Hartley Magazine

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Peyote – Magic cactus


You need a frost free greenhouse, warm conservatory or very sunny window sill for this gem, which is a guaranteed conversation piece. In fact this is not so much a gem as a god, for it is a venerated plant deity.

Lophophora williamsii, mescal, peyote, peyote, and other variations, is the famous magic cactus worshipped as a god by the native peoples of the deserts of southern USA and Mexico. The popular and highly successful ‘shaman/wizard’ Carlos Castaneda books made this insignificant cactus infamous the world around during the 1970s.

However, surprisingly, it is not illegal to grow this in most northern countries. The reason is that as unless baked by a Mexican or similarly hot sun it apparently never develops any narcotic and hallucinatory properties yet would probably still give you most of the very unpleasant side effects. It would also be a most patience demanding and rather unprofitable high, for this is slow growing plant and would take at least a couple of decades to get to the sort of size required.

Peyote has an attribute that makes it endearing and that is it’s one of the effectively spineless cacti (there are others such as Astrophytums and Ariocarpus) which are safer choices in places with children or pets. Neither are likely to suffer from poisoning as according to most accounts not only is Peyote not at all tasty, it’s even unpleasant but actually very difficult to even chew.
Now Peyote is not outstanding or remarkable in looks being a bluish green compressed globular shape, ribbed and divided into tubercles with whitish tufts. The flowers are pretty enough in whitish pink but not impressive, though they do come regularly once the cactus reaches a few years and like many small flowers are beautiful in their perfection. Now it is really for the curiosity value that makes this plant worth growing, and perhaps for the ease. For this, like so many cacti, requires very little attention, not much watering, or feeding and few pests are attracted to it, and so can be left to its own devices most of the time.

Although you could start this from seed it’s not the easiest to grow this way and it may be easier to buy the small plant commercially.

Peyote needs potting in a free draining loam based gritty compost in a terracotta pot. Watering is best done only during the growing season and not too often, (you can tell when to water as the plant wrinkles and shrinks as it dries out and is plump and firm when full). Water by plunging the pot in a bowl of warm water for a half hour then draining and not repeating until almost totally dried out. Indeed this is one of those plants that really thrives on neglect. Naturally as you would imagine it needs the very sunniest warmest spot you can find for it.