Peyote – Lophophora williamsii

Peyote – Lophophora williamsii, photo by Steven Foster

Overall At-Risk Score: 49

Latin Name:

Lophophora williamsii

Common Name:

Peyote

Family:

Cactaceae (Cactus family)

Lifespan:

Long-lived perennial cactus

Reproduction:

A new plant can take anywhere from three to fifteen years to reach reproductive maturity before the fruit suddenly ripen up to a year after flowering.

Geographic Region:

In the United States it is found exclusively in southern Texas along the Mexican border. It is also found in the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas.

Habitat:

Found in the Chihuahuan Desert and mountain scrublands of northern Mexico, peyote prefers gravelly clay and loam soils on gentle slopes and can live at elevations of up to 1,900 meters (6230 feet) above sea level.

Vulnerability of Habitat/Changes of Habitat Quality and Availability:

Due to the habitat of this cactus being so rugged and hostile, its native range is relatively safe from development, though the portion of the habitat surrounding the US-Mexico border may become an issue due to the increasing growth of border towns and infrastructure in the area.

Ability to Withstand Disturbance and Overharvest:

While responsible wild-harvesters will only take a portion off of the top of the cactus and leave a few millimeters for it to grow back, the demand of peyote has led to an increase in less informed harvesters taking larger portions of the plant than needed, leading to a steady downward trend of the population of L. williamsii.

Status of Endangered/Threatened (by state):

Though there are no state or federal protections put in place for peyote in the U.S., it is “subject to special protection” in Mexico and is on a list of species at risk of extinction in the country.

Lophophora williamsii is listed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

The active compound in peyote is an alkaloid: mescaline. This alkaloid is found in large quantities in the fleshy portion of the cactus above the root.

It is labeled a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States, but its use in religious ceremonies by southwestern Native American tribes is protected by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978.

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species:

Looking quite similar, poachers often mistake L. williamsii and Astrophytum asterias, a critically endangered cactus, for one another. Each cactus has a demand in illegal markets, which drives the unlawful harvest of these two species.

Recommendations for Industrial and Home Use:

L. williamsii is illegal in most of the western world, so check with your state/country’s laws before using or cultivating this cactus.

This cactus is actually very easy to grow and propagate in a controlled greenhouse environment, leaving little need for practitioners to harvest from the wild. In fact, cultivating it in a greenhouse setting can cut down the time it takes for the plant to mature by several years, especially if grafted onto other cacti species.

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