Today in Succulent Alley we have before us another famous cactus in the whole world. The San Pedro cactus. But this time it is not famous for its ornamental bearing, but also for the substance it produces and its effects on our brain. We will share some information and tips for growing San Pedro cactus indoors.
Origin and Distribution
The origin of the San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi ) dates back to the Andes and was discovered by the first settlers of those lands between the current countries of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. Pre-Columbian civilizations knew about it and used it for various medicinal purposes, as we will see later.
The genus Echinopsis comprises 131 species of cacti accepted today, all from South America.
1,000 Types of Cactuses with Pictures
Today it can be grown anywhere in the world under the proper conditions. In natural conditions it remains mainly in its place of origin. At more than 1000m of altitude in the Andean mountain range.
Characteristics of the San Pedro Cactus
The San Pedro cactus has the same columnar structure but does not reach as high as the Saguaro. This reaches a height of about 6-7 meters high at most.
It has a vertical bearing, ribbed structure but larger and less numerous ribs than the Saguaro.
It is a thorny cactus of intense green with a very good appearance if you are fond of xerophytic gardens.
The Chemistry of the San Pedro Cactus
And here we come to the part of the shamans. Mescaline is the hallucinogenic substance that abounds in this cactus, in all its parts, its flowers, its fruits, all of it has significant concentrations of mescaline. The fruits are in fact edible but with the hallucinogenic effect incorporated. We do not recommend it as a daily dessert after meals.
What are the Effects of Mescaline?
Like all hallucinogenic alkaloids it is dangerous but it is less strong than Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) for example. Mescaline is also found in peyote and mezcal, from which a very rich Mexican alcoholic drink is made (similar to tequila) but with a much more intense flavor, improved aroma and some other effects that do not come from alcohol.
Mescaline takes time to work. Once ingested, symptoms may occur 30 minutes to 1.5 hours later. Then, the effect is very long-lasting in the body, being present 8-12 hours and even in cases up to 24.
The effects of this compound can come from vomiting, nausea as the most common to blurred vision, hallucinations, lack of coordination, dilation of the pupils, alterations in the perception of space. And then disproportionate emotional reactions can come and without anything that causes them such as anxiety, tachycardia, panic, or the opposite, an exaggerated euphoria, aggressive behaviors, psychotic attacks… All this is what is called a bad trip.
Apart from its hallucinogenic properties, the ornamental part has a lot to say because, in addition, in those places where it can be grown outdoors, it can be used to separate spaces, as if it were a hedge by planting several in a row. It is quite fast growing for a cactus—approximately 50 cm each year.
And the Name?
The idea of the name of the cactus comes from the guardian of the keys of heaven according to the Catholic religion since its properties open the doors of heaven. Although it was already known to Andean civilizations, the influence of religion since the discovery has left its mark on the name.
San Pedro Cactus Growing Needs
Climate and Sun Exposure
Being a cactus we could imagine the conditions right? Heat, sun… little watering… But be careful. Remember where it comes from—the Andean mountain range. More than 1000 meters above sea level, with temperatures that can scare an Eskimo, and with “high” rainfall regimes for a cactus—this is without a doubt a special cactus.
In fact, it can suffer burns in summer in hot climates so if you grow it in a pot you can move it to a semi-shady area in the hottest summer period and exposure. If indoors, place the San Pedro cactus in a bright area with indirect lighting.
It can bear the cold in winter with temperatures of up to 3-5ºC.
Soil and Irrigation
In the soil aspect it does not differ from many other cacti. Good fertility and very draining soil is what the San Pedro cactus needs. If you are going to prepare a potting soil for it, a good mix can be a mixture of normal soil with mulch or peat and perlite to drain well, and even a small fraction of river sand.
Do not water too much. It is still a cactus but has a better tolerance to excess water. In winter we can stop the watering or at most water once a month. In summer we will increase the frequency of irrigation to once a week. Not bad for a cactus.
Propagation of the San Pedro Cactus
If we start from seed, its germination percentage is not very high so it is something delicate to multiply. The best answer is the propagation of cuttings.
Prepare substrate without organic matter, purely mineral (for example sand and perlite). Perlite is really important for subsequent drainage.
How to propagate the San Pedro cactus:
- Take a cutting of 8-10cm from one of the arms and prepare the substrate.
- Leave it in a cool and dry place so that the cuts heal properly. There should be no ambient humidity.
- Stick the piece of San Pedro cactus in the pot with the prepared substrate and keep it indoors at a temperature above 22ºC. It is convenient to make the cuttings in the hot months when the temperatures of a house calmly touch 25-28ºC during the day.
- Do not water absolutely anything until 2 weeks pass. After that time you can irrigate the substrate slightly.
- After a few more days, remove the cactus and it will surely have taken root.
- It is time to transplant it to the definitive substrate. This must be rich in organic and draining matter (see the soil section). Transplant in the same way (by inserting the cutting in the substrate).
- If everything has gone well, and the cutting did not get an infection (due to contamination in the cut for example) in 10 days it should already have the first shoots.
Pests and Diseases of the San Pedro Cactus
Fungal diseases (for example Phytophtora cactorum) are their main enemy, especially if too much watering.
As for pest, we must fear the cottony mealybug as it happens in the prickly pear.