Peyote is a beautiful sentient succulent that grows without much attention and provides company that never overstays its welcome. Many individuals who have experienced the Spirit Walk desire to bring this sacred plant into their homes. The Peyote plant’s presence in the home bridges the connection between the spiritual, the natural and the material world. Keeping a sacred Peyote garden or a few plants growing in the home also revives memories of the Spirit Walk experience and the lessons learned. We have produced this planting and grow guide to assist the practitioner as they venture into the realm of caring for live spiritual plants.
Harvesting and Cleaning Seeds
Seeds are produced by pollination of the pink flowers. The Peyote flower has both male and female parts. In the wild, mature plants flower in response to rainfall and Peyote flowers appear about a week after the plants have been watered. Peyote flowers may be pollinated using a small #2 paintbrush to gently rub pollen from the androecium of the stamen into the pistils. In a few days, the pollinated flower produces a tiny club- shaped pink berry, about ½”- 1” long. Let the pods ripen and dry as they are the source of seeds. Keep track of these fruits because as they dry and shrivel, they can become lost among the central white fuzzy tufts. Carefully remove the dried fruit pod from the plant using your fingers and tweezers. Allow the pods to dry in shady warm dry place. Once the pods are completely dry, place the dried pods in a flat tray-we suggest using a stainless-steel pan or other plate with a rim to keep the seeds from rolling out. Gently crush the dried seed pod between the thumb and index finger to release the seeds. Carefully remove the small round seeds from the pod and store in a glassine or brown paper envelope.
Each flower produces from 6-30 seeds in a single fruit. The central tuft of the peyote plant 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 they are 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 germination success is affected by seed viability, moisture, temperature, soil mix, and light. Seeds should be started in lidded trays which can be purchased from greenhouse supply catalogues, or in small pots covered by saran wrap or a sandwich bag. We use Bootstrap Farmer 10 X 20 trays with their solid and screen trays plus a clear dome, but anything producing a greenhouse effect will suffice.
Peyote prefers a soil pH of 6.5-7.2. A more alkaline soil binds certain nutrients.
The Grandchildren’s Greenhouse mix started with a 50/50 blend of the Church dirt which has a high clay body 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 Church pumice mix to one part amendments. Since then we have experimented with various planting mixes and observed the resultant growth and plant health achieved from each mix. Worm Castings are a potential alternative to Organic Compost and Hi Phosphate Seabird Guano can be substituted for Bat Guano. Alternatively, a more hydroponic blend may work extremely well. Our current chosen planting mix, particularly for seed germination, is 1-part black lava sand, 1-part small pumice, 1-part “zen” sand (tiny calcium carbonate/limestone pebbles) and ½ part worm casting. The moistened soil is sterilized in a Pro Gro soil sterilizer, but we have also sterilized small amounts of soil with a canning pressure cooker. Soil may also be sterilized in an oven allowing the temperature to hold at 500 degrees for about an hour. We are currently using this mix for all our plants but still add amendments in trace amounts. With the standard soil mix described above we focus our fertilization efforts more to foliar sprays than soil amendments. Foliar fertilizers used are Bloom formulas high in calcium phosphate, Nitron or Biolink trace amendments and B vitamins in Superthrive or Thrive Alive formulas.
Planting Peyote Seeds
Make sure there are drain holes in the growing trays that sit inside a solid tray. The sterilized dirt will be moist. When the planting medium is cool, carefully fill the planting trays and spread mix evenly. The planting medium can be moistened from the bottom by pouring distilled or 5.1 water into the solid tray and then dipping the porous seed tray into the water. After saturating the planting medium using this technique allow the tray to drain thoroughly before setting it back into a solid tray. Try to keep a sterile environment by using rubbing alcohol on hands or nitrile gloves when you are working with the seeds and planting medium. Gently sprinkle the seeds over the moist soil. Do not cover with sand or soil. Seeds do not need to be covered and require light to germinate. If the sterile planting medium is sufficiently moist without the drench described above, then a light mist of distilled water may be sprayed after seeding to ensure the environment is sufficiently moist. Place the planter in a warm location in indirect sunlight or preferably 10 inches below led grow lights. Seeds should germinate in 7-10 days. Seedlings are very fragile and do not need to be transplanted for several years.
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 to the sprouting seeds. The optimal growing environment for Peyote seedlings is a temperature between 70-90 degrees and 13-14 hours of light. In cooler locations, 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 on a timer maximal light cycles may be obtained without the burning effect that sunlight has on Peyote.
As the trays are covered with a dome, one potential problem is mold and moss growing on the planting medium. The use of little or no organic matter (like worm castings) in the planting medium will help reduce the problem of mold. Peroxide is an excellent tool against mold growth. Mix equal parts of 3% peroxide with distilled water in a hand sprayer and mist the mold areas lightly. When mold is seen, there is a need to provide the planters with more air flow, so initially open the vents on the domes. By the time the seedlings are six months old or older the domes can be removed as long as regular daily misting with 5.1% water continues.
By the time seedlings are 2 years old, they can handle the transition from domed planting trays to frequently watered planters. They should be carefully transplanted into deeper containers that provide good drainage. Our rocky seedling mix works well for transplants as it provides very good drainage.
Peyote cultivation requires some skill and a lot of patience. The seedlings are very fragile. It takes six to 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. We have witnessed a few Peyote we started from seed bloom in 5 years. Adult Peyote plants thrive in temperatures within a range of 45-100 degrees (Fahrenheit). If soil is kept dry, it can survive temperatures as low as 30 degrees and as high as 110 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.
Peyote loves being watered and fertilized during the hot weather, especially when it is planted in a well-drained planting mix. During the hot summer months, it can be watered twice a week and fertilized once or twice a month. Some commercial cactus growers mist their plants with plant food daily. The fine misting moistens the surface of the Peyote and their tiny stomata absorb the moisture and nutrients through the skin.
Watering with slightly acid 5.1 pH water helps to make calcium and other minerals available from the planting mix to the plants. 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 South Texas and Northern Mexico. Refraining from watering for a month of dormancy allows the plants to rest. Time to celebrate not doing.
The most harm to wild populations of Peyote are caused, not by Peyotist worshippers, but by poor Federal laws which are designed to destroy Peyote habitat. The commercial land use of Peyote habitat in the form of ranches, oil wells, and land development for housing also limit Peyote’s range. Improper harvesting in the wild is also a contributing factor in this precious plant’s decline. Harvesting the small ground dwelling Peyote plant is backbreaking work for little reimbursement. Fortunately, Peyoteros who once used shovels to collect Peyote tops have adapted a less damaging harvesting technique using machetes to cut the Peyote at the ground level.
Greenhouse grown Peyote can be properly harvested in ways that allow the plant to regenerate. A diagonal cut helps the root to slough off water which might otherwise cause it to rot. A crescent cut or crown cut is achieved by using sharp tools. Place a sharp knife ¼”-1” above the root and cut across the top slanting to the root while leaving some green Peyote on the root below the cut. 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 to grow into mature Peyote plants. The root will continue to produce new buds. A wonderful harvesting technique used in greenhouses is what we call the “crown cut.” For the crown cut a ¾” hole-making drill bit and a sharp knife are used. First the drill bit is pushed over the apical meristem in the center where the center fuzz is located and then the sharp knife is used to cut around the base of the peyote top leaving green all around on the root. The round crown is then lifted off the Peyote plant and dried. The cut plant resembles an apple core and recovers quickly. In about two years the cut will be invisible, and except for a little scar, the plant will not appear to have been cut.
Buds broken or cut from the Mother plant should only be rooted when a warm climate can be maintained. They should be placed on a dry planting medium and misted rather that watered for several weeks. The cut Peyote tops will be producing new roots and are inclined to rot if they are allowed to sit in a mixture that is overly wet. Unhealthy or unrooted Peyote tops will feel light and appear soft. Once the plants start to grow, they gain weight and an appearance of vitality. The Peyote tops can be watered in earnest once roots show and the plants appear lively.
Peyote is a challenge to grow, but it is also fun and rewarding. For every Peyotist, cultivation is perpetuating and practicing their religion. Peyote will take care of those who take care of it. Amen.
Peyote plants seem shriveled and look thirsty but have been getting plenty of water
The problem may be caused by compacted soil, making it difficult for the plants to breathe and for the roots to spread. The solution to this problem is a rockier type of planting medium: the use of pumice, lava sand, and zen sand (calcium carbonate or limestone) together are good because they are porous and gritty in size and offer a variety of easily accessed nutrients that Peyote loves. Fine sand, worm castings, compost, and other soils tend to clump in the soil making it difficult for the plants to breathe and should only be used minimally. Check the roots of the plant and if there is a whitish substance on the root, the soil is too dense (i.e. Too much compost or worm casting mix or not enough aerating pumice). The fungus is a symptom of poor planting medium and will resolve itself once the soil mix is corrected. Wash the roots thoroughly in a 50/50 mix of commercial 3% peroxide and distilled water blend and let the plants dry in a shady place. Once dry, replant in a dry rock, zen sand (granulated limestone) and pumice mix with minimal worm castings. Don’t water for at least one week.
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.
A common mistake a novice grower may 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 in Arizona, we must grow Peyote in the shelter of a greenhouse to protect it 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. Too little light will cause Peyote to grow “tall” or etiolated.
Springtails, Thrips and red spider mites. Spider mites are tiny red spider like insects that cause damage to Peyote plants of all ages and must be dealt with immediately. 70% Neem can be applied as a foliar spray. It should be sprayed twice, once to remove the living insects and then again in a 10-14 days to kill the hatching insects. Thrips chew into the core of the Peyote—creating the effect of new Peyote heads emerging where the damage has been done. A spray recommended for Thrips is Monterey Spray with Spinosad. As with the Neem, use the spray once to kill the bugs, and a 10-14 days later to kill the new hatch. During the warm months spray for predator insects quarterly. Neem two successive weeks and then Monterey Spray for two successive weeks. Pyrethrum spray is the most potent organic bugspray used at the church and for the most part we use this spray in its preventive capacity by spraying corners, walls, the floor and shelves in the greenhouses. Planting trays with seedlings can be drenched very effectively using Aza Max organic insecticide. Follow the label directions for all of these organic insecticides.
Rooting Cut Buttons
Like all of the processes involved in growing Peyote getting Peyote tops to root is more a matter of neglect. If you notice your plants looking healthy upon return from a vacation, you will know that you have been giving them too much attention! Leave cut buttons in a dry, shady place. You don’t need to put them in soil but placing them on the top of a dry planting medium in a greenhouse or near other growing Peyote can encourage them to put out rootlets. When the Peyote begins to put out little root shoots, they are ready for moderate watering, using only the mister until you see plumping and vigor in the tops. It may take months for the tops to start to look vital and happy.
Patience and consistency will be rewarded.
As you embark on your journey towards cosmic Peyote awareness keep a journal of your activities and the Peyote plant’s responses. You will be rewarded by forming a loving relationship with another life form and begin on the journey of psychic connection provided by communing with a sacred Peyote plant that will increase your awareness of life’s relationship and dependence on our Earth Mother. Enjoy.