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Cistanche deserticola is a perennial hardy, shrub-like herb 40–160 centimetres (1 ft 4 in–5 ft 3 in) tall. It is shaped somewhat like a cross between a pine cone and a pineapple, with thick, fleshy stems and large, yellow flowers that grow smaller at the plant's apex.
This particular species is known in the Chinese herb trade as suosuo dayun. It is collected in the spring when the sprouts have not come out of the ground or have just come up. Inner Mongolia is the top native-producing area of the species; annual production is about 70 tons. The stems are gathered in the spring, dried in the sun and cut into slices for medicinal use.
Along with other members of the Cistanche genus, Cistanche deserticola is a noted source of the Chinese herbal medicine cistanche (Chinese: 肉苁蓉; pinyin: ròucōngróng), commonly called Rou Cong Rong. Pharmaceutical materials, known in Chinese as suosuo dayuan (Chinese: 索索大元), are produced by slicing the stems of the plant. Cistanche deserticola has been placed on CITES Appendix 2, a list of endangered species not banned from trade but requiring monitoring. With increased consumption of cistanche, the population of the species has decreased and its area of distribution has shrunk. Aside from over-collection or indiscriminate collection, an important factor in the diminished supply of cistanche is a loss of the saxaul host, which is widely used for firewood.
- Cistanche deserticola was first described and published in Acta Scientiarum Naturalium Universitatis Intramongolicae 1960(1):63. 1960. GRIN (March 5, 2003). "Cistanche deserticola information from NPGS/GRIN". Taxonomy for Plants. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland: USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
- "Appendices I, II and III". CITES. May 22, 2009. Retrieved March 1, 2010.