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Seed To Cactus: How To Grow Peyote (Lophophora Williamsii)


The key ingredient to growing peyote is patience. Remember the Lophophora Williamsii is a cactus and cacti grow slowly. Peyote slower than most. Luckily indulgence from a fussy grower will speed growth rates up considerably faster than nature. Flowers will appear in three years from pampered plants rather than nature's ten.

A native of Mexico and southwestern Texas, peyote thrives in harsh scrubby conditions with poor soil. Imitating these conditions as much as possible is the goal of the peyote gardener. Soil is easy as an ideal mix and can be custom made. Climate can be a challenge in cooler parts of the world and may mean using terrariums, greenhouses and heat mats. Peyote loves as much full sunlight as it can get to simulate its home in the rarefied elevated air of the Chihuahua desert.



Peyote is a small spine-free cactus that contains the psychotropic compound mescaline. The use of mescaline by indigenous American people can be traced back at least 5,500 years and possibly further. An entheogen and medicine mescaline was an unquestioned part of the spiritual, mental and physical health of a number of ancient American cultures.

Mescaline is a hallucinogen that can produce radically altered states of consciousness. Usually pleasurable and often illuminating with intense visual experiences that were an important part of shamanic and ritualistic use. Recreationally mescaline is non-addictive and has a built-in anti-addiction feature. If it is used more than four or five days in a row it just stops working. In the several weeks that follow the primary hallucinogenic experience, mescaline leaves an unobtrusive feeling of pleasant anxiety free optimism.

There are a number of subspecies that vary in colour, but they all share common characteristics. They are a squat bulbous species growing no taller than seven centimetres. They have flattened spherical buttons divided by prominent ribs that can grow to fifteen centimetres in diameter. Left to grow the buttons can form large coral like clumps. They do not have spines typical of cactus, but small slightly raised areolae that sprout a tuft of white fuzz.

Peyote flowers sporadically. A white or pink flower will emerge rapidly. Turning from a small imperfection in the skin to a pod and then flower in a matter of days. When fertilised the flower closes then dries and in time is replaced with an elongated pink fruit. When left the fruit dries to resemble a reddish seed pod. Inside the flat black seeds are ready to become new peyote cactus.

The spherical buttons or crowns are harvested by cleanly cutting the sphere at the base where it meets the root body. The wound will callous over and form a scar from which a new button will shoot. They are then dried. Drying boosts the mescaline content from less than 1% to 3-6%. The dried chips can then be eaten or turned into a bitter tea. As with all alkaloids mother nature's great joke is to make peyote taste horrible and cause nausea before gifting altered states of mind.



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The best time to start your peyote seeds is early spring. First thing is to make a peyote friendly soil mix. Peyote patches are often found in the best condition in nature where there are limestone and very coarse, even stony, soil. Commercial cactus and succulent mixes take all the hassle out of making a cactus soil mix and will grow peyote very well. If you want a coarser textured mix use one part sand, one part heavy grit and one part standard potting mix.

Fill your pots with soil mix and tamp well, leave room at the top for easy watering. Thoroughly soak the soil and leave pots to stand for a day in the shade to drain thoroughly. Now you are ready for the seeds. Simply lay the seeds on the surface of the soil there is no need to cover them. In nature, they just fall to the hard ground and fare quite well.

Cover the pots with a piece of clear plastic and fix with tape or elastic bands. Don't use clear sandwich wrap it isn't strong enough for what follows. Ideal soil temperature for happy peyote is 22 Celsius. It will be very happy on a south facing window sill or ideally on the floor in full sun beside a heating vent. Heating mats are ideal and inexpensive to run. They give precise temperatures and you don't run the risk of burning down your house by using an electric blanket.

This type of humidity might seem strange for a desert species, but they do respond well. They will not need to be watered at all in these early stages. After two or three weeks small green spheres will appear where there were seeds. These are the infant peyotes. After four weeks prick a few small holes in the plastic, it is time to start dehumidifying and hardening off.

After a week add a few more holes. Then, a week later make the holes bigger. Over an eight to ten week period, the plastic will be so riddled that humidity is equalised. Be very careful these babies are still delicate. Remove the plastic and once the top layer of earth gets dry gently water them. Peyote like to keep their feet dry, so try not to over water as root rot will certainly set in. Using an atomiser to mist the top layer until damp is ideal.


Taking Care Of Peyote: Heat Mat

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The little plants are still vulnerable. It will be months before a root system is established enough for the plant to withstand any knocks. Now comes the renowned patience of the succulent grower.

For the first two years keeping the soil warm will accelerate the growth of the young peyotes. They soon go from infant green to their specific colour and become flattened in the well-known peyote shape. Only water the young plants occasionally, they naturally go for long times without water. Don't water the plants at all from mid-autumn until the end of winter to avoid root rot. As spring warms begin the occasional watering again. You may have to soak the pots in a bucket the first time as extremely dry soil becomes hydrophobic.

After the first year, there is enough root development to pot on each of the baby peyote plants. In spring as the weather warms give each plant their own pot. Press the soil mix firmly around the young plants before watering in well. Make sure the green parts of the plant are above the soil line. The cactus body can rot.

Now that you have well-established plants they will like it hot. Desert hot. In the northern hemisphere above 30 degrees, latitude peyote will withstand a greenhouse all the year round. An upturned fish tank makes a good terrarium as does the humble PET bottle with the bottom cut out. Simply give each pot or each plant in a big pot their own greenhouse. Plants will withstand four or five degrees Celsius in winter without much trouble and fifty degrees Celsius in summer.

Every two years add a layer of fresh soil or a cactus-specific fertiliser. Always add fertiliser at half the recommended dosage. Peyote can swell and burst if overfertilized. This doesn't kill the plant but can slow growth while the wound heals. A chunk of limestone in the pot is decorative and mimics the peyotes home country with trace elements and minerals.



Grafting peyote onto faster growing species like Trichocereus can increase growth rates. The process is not difficult just be clean. Cutting a peyote button reveals a ring of fibrous material. This ring contains all the capillaries that the plant uses to transport water and nutrients. Cutting the tip from a trichocerus reveals a similar ring that performs the same function.

Ideally, these two rings will be the same size, but this is never guaranteed and depends on the size of the plants you have available. Place the cut face of the peyote flat against the cut tip of the trichocerus. Make sure that the fibrous rings fit perfectly together. If the ring sizes are different make sure that they overlap twice.

The peyote graft then needs to be held firmly in place. Use elastic bands to stretch over the button and hook onto the trichocerus spines. A scar will form quickly and the peyote graft will soon start feeding on the surrogate plant.

When making a new peyote plant. Slice the selected button from the main body with a clean sharp knife. Set the button aside in a warm dry place until a scab has formed over the cut. At this point place the cutting scar down in a pot of tightly packed cactus mix. When left undisturbed a new plant will have well rooted in sixth months.

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