peyote seedlings

Peyote Plant Info: What You Should Know About Growing Peyote Cactus

Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is a spineless cactus with a rich history of ritual use in the First Nation culture. In the United States the plant is illegal to cultivate or eat unless you are a member of the Native American Church. The plant is considered poisonous by U.S. officials but First Nations people use it as a sacrament and pathway to religious and personal enlightenment.

While growing peyote is not allowed unless you are a member of the NAC, it is a fascinating plant with attributes worth learning about. There are, however, peyote plant look-a-likes you can grow at home that will satisfy your urge to cultivate this cute little cactus without breaking the law.

What is the Peyote Cactus?

Peyote cactus is a small plant native to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and northeastern Mexico. It has numerous psychoactive chemicals, chiefly mescaline, which is used in religious ceremonies to elevate awareness and cause a mental and physical high. Peyote cultivation is a time-consuming process, as the plant can take up to 13 years to mature. In any event, growing peyote is illegal unless you are a member of the church and have filed the proper paperwork.

The bulk of the plant is underground where thick, wide roots form, looking much like parsnips or carrots. The upper part of the cactus grows about an inch (2.5 cm.) out of the ground in a rounded habit with a diameter of less than 2 inches (5 cm.). It is greenish-blue with 5 to 13 ribs and fuzzy hairs. Peyote plants often have tubercles, which give the ribs a spiral appearance. Occasionally, the plant will produce pink flowers which become club-shaped, edible pink berries.

The plant is considered endangered due to over-harvesting and land development. A similar-looking cactus, Astrophytum Asterias, or star cactus, is legal to grow, but it is also endangered. Star cactus has only 8 ribs and a fibrous root system. It is also called the sand dollar or sea urchin cactus. Star cactus requires similar care to that of peyote and other cacti.

Additional Peyote Plant Info

The part of peyote that is used for ritual is the small cushion-like upper part. The larger root is left in the ground to regenerate a new crown. The upper part is dried or used fresh and is called a peyote button. These are generally no larger than a quarter once dried and the dosage is 6 to 15 buttons. Older peyote plants produce offsets and develop into larger clumps of many plants. The cactus has 9 narcotic alkaloids of the isoquinoline series. The bulk of the effect is visual hallucinations, but auditory and olfactory alterations are also present.

Church members use the buttons as a sacrament and in religious teaching sessions. Care of peyote cacti is similar to most cacti. Grow them in a half and half mix of coconut husk and pumice. Restrict water after seedlings establish and keep the plants in indirect sun where temperatures are between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 32 C.).

A few words on peyote cultivation

An interesting bit of peyote plant info is the form of documentation necessary to grow it.

  • You must be in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon or Colorado.
  • You must be a member of the NAC and at least 25% First Nations.
  • You are required to write a Declaration of Religious Belief, get it notarized and file it with the County Recorder’s Office.
  • You must post a copy of this document above the location where plants will be grown.

Only the 5 states listed allow church members to grow the plant. It is illegal in all other states and is federally unlawful. In other words, it is not a good idea to try to grow it unless you are a documented member of the Native American Church. For the rest of us, the star cactus will provide similar visual appeal and growth habit, without the danger of jail time.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening information purposes only.

While growing peyote is not allowed unless you are a member of the Native American Church (NAC), it is a fascinating plant with attributes worth learning about. Read this article to learn more and find similar plants that you can grow.


Information on the peyote cactus et cetera – (mostly) cactus blogging since 2005

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tricotyledon Echinocactus polycephalus seedling

Tricotyledon Echinocactus polycephalus seedling

As mentioned in the previous post I started a handful of Echinocactus polycephalus (SNL 91; Las Vegas, Nevada) from seed a few weeks ago. I didn’t achieve impressive germination rates and many of the seedlings were killed off by mold while still enclosed in the humid atmosphere of the germination “tent” – and more have withered after I exposed the seedlings to the harsher environment outside of the plastic bag they germinated in. So for all practical purposes Echinocactus polycephalus (and E. horizonthalonius) live up to their reputation of being extremely difficult to grow from seed.

Echinocactus polycephalus seedling growing its first spines

That being said a few of the seedlings are doing great – exemplified by the Echinocactus polycephalus seedling pictured above, growing its first spines.

Tricotyledon Echinocactus polycephalus seedling – top view

Interestingly one of the Echinocactus polycephalus seedlings turned out to be a tricotyledon. Members of the Cactus family belong to the group of dicotyledons, i.e. their seedlings have two cotyledons or embryonic leaves. So evidently Echinocactus polycephalus is a dicot but for some reason this seedling decided to grow three seed leaves instead of the habitual two.

Polycotyledons could be considered freaks of nature or “mutant” plants but this seedling will probably grow up looking exactly like the other plants from the same batch. The last time I experienced a polycot seedling was some years ago when an Opuntia polyacantha var. hystricina seedling germinated with three seed leaves.

Tricotyledon Opuntia polyacantha var. hystricina seedling

Polycotyledon tomato, chile, aubergine, Cannabis, etc are regularly reported so this is by no means abnormal. It would be interesting to know though if this is affecting the plants in any way (as mentioned, the last time I experienced a tricot seedling the plant grew up to be indistinguishable from the “normal” plants). I’m also curious as to what is causing the extra seed leaves (the Opuntia seedling mentioned above was grown fresh from seed collected in the Grand Canyon; indicating to me that polycots are occurring naturally and are not (only) caused by “mutagens” in the environment).

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Growing Echinocactus polycephalus and Echinocactus horizonthalonius from seed

Immaculate Echinocactus polycephalus seedling

Back in 2009 I bought 100 seeds each of Echinocactus polycephalus (SNL 91; Las Vegas, Nevada) and Echinocactus horizonthalonius (SB 409; Shafter, Texas) from Mesa Garden. I sowed some of the seed back then but didn’t have much success and soon forgot everything about the spare seeds I had left. That is until a few days ago 🙂

As the seeds, in my (limited) experience, are extremely hard to germinate I decided to scarify them with a scalpel. You have to be very careful not to damage the embryo when making shallow cuts in the testa (seed coat) with a scalpel – and manually scarifying 80-some tiny seeds is an extreme test of your patience. After brutally cleaving several seed embryos I settled for chipping away at the protrusion of the hilum – this allowed me to break of small pieces of the testa without damaging the embryo within. The scarified seeds were left to soak in water for a few hours – I added the smallest tad of detergent to remove the water surface tension and allow for more efficient soaking of the seeds.

Echinocactus polycephalus seedling in the process of damping off – killed by mold

A few days after sowing the seeds several seedlings have surfaced. Unfortunately a few of them are already showing “rusty” spots and some has completely damped off, killed by mold. Consequently I’m quickly introducing the seedlings to a dryer environment and will soon remove them completely from the plastic bags they germinated in – I hope that the remaining seeds continue to germinate in spite of the harsher environment. Steve Brack’s encouraging notes regarding this type of cacti reads: “rot easily, right after germination: not too wet, dry air and stronger light.”

Etiolated Echinocactus polycephalus seedling, red from the sun

Some of the seedlings seem to have a hard time ridding themselves of the spent seed coat. They grow slightly etiolated and don’t develop much chlorophyl in the deep shade of the testa – consequently they turn all red when exposed to the sunlight.

Echinocactus polycephalus seedling showing “rusty” spots

As usual I’m germinating my seeds in pots placed in clear plastic bags. As it’s early summer I’m experimenting with germinating the seeds outdoors on the balcony – the daytime temperatures are around 20 C (68 F) with pleasantly cool nights. The temperature inside the bags off course grow hotter as they are exposed to sun during the day.

Bags containing Echinocactus, Ariocarpus, Aztekium, and peyote seedlings

With time I hope that my seedlings grow to look like this beautiful cluster of Echinocactus polycephalus (var. xeranthemoides) that overlooks the Tonto Platform in the Grand Canyon

Echinocactus polycephalus (var. xeranthemoides) overlooking the Tonto Platform

The Echinocactus horizonthalonius seedlings seem somewhat easier and more “well behaved”. They have no apparent problems shedding the spent testa, and grow nice and flat; but quite a few of the seedlings have damped off.

Echinocactus horizonthalonius seedling

Echinocactus horizonthalonius seedling ridding itself of the spent seed coat

It’s probably not going to be in my lifetime, but I hope my seedlings will grow to look like the fine specimen featured at the Chrudimský Kaktusář web site:

Flowering Echinocactus horizonthalonius

Everything Lophophora. Information on the peyote cactus et cetera. Welcome to the Lophophora Blog and happy growing!