|This plant is rather small, but Epherdra species can be quite sizable. These plants are also sometimes called mormon tea|
Unlike most plants, photosynthesis in Ephedra species happens almost exclusively in the stems. This is because the plant is basically all stem, with only tiny leaves between branch segments. This body structure is very reminiscent of certain horsetails, thought there are also quite a number of differences between them. That's why horsetails are in the completely separate Phylum Sphenophyta.
|Fleshy female Ephedra cones|
In the United States, Ephedra species are found in dry the southwest, including such states as New Mexico and California. Two chemicals can be isolated from these plants: ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Once a common component of weight loss supplements, ephedrine has been banned from supplements in the United States since 2004. This is due to side effects that were seen in people taking these products, including psychiatric issues, heart palpitations, nausea and vomiting. It's also believed that the chemical can be linked with far more serious issues, Pseudoephedrine is used as a decongestant and isn't as dangerous.
Sources are McDaniel College, United States Department of Agriculture, and National Institutes of Health. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licenses: one, two.