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How to sustainably harvest Lophophora williamsii (Peyote).


The principles of cactus growth

How to Harvest Peyote

Techniques for harvesting that promote faster regrowth or peyote

Related Pages


The principles of cactus growth

When cutting any plant with the hopes of its eventual regrowth, it is important to at least know the basics in how the said plant grows. With cactus plants, new stems only form from the areoles, in the case of peyote (Lophophora williamsii) these are the wooly spots. Though technically they can sprout new stems from roots and cut surfaces, this is very rare and should not be considered likely.

New shoots almost always require an areole to emerge from, so it is very important to keep a few of these intact when harvesting. This is one problem with improper wild harvesting, the stems are cut and simply die as they cannot grow new stems. With this in mind, we can move forward.

How to Harvest Peyote

Harvesting peyote is generally done with a knife, or similar flat sharp tool. A putty knife used in dry wall that is sharpened is also a great tool, but not so great for potted plants. Essentially the idea is to harvest the green crown slightly above ground level by cutting the top off. In the wild, there is often much space around a plant to allow various tool usage. It is also not easy, or suggested, to uproot the plant to cut. In cultivation it is easy to uproot a plant if it is too difficult to get down far enough with the pot walls in the way. Harvesting peyote should be done in a dry period, or in cultivation simply stop watering for a while. It is also best that the plant be slightly shaded as to not super dehydrate after being cut.

Once the plants are cut, at least in cultivation, you should not water for a number of weeks and also remove the plant from full sun. Give it 30-50% shade cover. This will limit the amount of water loss while it heals its cut surface. Because the plants will now not be exchanging much gas with its main areas for such use missing, there is very little reason to water much. Watering on a normal schedule could possible induce rot. Keep it hydrated and don¡¦t allow it to start wrinkling/getting soft. Normal water schedule can resume when new growth appears.

Where to cut a peyote during harvest

Everyone will have their own method, but we feel that keeping the security of the plants life in mind is priority #1. With the plants future on the brain, one can lose very minimal amount of cactus and ensure its survival by around 80% (by our estimates in cultivation). There are 3 main regions of the stem that we can see and look at that are important. The crown, which is the green photosynthetic stem above ground (the harvested part of the plant). The ¡§transition zone¡¨, which was at one point the crown, but in time has gone underground and is brown and often flaky. And finally the root, which is fat and succulent.

The crown, which is what people ultimately want to be harvesting, is the green section above ground. This is where all the photosynthesis and reproduction happens. It is also where new plant stem is created. It is in this section where we want to cut. Many people will cut right at the bottom of the crown, leaving only the ¡§transition zone¡¨ and very little exposed plant tissue that is able to photosynthesis. This, in our opinion, is improper. See bellow for better techniques.

The ¡§transition zone¡¨ is essentially older stem growth that is underground. This happens with time and size, and is a natural occurance with Lophophora williamsii. This tissue, when underground for an extended time, starts going from green to yell and eventually brown. Like wood, the cells begin to die off and become corky. The outer surfaces of this region are not able to use light energy, at least in any meaningful way, but because they were once the crown and they are part of the stem they do have areoles just like the stem. Because this region does contain areoles, plants will often send out new shoots from this region. It may be hard to distinguish this zone from the roots, but the roots will not have any areoles. One way to try and find areoles in this region is if the crowns¡¦ ribs are more or less straight you can draw an imaginary line down from the crown to guess where the areoles probably are, then make a closer inspection of that area. In some plants, there may still be wool in this zone, making areole identification that much easier.

The roots can sometimes look the same as the ¡§transition zone¡¨ but will never contain areoles. You can be sure that the line at which you see roots will no longer have any areoles. Roots may also be slightly wrinkly, and surely brown, but they tend not to be so corky and wrinkled but more flakey and smooth.. Roots will not be able to grow any new stems and if harvested down to the root, the plant will almost surely die.

Notice the difference in crown, transition zone and root zone.
Notice the areoles on this cut stem are all ¡§bulging¡¨.

Techniques for harvesting that promote faster regrowth or peyote

Angled cuts instead of flat cuts

One great way to help a little cactus survive having its top cut off is to prevent rot. The outer parts of cactus have a waxy layer on the very outside which helps to conserve water in the harsh climate they come from. Beneath this layer is epidermis and between the vascular bundle in the middle and the outer layer is called the cortex. This is the watery succulent portion of a cactus ¡§flesh¡¨. This is the main water storage area of a cactus. When we cut this wide open, we are opening all these cells up to the environment and they are no longer protected by that lovely wax balloon that has helped the plant conserve water for all those years. Immediately after being cut, the cactus will try to heal itself, and the cut surface will dry and become hard (usually within about 1-3 days), much like when we get a cut we form a scab. This healing is called a callous.

The problem with cutting super succulent plants in half and leaving them in the hot sun is they are now very easy to dehydrate. Because the outside of the cactus has that hard waxy layer, the outer edges of the cactus remain relatively rigid through the healing process. The soft, succulent cortex is not so lucky, and will loose a fair amount of water through evaporation. With the outside hard and rigid and the inside shrinking, by the end of the ordeal, the once flat cup appears more like a bowl that depresses in the middle due to water loss. The cactus will heal and retain this shape.

Why does this little bowl shape cut matter? Well, especially in the wild where no one controls water, these bowls will collect and hold water. This may or may not cause a problem, it really depends on the climate. But standing water touching a peyote plant for any extended period of time is an open invitation to rot. In cultivation one now needs to be more careful when watering from above not to splash water into this ¡§bowl¡¨ as it may lead to eventual rot if it does not dry up soon.

Note the outer skin remained hard while the cortex shrunk inwards.

Solution? Cut on an angle. That¡¦s difficult! Not. Something so simple can so greatly reduce rot of plants. Cutting on a slight angle will make it so the bow drops to one end and when it rains, or you water your plant, the water runs out of the top of the cactus and all but eliminates the issue.

Notice the angle cut will now not allow water to remain in the cut area.

Leaving some photosynthetic stem when harvesting Peyote

One more trick to getting a far higher survival rate with harvested peyote is to leave some green tissue on the plant. You do not need to leave very much, and it will take very little away from the total yield of the plant, but it seems to greatly improve success in regrowth. We attribute this to maybe the root sometimes not being strong enough to support new growth. But we feel it is more likely due to the plant remaining higher out of the ground and not being so susceptible to rot. We also notice with cut plants that lack green and cannot photosynthesis that they rot FAR more often than cuts with even a small bit of tissue that can use light for energy.

In cultivation, leaving some of the crown on the roots also allows far easier monitoring of how hydrated the plant is as the roots/callous tend not to contract much. Leaving some of the crown will show you when it is getting dehydrated simply by looking and/or touching it. This can be invaluable in helping the plant rebound faster and a stronger.

With the above 2 added techniques to harvesting peyote (angled cuts and leaving some photosynthetic stem on the root) we have noticed that regrowth rates in cut plants went from 40-75% to 85% + in cultivated plants that are not cared for often. With plants that are cared for often the previous success rate for regrown (meaning plants that didn¡¦t die) went from about 70% to near 100%.

We feel these 2 methods attached to common peyote harvest practice can greatly multiply the amount of successful regrown plants in the future and minimize unnecessary cactus death due to improper harvesting care. Using these methods alongside good cultivation practice, peyote plants can be perpetually harvest every 3-4 years in cultivation. This is discussed more at Mass producing Lophophora williamsii to alleviate wild population strain. .

Related Pages

Lophophora williamsii Information

Lophophora growth habits based on cultivation technique

Mass producing Lophophora williamsii to alleviate wild population strain.

Lophophora williamsii and mescaline production.

Lophophora Referrences: Books, Journals, Articles & other published data

Lophophora species and Information

Cactus Information

Cactus By Genera

Cactus Cultivation

Cactus Propagation

Cactus Classification

Cacti & Human Use

Cactus Biology