|Lophophora williamsii cluster|
The species are extremely slow growing, sometimes taking up to thirty years to reach flowering age (at the size of about a golf ball, excluding the root) in the wild. Cultivated specimens grow considerably faster, usually taking between three to ten years to reach from seedling to mature flowering adult. The slow rate of reproduction and over-harvesting by collectors render the species under threat in the wild.
Lophophora means "crest-bearing", referring to the tufts of trichomes that adorn each tubercle. The name is derived from the two Ancient Greek words λοφος (lophos, the crest of a hill or helmet) and φορεω (phoreo, to carry). Lophophora has been reported to comprise everything from one species, L. williamsii with varieties, to the four species L. diffusa, L. fricii, L. viridescens, and L. williamsii. Most modern authorities consider Lophophora to be a genus of two species, L. diffusa and L. williamsii. Recent DNA sequencing studies (Butterworth et al. 2002) have shown that L. diffusa and L. williamsii indeed are distinct species. DNA evidence from the alleged species L. fricii and L. viridescens would allow for more accurate classification.
Below is given a key for the currently accepted species along with the "species" and varieties that must be considered synonymous. Detailed arguments for this classification can be found in Peyote: The Divine Cactus (Anderson 1996, pp. 210–219).
- Lophophora diffusa (Croizat) Bravo : The plants are yellow-green, usually lacking well-defined ribs and furrows. The podaria are rarely elevated, but are broad and flat. The tufts of hair are usually spread unequally on the prominent podaria. The flowers are commonly whitish to yellowish-white. L. diffusa occurs at the south end of the range of the genus in Querétaro state, Mexico. This species contains zero to trace amounts of mescaline; pellotine is the principal alkaloid.
- Several people have reported that this cactus is psychoactive if ingested, though the experience is unlike peyote. This species looks almost identical to peyote, though it is legal to possess in the United States.
- Lophophora williamsii (Lemaire ex Salm-Dyck) J.M.Coult. The plants are blue-green, usually with well-defined ribs and furrows. The tufts of hair are usually equally spaced on the ribs. The flowers are pinkish or rarely whitish. L. williamsii occurs in the full range of the genus except in Querétaro state, Mexico. The mescaline content in dried "Peyote" can reach almost 7%.
Lophophora williamsii, commonly known as peyote, is noted for its psychotropic alkaloids. These alkaloids are absent or only found in extremely small amounts in the other species Lophophora diffusa. While L. diffusa is known for having psychoactive effects, these effects are described not so much as "visionary", like peyote, but rather a delirious high such as those associated with the use of Datura and Belladonna. The stem is used as a spiritual hallucinogen, and is applied topically as a galactogogue, or lactation aid.
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Lophophora species easily adapt to cultivation. Although a cactus, most of the range this genus is found is within a subtropical climate for some portion of the year. In habitat plants in this genus are subject to seasonal monsoons within their range and the plants live in areas where they may be underwater for several weeks during heavy rains and can tolerate a lot of water when the temperatures are above 100 °F (38 °C). These plants are heat adapted and grow rapidly when exposed to temperatures of 110 to 120 °F (43.3 to 48.9 °C) and watered heavily in the summer. In habitat, plants from areas which experience seasonal monsoons and high temperatures such as southern Texas can reach flowering size in five years. During the fall and winter months, the plants receive almost no water in habitat and are subjected to temperatures which can drop somewhat below 20 °F (−7 °C) during the winter. The plants should not be watered during the winter rest or watered sparingly when they begin to shrink and wrinkle only enough to keep them turgid. Lophophora plants must be kept completely dry if they are subjected to temperatures below 40 °F (4 °C) as watering plants and subjecting them to below freezing temperatures will typically result in the death of the plant.
Seedlings grow most rapidly when enclosed in a sealed terrarium environment, having been germinated in trays of shallow sand covered with plastic wrap with several small pin sized holes in the plastic wrapping. This may seem strange for a cactus, but Lophophora seedlings are adapted to germinate and grow during the seasonal monsoons. Plants grown this way can reach a diameter of 5 centimetres (2 in) in just over a year and can be removed from their hyper-humid environment approximately two months after germination. They will typically reach flowering size in just under three years via this method.
Lophophora are closely related to the genera Ariocarpus, Aztekium, and Obregonia and like its relatives possesses a large taproot system with the majority of the plant's mass underground for water storage. Lophophora is more tolerant of soil types than its relatives, and typically grows in areas which have decomposed limestone present in the soil. In cultivation, Lophophora does best in a fast draining mineral based soil which is about two thirds sand. Abundant water is beneficial in the summer months when the temperatures are over 90 °F (32 °C) and exposed to full sunlight for maximum growth, but must be allowed to dry out completely between waterings. They should also be fertilized twice a year. Over fertilizing will typically result in the Lophophora developing cracks and splitting. At times, some varieties of Lophophora will develop a corky material on the plant body if exposed to pesticides or insecticidal soap. This corky condition will usually heal in a manner very similar to human skin if the plants are exposed to full sunlight.
When overwatered during the winter months, Lophophora plants can succumb to soil-borne fungus infections. Pyroclay (Pyrophyllitic Clay) is an effective preventative and soil additive which increases their resistance. Due to the large amount of alkaloids produced by this plant and stored in its tissues, Lophophora roots (not the green part of the plant above ground) are highly alkaline and are known to harbor Clostridium botulinum bacteria and should not be used for human consumption and have been found to contain botulinum toxin in nature.
Lophophora are free flowering in cultivation and although they can withstand low temperatures during winter they do not require a cold shocking in order to initiate flowering. Lophophora plants in habitat typically flower after rainstorms which have been preceded by a period of high temperatures and dry conditions. Plants in cultivation can be encouraged to flower by subjecting the plants to high temperatures, direct sunlight, and withholding water for several weeks, then watering heavily which will usually initiate flowering.
- Liddell, Henry George; Robert Scott (1980). A Greek-English Lexicon (Abridged Edition). United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-910207-4.
- C. A. Butterworth & J. H. Cota-Sanchez, & R. S. Wallace (2002), ”Molecular systematics of Tribe Cacteae (Cactaceae: Cactoideae): A phylogeny based on rpl16 intron sequence variation”, Systematic Botany 27 (2), 257-270.
- Edward F. Anderson, Peyote: The Divine Cactus (University of Arizona Press; 2nd edition, 1996) ISBN 0-8165-1654-5
- Lyman Benson, Cacti of the United States and Canada (Stanford University Press, 1983) ISBN 0-8047-0863-0, pp. 680–683
- John M. Coulter, Preliminary revision of the North American species of Cactus, Anhalonium, and Lophophora (Contributions from the U. S. National Herbarium 3(2), 1894)
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