best of the Ephedras  which grow in perfect health and quality without irrigation- even in arid climates, and oh-yes, too, while we're at it, we want it to not mind ridiculously heavy clay; Bentonite clay, even.

Done, baby!

(pictured here with Opuntia fruit in foreground)

Enter Torrey's Mormon Tea.  Ephedra torreyana.

It's not a perfect swap, but it could replace the taller, (and more showy, fruit-wise) but potentially ravenously aggressive asian "Bluestem Joint Fir" (Ephedra equisetina) which is nicely common in the trade and eating the corner of a parking lot near you. It shouldn't be shunned, but deserves a place where it is allowed to run like a randy horse.

(Ephedra equisetina, playing the part of Hydra in the Odessey, gobbling up earth and growing back worse each time it's hacked)

Like many (if not most) Mormon Teas and no more than 99.7% of humans, Torrey's Mormon Tea plants are either male or female.  Their flowers get dangerously close to what one might call beautiful in the spring, and the female produces papery cones (as opposed to berry-like cones in other species) in early summer.

(Perfectly grown Ephedra torreyana from Chelsea's)

Problem: almost no one grows this.  That is to say, I think there is literally only one source to buy one on this fair glossy planet (aside from digging a wild one up, which is not recommended for either conservation nor practical reasons) :  Chelsea Nursery near Grand Junction.  I just bought a glorious-fat-healthy-#5-pot Ephedra torreyana from them to plant for a client this week; it did my heart good and got me thinking, with hands in dirt, that there was little info on this plant on the web.  Travesty.

I confess to allowing this underappreciation by not taking more pictures of it; I take it for granted.

A shaggy old wild plant.

Now, the fact that almost no one grows it can be amended easily, since I am pretty sure I collected a fair  full bag of seed this year that needs to find a nurseryman/woman who will convert it into a field of Torrey's Mormon Tea.

Let's poke holes in the curbs to let rain penetrate Box-store parking lots' grave-style shrub-medians and replace the unruly pissed-off Junipers with Ephedra torreyana, whose ultimate size would require less/no pruning.
How many megabajillions of gallons of water per year (that converts to money, dude) could be saved if we did that?

Eh, it's better not to think about it.
But rather to do something about it.


Anonymous said...

Good plant, and your wild and planted E. torreyana look more full and happy than in the wilds by Abq. Not sure why any Epehdra spp. are undervalued, but I use them when I have the soil. Maybe not some cutesy trademark name, or Victorian-looking enough?

We need to get Martha Stewart to pose in front of all the better, less common plants, to give them more cred!

Kenton J. Seth said...

In the words of Tom Peace, let's give it a "sexy moniker". I'm too much a drab dour dude to be responsible for such a thing, but perhaps it would sell if we called it "Opal Ice Sparkle Bush" or something silly.

As to the plants around Abq being thinner- there are thin plants here, too. I believe that they have wide variation- some are fatly conical, some are fairly boxy-carpets...

Thanks for reading.