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Peyote Cultivation

Cultivation and the Law

peyote growing in greenhouse

Peyote is one of the only cacti that is friendly to touch, having orderly rows of soft fuzz where other cacti have thorns. Peyote also has a limited range, being found naturally only in South Texas and Northern Mexico. Yet, Peyote has been a sacrament of Native Americans for over 6,000 years. It is harvested for use in Native American Church ceremonies by eleven government authorized Peyoteros in South Texas. The once lush Peyote fields have been greatly depleted by over harvesting and root plows, used by ranchers and oil interests, have destroyed vast fields. Peyote is more abundant in Mexico than the United States but has been listed as "endangered" by the Mexican government since 1991. Therefore, anyone who partakes of the Holy Sacrament Peyote as part of their religious practice should consider becoming actively involved in its propagation and welfare.

Federal law prohibits possession of Peyote except to those who are members of the Native American Church (NAC) and can prove 25% Native American ancestry. However, the "bonafide religious use" of Peyote is exempted, regardless of race in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Oregon (by Supreme Court Judicial Consent—see Smith vs. Employment Division 1991). The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1996 protects members of the Native American Church from harassment nationally, but not cultivation of Peyote, as the NAC currently has no doctrine concerning cultivation. The Peyote Way Church is protected in these five states because cultivation of Peyote is an Article of Faith as an essential and inseparable part of our religious practice.

If you are a Peyotist aspiring to cultivate the Holy Sacrament:

1) Review the laws in your area before starting your garden.

2) Write a Declaration of Religious Belief describing Peyote as an essential and inseparable part of your religious practice, and have this statement notarized. For further validation (and we really mean it!!), this statement may also be registered in your County Recorder's office under "Miscellaneous", or sent to the Church with a minimum $30.00 donation to be registered at the Graham County Recorder's office, where the Church has filed all Declarations and Church memberships since 1977. Keep this framed, notarized statement clearly visible with the growing sacrament at all times.

3) Petition your Representative for federal legislation protecting the religious use and cultivation of Peyote for all races.

Growing Peyote from Seed

peyote buttons

Mature plants flower in response to watering and harvesting. Peyote flowers may be fertilized with a small paintbrush or Q-tip, though this may result in self-fertilization. Out-crossing increases seed fertility. To out-cross the flowers, transfer with forceps some stamens containing pollen from the flower of one plant to the stigma of another flower.

The fertilized flower produces a tiny club-shaped pink berry, about one quarter inch long which is delicious to eat. Keep track of these fruits because they shrivel as they dry and may become lost among the white fuzzy tufts. Carefully remove the dried fruit pod from the tufts with your fingers. Use a white sheet of paper or bowl to catch the tiny black seeds (the size of a pinhead). Crush the dried seed pod between the thumb and index finger to release the seeds.

Normally, one flower occurs at a time with about 6 seeds in the pod, but as many as 30 seeds have been found in a single fruit. The central tufts may also harbor loose seeds and/or lost seed pods. Often dried Peyote buttons used in religious ceremonies contain dried seed pods. Always check the fuzz for the tiny, round, black seeds.

Ants may steal Peyote seeds, and must be kept out of the growing beds.

Seeds may lay dormant for years and still remain viable if kept dry and away from light. However, fresh seeds are more likely to be vital and should be planted as soon as proper conditions are available.

Seed fertility, moisture, temperature, soil mix, and light all affect seed germination. Seeds should be started in lidded trays which can be purchased from greenhouse supply catalogues, or in small pots covered by a sandwich bag.

Peyote prefers a soil pH of 6.5-7.2. A more alkaline soil binds certain nutrients. Some of the healthiest Peyote we've seen was grown in leaf mold which tends to be acidic. A choice of commercial cactus growers is 50% coconut husk and 50% pumice. The Grandchildren's Greenhouse mix started with a 50/50 blend of sand and pumice to which we added 1 part compost, 1 part greensand, 1 part Phosphate Rock, 1 part Dolomite, and one part high Phosphate Bat Guano added at ten parts sand mix to one part amendments). Perlite can be substituted for pumice when starting seeds, Worm Castings are a potential alternative to Organic Compost and Hi Phosphate Seabird Guano can be substituted for the Bat Guano.

peyote growing in greenhouse

Make sure there are drain holes in the growing trays. Water the soil mix well and carefully press the seeds into the moist soil. Seeds do not need to be covered, but a thin covering of aquarian rocks provide a stable covering for the seeds to grow around. Place planter in a warm location with indirect sunlight. Seeds should germinate in 7-10 days. The empty seed case should be removed if it doesn't fall off naturally as it may cause the tiny seedlings to rot. Seedlings are very fragile and do not need to be transplanted for several years.

The optimal growing temperature for Peyote seedlings is 70-90 degrees. They require 13-14 hours of light. Peyote has difficulty sprouting if the temperature is too low or too high. Excessive heat will reduce germination and cause drying of the soil which could be fatal. Bottom heating using a warming mat may provide better root growth.

Peyote grows well anywhere if it is kept out of direct sunlight. With artificial lights maximal light cycles may be obtained without the burning effect that sunlight has on Peyote.

When seedlings get too large for the lidded trays, they should be carefully transplanted into well drained pots. Don't be in too much of a hurry to get them out of their moist protected environment as often the transplants dry out without the moist environment to which they have become accustomed. Mature cactus seems to prefer a simple blend of mineral rich sand and perlite.

Peyote cultivation requires some skill and a lot of patience. The seedlings are very fragile. It takes about twelve years to grow from seed to mature adult, but it grows faster in a controlled environment, rewarding the dedicated Peyotist with a miniature (1/4" in diameter) version of the large buttons within a year or two.

Adult Peyote plants can tolerate temperatures within a range of 45-100 degrees Fahrenheit. If soil is kept dry, it can survive temperatures as low as 30 degrees F. Frequent watering and a shade cloth will protect it from temperatures exceeding 120 degrees F. Peyote is very sensitive to frost or prolonged near freezing temperatures and is easily injured or killed by frost. It should be brought inside in locations where the temperatures may drop below 40 degrees F.

Watering

peyote growing in pots

Peyote loves being watered and fertilized during the hot weather. When the soil mixture has good drainage, it can be watered twice a week and fertilized once a month. Some commercial cactus growers mist their plants with plant food daily. The fine misting moistens the surface of the Peyote, which absorbs the moisture and nutrients through tiny stomata in the skin. Water should be withheld when the environment gets cold, as it does here at the Church as well as in Peyote's natural environment in Texas and Mexico. Refraining from watering during this period allows for a month of dormancy to rest.

Proper Harvesting

peyote growing in greenhouse

Improper harvesting in the wild continues to deplete the supply of mature Peyote plants. When done correctly, harvesting is backbreaking work, and some Peyoteros have chosen instead to use shovels to collect it (see Conservation Crisis and Faith, Belief and the Peyote Crisis).

The potent crown or "button" of the Peyote should be sliced diagonally, leaving some green all around, above the root. The diagonal cut helps the root to slough off water which might otherwise cause it to rot. When properly cut, the root will produce one or more crown buds, and may reward the cultivating Peyotist by "birthing" a new crown to replace the old, as though it had never been cut. These buds may be harvested again later for sacramental use or may be treated with a rooting hormone and planted. The root will continue to produce new buds.

Buds should only be rooted when a warm climate can be maintained. They should be placed in a dry soil mixture and not watered for several weeks. During this time the Peyote will be producing new roots and is inclined to rot if it gets wet.

Problems

young peyote

Peyote is a challenge to grow, but it is also fun and rewarding. For every Peyotist, cultivation is perpetuating their religion. Peyote will take care of those who take care of it. Amen.

Shriveling

A common mistake novice growers make is placing the Peyote plant in a sunny Southern window. In overcast South Texas, Peyote is found growing under leafy scrub trees like Mesquite and Cat Claw. Peyote plants may shrivel if the sunlight is too intense. Peyote behaves more like a succulent than a cactus and enjoys the same lighting as Aloe Vera. Each growing environment is different and these factors need to be considered. For example, Peyote grows naturally at sea level, but at four thousand feet, we can grow Peyote in Arizona in the shelter of a greenhouse to protect from frost and under a shade covering because of our bright cloudless sky. Examine your light sources and observe whether there are long periods of bright sunshine that may cause the plants to shrivel or turn brown, or place some shade cloth over the window and see if your plants sigh in relief.

Peyote plants seem shriveled and look thirsty, but have been getting plenty of water. The problem may be soil-bound fungus, or root rot. This occurs when Peyote is getting too much water or the soil is too packed. This is a common and disturbing problem. Check the roots of the plant and if there is a whitish substance on the root, your plant has got it. Wash the roots thoroughly and let them dry in a shady, dry place. Let the plants air for several days before replanting in a dry sand and pumice mix. Don't water for at least one week. When you do begin watering again, use a water sprayer or a misting system to water only the surface of the plant. Recovery may take months, during which time you do not want to drench the soil. Light misting is plenty. When watering commences, water thoroughly as with any other household plant so that water is seen draining out the bottom and set aside for a week or so to completely dry out.

Rooting cut buttons, like all of the processes involved in growing Peyote is more a matter of neglect. If you notice your plants looking healthy after a vacation where you have been away, you will know that you have been giving them too much attention! Leave the cut buttons in a dry, shady place. Don't even bother to put them in soil. When the Peyote begins to put out little root shoots, plant them, but continue to be moderate about watering, using only the mister for months.

Seed & Live Plant Sources

peyote growing in greenhouse

WARNING! In the United States it is illegal to grow Peyote. The religious use of Peyote is protected in five states, NM, OR, CO, NV, AZ. It is an article of faith of this church to grow Peyote in response to the crisis of our sacrament and for the religious use of future generations.

If you plan to grow Peyote in violation of Federal law, make sure you read the section above entitled, Cultivating Peyote and the Law.

Some possible sources:

The Grandchildren's Greenhouse Project

the grandchildren's greenhouse

The Peyote Way Church is alive and growing. Although our numbers are not as big as our influence, things can change with your help. The word is: Grow, Peyote, grow legally, from sea to shining sea! This is not an impossible dream. Twenty five years ago people said what we have now was an impossible dream. If you can dream the dream, it will happen. Be an example of gentle strength. Be the difference. Namaste. —Rabbi Matthew S. Kent, President

Preserving the soul of the planet by protecting its sacred plants

In 2005, we built the greenhouse pictured above. We have named this the Grandchildren's Greenhouse because the Peyote grown here is for our grandchildren's use when they are adults; it takes twenty years to mature from seed to usable size.

In order for Peyotism to survive in all its varied interpretations, Peyote consumers must also be the stewards of their sacrament, which includes growing it.

If you would like to make a donation towards the maintenance of the greenhouse as a church member or as a conservationist, or you would like to support the printing of additional information about growing Peyote to educate others, you can do so via the link in the left sidebar on this page. Mention "Greenhouse Project" or "Peyote Conservation" in the notes area of the PayPal form (in the left sidebar of this page).

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