Peyote (Lophophora williamsii)

Mescal, Mescal Buttons, Peyote

If you’re looking to care for your Peyote Cactus and help it thrive, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, I’ll provide you with all the essential information you need to successfully care for your Peyote Cactus at home.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

The peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is a small, spineless cactus which contains psychoactive alkaloids, particularly mescaline. Peyote is a Spanish word derived from the Nahuatl peyōtl, meaning “caterpillar cocoon”, from a root peyōni, “to glisten”. 

L. williamsii is native to southern North America, mainly distributed in Mexico. In the United States, it grows in Southern Texas. In Mexico, it grows in the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas in the north to San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas. It is primarily found at elevations of 100 to 1,500 m (330 to 4,920 ft) and exceptionally up to 1,900 m (6,200 ft) in the Chihuahuan desert, but is also present in the more mild climate of Tamaulipas. Its habitat is primarily in desert scrub, particularly thorn scrub in Tamaulipas. It is common on or near limestone hills.

The various species of the genus Lophophora grow low to the ground and they often form groups with numerous, crowded shoots. The blue-green, yellow-green or sometimes reddish-green shoots are mostly flattened spheres with sunken shoot tips. They can reach heights of 2 to 7 centimeters (0.79 to 2.76 in) and diameters of 4 to 12 cm (1.6 to 4.7 in). There are often significant, vertical ribs consisting of low and rounded or hump-like bumps. From the cusp areoles arises a tuft of soft, yellowish or whitish woolly hairs. Spines are absent. Flowers are pink or white to slightly yellowish, sometimes reddish. They open during the day, are from 1 to 2.4 cm (0.39 to 0.94 in) long, and reach a diameter from 1 to 2.2 cm (0.39 to 0.87 in).

The cactus produces flowers sporadically; these are followed by small edible pink fruit. The club-shaped to elongated, fleshy fruits are bare and more or less rosy colored. At maturity, they are brownish-white and dry. The fruits do not burst open on their own and they are between 1.5 to 2 cm (0.59 to 0.79 in) long. They contain black, pear-shaped seeds that are 1 to 1.5 mm long and 1 mm wide. The seeds require hot and humid conditions to germinate. Peyote contains a large spectrum of phenylethylamine alkaloids. The principal one is mescaline for which the content of Lophophora williamsii is about 0.4% fresh (undried) and 3–6% dried.

II. How to Grow and Care

Watering

During the growth phase from April to September, water the peyote cactus regularly, without allowing waterlogging to occur. Any water standing in the coaster must be poured out immediately.

Fertilizing

From April to the end of August give the peyote cactus some liquid fertilizer at monthly intervals. Special cactus fertilizers are ideal. But you can also give fertilizer for green plants. However, you should reduce the dose.

Propagation

Peyote seeds are not difficult to germinate if you follow these simple steps:

Choosing a Container: Ideally you want a shallow container with a clear plastic covering. Many take-out containers fit this description and will make excellent tiny greenhouses for your vulnerable young plants. (This is known as ‘take-away tek’). Be sure to scrub your containers very clean and add drainage holes at the bottom for water to escape. In our experience these types of containers work better than covering a pot with clear plastic wrap.

  • Fill your seed tray or small pot with moistened, sterilized potting soil mix (sterilize using boiling water, 3% hydrogen peroxide or a microwave) and flatten the mix down gently. Any quality seedling mix from your local home and garden center will do (such as PRO-MIX).
  • You want a flat, even surface so pick out any large pieces of bark or Perlite, etc. We like to sift our seedling starter mix through a 1/8″ screen, but it’s not necessary.
  • Many people (including us) also use unsterilized soil with good success. A vast array of media will work for sprouting, from sand and pure mineral mixes to compost. As long as your soil is relatively clean and uncontaminated, the particles are small and you keep on top of mold/algae/pests, you’ll be fine. The advantage to using unsterilized soil is that the established beneficial microbes/mycorrhizal fungi in the soil will not be killed off.
  • Moisten your media so that it is damp, but not wet. Allow it to drain and cool completely (if using boiling water). Soil should be moist but not saturated. If you can squeeze it and water comes out, it’s too wet.
  • Sprinkle seeds evenly over the starting mix, then gently press seeds down using the back of a spoon so they are in good contact with the medium. Peyote requires light to sprout so DO NOT bury the seeds. Seeds can be safely mixed with pure 3% hydrogen peroxide to encourage sprouting. This will increase your germination rate and help sterilize the top surface of the soil if you haven’t done so already.
  • Cover your container with a clear plastic cover, or clear plastic wrap. You’ll want to keep the humidity high for quite some time. Feel free to open the cover to check on your seeds a couple of times a day. The fresh air has been shown to be beneficial for sprouting. Just don’t forget to replace it when you’re done.
  • Place under grow lights or in bright, indirect light. Seedlings in the wild usually grow in the shade of other plants, so do not require very much light. Fluorescent or LED lighting works very well. Never place them in direct sunlight as this could scorch your young plants. Artificial lighting in a 12 hour on 12 off cycle is perfect. Warmth is important, and temperatures should ideally reach 26C (80F) to 43C (109F) during the day, and must dip below 26C at night for best germination results. The cool/warm cycle mimics conditions in their natural habitat. A seedling heat mat turned off at night works well.
  • Most seeds should germinate within 2 to 14 days but some can take up to a month or more. In an ideal setup, water should not be needed for months. As long as you see condensation on your plastic you’re good. If seed trays begin to dry out, use a spray bottle to mist the surface.
  • When seedlings are about four to six months old, you can begin acclimatizing them to lower humidity by lifting tray covers for ever lengthening periods or poking holes in the plastic. Start off with one or two holes, wait a few days then poke a few more until they are acclimated.
  • Keep seedlings in indirect sunlight for about six months, and then slowly let them have more light. Seedlings should have a lush green color if the light levels are right. If the epidermis (skin) turns red it means they are getting too much light. If so, raise the lights or add shade. If they begin to stretch out or “etiolate”, they need more light. Healthy baby peyotes look like tiny, verdant green round balls.
  • Water your seedlings only when the soil has been totally dry for at least 2-3 days. Keep them warm and err on the side of underwatering. Peyote can take a lot of drying out but will not tolerate overwatering, especially when young.
  • You can begin to fertilize very lightly with a low-nitrogen fertilizer such as fish emulsion, at about 1/4 the recommended strength. If you do not see consistent growth, your conditions may have caused your peyotes to turn dormant. Cut way back on water and stop fertilizing. Offer them more warmth and light to get them back on track
  • Don’t rush to repot your seedlings. Lophophora enjoys the company of others, so wait until they are really fighting for room before potting them up.

Repotting

If the previous pot has become too small, take the peyote cactus out of the pot and shake off the old substrate. Fill a slightly larger pot with nutrient-poor substrate. Pumice or special soil for cacti is suitable. Make sure the pot is deep enough as Lophophora williamsii will develop a long taproot. Carefully plant the peyote.

After repotting, the peyote cactus is not fertilized for several months.

Overwintering

Lophophora williamsii is not hardy, but like many cactus species it needs a cool winter break in order to develop many flowers. Place the cactus as cool as possible during this time. Ten degrees are ideal.

The cooler it is at the location, the less you may water the peyote cactus.

Pests and Diseases

While Peyote cactus is generally resistant to pests and diseases, there are a few common issues that may arise. It’s important to stay vigilant and take appropriate measures to address these problems promptly. Here are some of the most common pests and diseases that can affect your Peyote cactus:

Common  Pests

  • Mealybugs: These small, white insects feed on the plant sap and can be found on the surface of the cactus. They leave behind a white, powdery substance that can damage the plant over time.
  • Scale insects: These pests attach themselves to the cactus and suck out its juices, causing yellowing and wilting of the plant. They can be challenging to spot due to their small size and protective covering.

Common Diseases

  • Root rot: Overwatering can lead to root rot, which is caused by fungal or bacterial infections. It can cause the roots to become soft and mushy, ultimately leading to the death of the plant if not addressed promptly. 

III. Uses and Benefits 

  • Psychoactivity and folk medicine

When used for its psychoactive properties, common doses for pure mescaline range from roughly 200 to 400 mg. This translates to a dose of roughly 10 to 20 g of dried peyote buttons of average potency; however, potency varies considerably between samples, making it difficult to measure doses accurately without first extracting the mescaline. The effects last about 10 to 12 hours. Peyote is reported to trigger rich visual or auditory effects (see synesthesia) and spiritual or philosophical insights.

In addition to psychoactive use, some Native American tribes use the plant in folk medicine. They employ peyote for varied ailments. Although uncommon, use of peyote and mescaline has been associated with poisoning. Peyote contains the alkaloid, hordenine (also called peyocactin).

  • Adverse reactions

A study published in 2007 found no evidence of long-term cognitive problems related to peyote use in Native American Church ceremonies, but researchers stressed their results may not apply to those who use peyote in other contexts. A four-year large-scale study of Navajo who regularly ingested peyote found only one case where peyote was associated with a psychotic break in an otherwise healthy person; other psychotic episodes were attributed to peyote use in conjunction with pre-existing substance abuse or mental health problems. 

Later research found that those with pre-existing mental health issues are more likely to have adverse reactions to peyote. Peyote use does not appear to be associated with hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (a.k.a. “flashbacks”) after religious use. Peyote also does not seem to be associated with physical dependence, but some users may experience psychological dependence.

Peyote can have strong emetic effects, and one death has been attributed to esophageal bleeding caused by vomiting after peyote ingestion in a Native American patient with a history of alcohol abuse. Peyote is also known to cause potentially serious variations in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and pupillary dilation.

Research into the Huichol natives of central-western Mexico, who have taken peyote regularly for an estimated 1,500 years or more, found no evidence of chromosome damage in either men or women.

According to a statement made by Gertrude Bonnin in 1916, a member of the Sioux tribe, the use of Peyote had been the direct cause of death among 25 Utes in last two years.

  • Cultural significance

The Wixarika religion consists of four principal deities: Corn, Kayumarie (Blue Deer), Hikuri (Peyote), and the Eagle, all descended from their Sun God. Schaefer has interpreted this to mean that peyote is the soul of their religious culture and a visionary sacrament that opens a pathway to the other deities.

Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) Details

Common name Mescal, Mescal Buttons, Peyote
Botanical name Lophophora williamsii
Plant type Poisonous
Growth rate Slow
Sunlight Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
Soil condition Clay
Flower color Gold/Yellow