Echinopsis pachanoi

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San Pedro cactus
Starr 070320-5799 Echinopsis pachanoi.jpg
Echinopsis pachanoi in Hawaii
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Cactoideae
Genus: Echinopsis
E. pachanoi
Binomial name
Echinopsis pachanoi
(Britton and Rose) Friedrich and Rowley

Trichocereus pachanoi Britton & Rose
Trichocereus macrogonus var. pachanoi (Britton & Rose) Albesiano & R.Kiesling
Trichocereus macrogonus subsp. sanpedro M.H.J.van der Meer

Echinopsis pachanoi (syn. Trichocereus pachanoi)—known as San Pedro cactus—is a fast-growing columnar cactus native to the Andes Mountains at 2,000–3,000 m (6,600–9,800 ft) in altitude.[2][3] It is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru,[4][5] and it is cultivated in other parts of the world. Uses for it include traditional medicine and traditional veterinary medicine, and it is widely grown as an ornamental cactus. It has been used for healing and religious divination in the Andes Mountains region for over 3,000 years.[6] It is sometimes confused with its close relative Echinopsis peruviana (Peruvian torch cactus).


Echinopsis pachanoi is known by many names throughout South America such as achuma, huachuma, wachuma, aguacolla, hahuacollay, San Pedro or giganton.[7][8]


Echinopsis pachanoi is native to Ecuador and Peru. Its stems are light to dark green, sometimes glaucous, with a diameter of 6–15 cm (2.4–5.9 in) and usually 6–8 ribs. The whitish areoles may produce up to seven yellow to brown spines, each up to 2 cm (0.8 in) long although typically shorter in cultivated varieties, sometimes being mostly spineless.[3] The areoles are spaced evenly along the ribs, approximately 2 cm (0.8 in) apart.[4] Echinopsis pachanoi is normally 3–6 m (10–20 ft) tall and has multiple branches, usually extending from the base but will emerge around broken branches.[3] The tallest recorded specimen was 12.2 metres (40 ft) tall.[4] White flowers are produced at the end of the stems; they open at night and last for about two days. Large numbers can be produced by well established cacti and may open new flowers over a period of weeks. The flowers are large, around 19–24 cm (7.5–9.4 in) long with a diameter of up to 20 cm (7.9 in) and are highly fragrant. There are black hairs along the length of the thick base leading to the flower. Oblong dark green fruits are produced after fertilization, about 3 cm (1.2 in) across and 5–6 cm (2.0–2.4 in) long.[3]

Traditional uses[edit]

Hordenine, an alkaloid found in Echinopsis pachanoi
Echinopsis pachanoi, San Pedro Cactus, the tall cactus in the mid-foreground, in its natural habitat in Peru. Several fruits with shrivelled flowers can be seen.

Echinopsis pachanoi has a long history of being used in Andean traditional medicine. Archaeological studies have found evidence of use going back two thousand years, to Moche culture,[9] and Chavín culture. Although Roman Catholic church authorities[who?] after the Spanish conquest attempted to suppress its use,[10] this failed, as shown by the Christian element in the common name "San Pedro cactus" – Saint Peter cactus. The name is attributed[by whom?] to the belief that just as St Peter holds the keys to heaven, the effects of the cactus allow users "to reach heaven while still on earth."[11]


San Pedro cactus sliced to be brewed

The San Pedro cactus contains a number of alkaloids, including the well-studied chemical mescaline (from 0.053% up to 4.7% of dry cactus weight),[12] and also 3,4-dimethoxyphenethylamine, 3-Methoxytyramine, 4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenethylamine, 4-hydroxy-3,5-dimethoxyphenethylamine, anhalonidine, anhalinine, hordenine, and tyramine.[13]

Mescaline is a psychedelic drug and entheogen, which is also found in some other species of genus Echinopsis (i.e. Echinopsis lageniformis, Echinopsis peruviana, and Echinopsis scopulicola) and the species Lophophora williamsii (peyote).[14]

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the highest concentration of active substances is found in the layer of green photosynthetic tissue just beneath the skin.[4]


A small newly planted Echinopsis pachanoi (San Pedro Cactus) cutting

The San Pedro cactus grows in USDA hardiness zones 8b to 10.[15] The range of minimum temperatures in which San Pedro is known to grow is between -9.4 °C and 10 °C.[16]

The San Pedro cactus is very easy to grow in most areas and grows best in a temperate climate. Because it grows naturally in the Peruvian Andes Mountains at high altitude and with high rainfall, it can withstand temperatures far below that of many other cacti. It requires fertile, free-draining soil. They average half a meter per year of new growth.[4][unreliable source?] They are susceptible to fungal diseases if over-watered, but are not nearly as sensitive as many other cacti, especially in warm weather. They can be sunburned and display a yellowing chlorotic reaction to overexposure to sunlight.

In winter, plants will etiolate, or become thin, due to lower levels of light. This may be problematic if the etiolated zone is not sufficiently strong to support future growth as the cactus may break in strong winds.

Propagation from cuttings[edit]

Like many other plants, Echinopsis pachanoi can be propagated from cuttings. The result is a genetic clone of the parent plant.[17] A long cactus column can be also laid on its side on the ground (like a log), and eventually roots will sprout from it and grow into the ground. After time, sprouts will form and cactus columns will grow upward out of it along its length.[17]

From seed[edit]

Like a lot of its relatives, Trichocereus pachanoi as a species is easily grown from seed, often by means of a so-called "Takeaway Tek".[18][19][20] This term refers to the practice of the sowing of Trichocereus (and sometimes other types of cactus) seed into plastic containers, such as those many food takeaways are delivered in. This creates a semi-controlled humidity environment chamber for six months to a year, in which the seed may germinate and then grow relatively unbothered by environmental contamination.


In most countries, it is legal to cultivate the San Pedro cactus. In countries where possession of mescaline and related compounds is illegal and highly penalized, cultivation for the purposes of consumption is most likely illegal and also highly penalized. This is the case in the United States, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and New Zealand, where it is currently legal to cultivate the San Pedro cactus for gardening and ornamental purposes, but not for consumption.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ostalaza, C., Cáceres, F. & Roque, J. 2017. Echinopsis pachanoi (amended version of 2013 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T152445A121474583. Downloaded on 11 September 2021.
  2. ^ Rätsch, Christian (2002). Enzyklopädie der psychoaktiven Pflanzen. Botanik, Ethnopharmakologie und Anwendungen. Aarau: AT-Verlag. p. 15. ISBN 978-3-85502-570-1.
  3. ^ a b c d Anderson 2001, p. 276.
  4. ^ a b c d e Visionary Cactus Guide,, retrieved 2012-10-24
  5. ^ Mchem, Benjamin Bury (2021-08-02). "Could Synthetic Mescaline Protect Declining Peyote Populations?". Chacruna. Archived from the original on 2021-08-02. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  6. ^ Bigwood, Jeremy; Stafford, Peter J. (1992). Psychedelics encyclopedia. Berkeley, CA: Ronin Pub. pp. 118–9. ISBN 978-0-914171-51-5.
  7. ^ Richard Evans Schultes; Albert Hofmann. Plantas de los dioses. Origenes del uso de los alucinogenos (in Spanish).
  8. ^ "San Pedro: Basic Info". ICEERS. 2019-09-20. Archived from the original on 2020-03-18. Retrieved 2022-01-01.
  9. ^ Bussmann RW, Sharon D (2006). "Traditional medicinal plant use in Northern Peru: tracking two thousand years of healing culture". J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2 (1): 47. doi:10.1186/1746-4269-2-47. PMC 1637095. PMID 17090303.
  10. ^ Larco, Laura (2008). "Archivo Arquidiocesano de Trujillo Sección Idolatrías. (Años 1768-1771)". Más allá de los encantos – Documentos sobre extirpación de idolatrías, Trujillo. Travaux de l'IFEA. Lima: IFEA Instituto Francés de Estudios Andinos, Fondo Editorial de la Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. pp. 67–87. ISBN 9782821844537. Retrieved April 9, 2020.
  11. ^ Anderson, Edward F. (2001). The Cactus Family. Pentland, Oregon: Timber Press. ISBN 978-0-88192-498-5. pp. 45–49.
  12. ^ "New mescaline concentrations from 14 taxa/cultivars of Echinopsis spp. (Cactaceae) ("San Pedro") and their relevance to shamanic practice" (PDF). Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 131 (2): 356–362. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  13. ^ Crosby, D.M.; McLaughlin, J.L. (Dec 1973). "Cactus Alkaloids. XIX Crystallization of Mescaline HCl and 3-Methoxytyramine HCl from Trichocereus panchanoi" (PDF). Lloydia and the Journal of Natural Products. 36 (4): 416–418. PMID 4773270. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  14. ^ Anderson 2001, pp. 44–49.
  15. ^ "San Pedro Cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi)". Retrieved 2008-02-23.
  16. ^ "Echinopsis pachanoi (San Pedro Cactus)". 9 June 2018.
  17. ^ a b "What if the cut end doesn't dry properly and starts to mold" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-02-07.
  18. ^ "Grow Cacti from Seed - Enhanced Takeaway Tek".
  19. ^ "How to Grow Trichocereus Cacti from Seed". 2018-07-15. Archived from the original on 2019-08-08. Retrieved 2018-09-21.
  20. ^ "Takeaway Tek (How to germinate cacti seeds)". 2015-07-07.

External links[edit]