This small desert shrub is a gymnosperm (a member of the Naked Seed
division of plants), so it is therefore more closely related to pine
trees than to flowering plants. The plant has no leaves, or only very
tiny ones. The stems are green, and perform the necessary photosynthesis
for the plant.
The dried or roasted stems can be brewed to make a stimulating
beverage. The plant contains the drug pseudoephedrine, which is sold
commercially as a nasal decongestant and cold remedy. Some Old World
species contain ephedrine, a stronger stimulant which is sometimes used
as a weight loss and energy enhancing drug.