Thursday, December 20, 2007

Troubled times for Texas peyote harvesters

Ted Anderson’s article The “Peyote Gardens” of South Texas: a conservation crisis? (1995) documented that the Texan peyote populations have greatly diminished in size, and that a conservation crisis might be imminent as wild populations are depleted by over-harvesting and habitat destruction.

A recent Reuters article sums up the current grim situation for the Texan peyoteros and the “peyote gardens” they harvest. Today only 3 peyoteros are active in Texas, compared to as many as 27 peyote dealers being licensed in the 1970s; the 2006 harvest yielded 1.6 million peyote buttons - a dramatic decline from the mid-1990s peaks of around 2.3 million buttons.

Peyoteros are licensed by the government to harvest and sell peyote to members of the Native American Church - an occupation that seems oddly disconnected from the rest of the U.S. fighting its war on drugs for decades.

"There's still some peyote out there, but not like there used to be. It's getting kind of scary now," said Morales [one of the remaining peyoteros] above the crowing of a rooster from the roof of his shed.

He has had his peyotero license for 16 years, and before that worked as a picker, walking the arid brush country of southern Texas with a machete in hand and lopping off the top of the cactus when he found it.

It used to be easy -- peyote was plentiful and landowners were happy to let peyoteros harvest the cactus for a small fee.

But urban development and widespread "root plowing," which scrapes natural vegetation off the land to replace it with grass for cattle grazing, destroyed many of the peyote fields that once sprawled along the U.S.-Mexico border.

And more and more peyote land is off-limits because it is being bought by rich Texans who turn it into hunting preserves, said Martin Terry, a biology professor at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas.

Consequently the available peyote populations are over-harvested, resulting in less peyote of an inferior quality. Terry suggests the US Drug Enforcement Administration to allow greenhouse cultivation of peyote as a solution to the current situation (tongue-in-cheek described as “a serious case of over-grazing by human herbivores” ;-). Cultivated peyote would secure ample supplies for the Native American Church and spare the remaining wild peyote populations.

It should be noted that Martin Terry is one of the few scientists currently conducting peyote related research, including investigations of proper peyote harvesting techniques.

You can read the full Reuters article, Texan deals peyote legally, here.

As an aside I have to mention that the Brisbane Times features the same article under the headline Growing psychedelic drugs aint what it used to be... a good illustration of the saying “everything is in the eye of the beholder” ;-)


  1. very interesant! peyotero is a very good job :-) I'm impression from the number of peyote.. more than 1 milion!! The native church eat a lot of cactus!
    Jack, Italy

  2. I now look down on the ignorance of the native american church for not using cultivated specimens. Regardless how the plants are harvested. they are being destroyed, and despite how spiritual or close they think they are to the peyote and their gods. The peyote was not born for them to take in that way. In older times when tribes existed and things were more traditional, this is different. Now with capitalism and the devil white man and illegality of the substance they are sooo lucky and barely permitted to use, They should be way more understanding and stop pilfering the last little bit of honestly natural specimens. Those who think they respect the plant so much are those who are desroying it. Just look at the picture is says everything "PEYOTE DEALER! buy and sell" things are no longer the way they used to be. GROW YOUR OWN IF YOU INTEND ON CONTINUING YOUR ANCESTORS PRACTICES! otherwise discontinue your ways because they are in no way what your grandfather would do... at any point when a tribe or culture sees they are doing more destruction than worship or good, they stop what they are doing. Sea turtle was a delicacy in hawaii until they realized they have almost killed and taken all the turtle. Now it is illegal to even touch a turtle. they are "hands off" if they hawaiins like in the indians case wanted to continue this tradition they would have farmed turtles, however they didnt. They truly respected the animal and left it alone... Soon you will have eaten all the peyote and you will have no choice but to cultivate if you consider continuing your ways... You might as well stop now and allow some existince of the wild plants so you can at least show them to your children.

  3. This is a complex issue that requires consideration to be resolved properly. As mentioned above Martin Terry of the Cactus Conservation Institute (CCI) is one of the few scientists currently doing serious research in peyote conservation issues and the Lophophora genus in general. He has conducted studies on proper peyote harvesting techniques along with investigations of how (proper) harvesting affects the regrowth of peyote. Terry has also discussed other proposals for supplying the Native American Church with sufficient amounts of peyote, ranging from increasing the rate of peyote production in situ (by fertilizing natural populations) over greenhouse cultivation (as mentioned in this post) (as an aside, Terry is currently working on a cladistic study of Lophophora based on DNA sampled from several of the known wild populations in Mexico). I encourage everybody seriously interested in the Lophophora genus and those concerned about peyote conservation issues to support the CCI.


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