(EnviroNews California) — Monte Rio, California — It’s a rare event that typically takes one of these spiny green cacti a decade or more to achieve: the first opening of its strikingly white flower. When the San Pedro cactus does finally bloom, spectators are lucky to see its blossom for more than a day or two before it withers away, leaving the otherwise ordinary-looking species unglamorously plain for many months to come. And even then, the San Pedro leaves its intricately complex flower open only at night, unfurling it at dusk, and then folding it up again by morning.
This summer, EnviroNews California got lucky when it spotted one in a neighborhood in Monte Rio, California, ready to open its inner beauty for the world to see, right before dusk. EnviroNews hurried as quickly as possible to set up the time-lapse and start snapping pictures, in an effort to capture the rare episode.
The San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi) is named after Saint Peter, because like St. Peter, it is said the cactus “holds the keys to heaven,” but allows the participant to “reach heaven while still on earth.” It has been used in a ceremonial manner in Peru and other South American countries for at least two thousand years — perhaps much longer.
San Pedro like peyote, contains a swath of alkaloids, some of which (like mescaline) act on the psyche and spirit in a medicinal way. In addition to mescaline, the cactus contains such alkaloids as anhalonidine, anhalinine, hordenine, tyramine, 3-methoxytyramine, and multiple variations of dimethoxyphenethylamine and methoxyphenethylamine.
Oftentimes, traditional medicine men or women prepare an extract of the cactus to concentrate its potency. The preparation is then drunk or eaten, whereafter the medicinal, healing and at times, visionary effects, start to take effect on the participant.
Similar to peyote, the cactus is consider safe and nontoxic, even in very high amounts. San Pedro though, unlike peyote, is still legal to cultivate in the United States, leaving many to wonder why a solitary and small button cactus like peyote was every persecuted in the first place. Though San Pedro is legal to grow for ornamental houseplant purposes, it is a gray area to be sure, whether the species can be propagated for ingestion.
Regarding cultivation, San Pedro is a relatively easy cactus to grow. Because it thrives at high elevation — as high as 9,800 feet in fact — and with high rainfall and snow, San Pedro is hearty and resilient in many climates — from sea level, to the high Andes Mountains. The cactus can be easily reproduced without seeds by simply cutting a mature cactus off at its base, allowing it to scab over for several days or even weeks, and then replanting it in a new pot. The cutting will soon sprout roots and start to grow again. As for the original pot from where the cutting was taken from, its root-mass will pop new “pups” from the stump, which will grow quickly in place of the original specimen.