Peyote, Sacred Mushroom The body of this cactus is grey green with a bluish tinge. It measures about 8 cm (3 in) across and has 8 to 10 shallow ribs. In young plants tufts of stiff hairs grow from the areoles. The turnip-like root is approximately 15 cm (6 in) long. Theare not large, only about 1 to 1.5 cm (½ to ¾ in) in diameter, and coloured pale pink. Sometimes one may come across specimens with violet-pink flowers, found at the florist’s under the name Lophophora jourdania-na, but in both instances it is one and the same species.
In the wild it grows in heavy, compacting soils from the southern states of America (by the Rio Grande) to the city of San Luis Potosi in Mexico.
In cultivation this soft-bodied cactus is considered to be one of the hardiest, practically indestructible plants for room decoration. If it is to bear flowers it must have a period of winter rest at a temperature of about 10°C (50°F).
Few plants are as well-known as Lophophora williamsii. The very name peyote (which is what it is called by the Indians) calls up visions of the ancient and widespread cult of the peyote. The cactus contains some 20 alkaloids, best known being mescaline which causes colour and auditory hallucinations. Its narcotic and hallucinogenic effects were well known to the Indians, who worshipped the cactus as a god, long before the Spanish conquest. There is no need to point out that its ingestion was always accompanied by religious ceremonies and that its use was and still is prohibited. Some groups of Indians, however, continue to disregard this prohibition, for example the Huitchols inhabiting the Sierra Madre Occidental north of Guadalajara, who make an annual pilgrimage of up to 300 kilometres (180 miles) to the locality where this cactus grows to collect specimens which they bring back, dried, to their villages.