Echinopsis peruviana

Peruvian torch cactus
Echinopsis peruviana
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Core eudicots
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae
Genus: Echinopsis
Species: E. peruviana
Binomial name
Echinopsis peruviana
(Britton & Rose) Friedrich & G.D.Rowley

Trichocereus peruvianus Britton & Rose

Echinopsis peruviana (syn. Trichocereus peruvianus), Peruvian torch cactus, is a fast-growing columnar cactus native to the western slope of the Andes in Peru, between about 2,000–3,000 m (6,600–9,800 ft) above sea level. It contains the psychoactive alkaloid mescaline as well as other alkaloids, although reported levels vary considerably and do not approach the concentrations found in Echinopsis pachanoi.


The plant is bluish-green in color, with frosted stems, and 6-9 broadly rounded ribs; it has large, white flowers. It can grow up to 3–6 m (9.8–19.7 ft) tall, with stems up to 8–18 cm (3.1–7.1 in) in diameter; it is fully erect to begin with, but later possibly arching over, or even becoming prostrate. Groups of 6-8 honey-colored to brown rigid spines, up to 4 cm (1.6 in) in length, with most about 1 cm (0.39 in), are located at the nodes, which are evenly spaced along the ribs, up to approximately 2.5 cm (0.98 in) apart.


Echinopsis pachanoi is a related species with short spines, which is nearly identical in appearance to its relative. It is therefore possible that many misidentified plants are being sold (both as Peruvian torch and as San Pedro cactus), but since local variations as well as hybrids do exist (both cultivated and natural), this will obviously make proper identification difficult.



Echinopsis peruviana ssp. puquiensis (Rauh & Backeb.) C.Ostolaza Nano[1]


Some varieties, with scientifically invalid names, of Echinopsis peruviana are:

KK242 vs. standard Peruvian torch cactus


USDA Hardiness Zones: 10-12[2]

Echinopsis peruviana can be propagated from either seeds or cuttings.[2]

Propagation from cuttings

Flowering Echinopsis peruviana

Like many other plants, Echinopsis peruviana can be propagated from cuttings. The result is a genetic clone of the parent plant.[3] For example, the top 15 cm (5.9 in) end of a cactus column can be cleanly removed with a knife. The cutting can be left to heal for about two weeks in the scattered or indirect light, by laying it upon its side. It should be kept away from excessive moisture that will encourage growth of an opportunistic infection, and should receive good airflow at this time. The plant will heal by forming a calloused seal to withstand bacterial and fungal attack such as mold. The unrooted cutting can be kept upright in a propped up position for an extended period of time (2+ years) without harm. Often roots will emerge from the lowest point of the plant between 3–6 months time. Rooting hormone is not required and its use may damage the soft tissues of the plant, giving rise to bacterial or fungal rot that may kill the clone.

Cuttings may be planted after the formation of a callus and before the emergence of roots in either a small pot or directly in the ground. Cuttings should be set far enough below the surface of the soil to ensure stability until the root network is formed as well as access to moisture.

Light requirements

Echinopsis peruviana

While a cutting is establishing its root system, it should be kept protected from extremes in both light and heat. New growth will generally signal the development of a root system and the need to start making the reintroduction into more direct light. Insufficient light will result in undesirable narrow and elongated growth from the tip while too much direct light (especially noonday direct sun) may result in a burning of the new growth at the center apex and the deforming of the plant. Proper light will mimic the mountain sides native to this and other Echinopsis species. 5 hours of direct sunlight with several hours of bright indirect light seems to strike a good balance between growth and excessive hardening or yellowing due to stress.


Depending upon the local environmental conditions soil should be well draining and able to hold enough moisture for a week or more without drying out. Any soil used should never be "rich" in nitrogen. These are easily identified as being dark in color and / or high in manure content. A good basic soil mixture will consist of a basic "cactus soil mix" supplemented with 25% washed sand and 35% perlite. Pots must be well draining and do not need to be large in order to support an extensive root network. Most beginning growers experience plant loss by root rot from using a composted soil mix that is high in nitrogen from manure in a heavy wood or peat moss matrix. This will usually compact with time. Watering will cause the microflora to turn to anaerobic respiration resulting in a change in soil pH, killing the root system and eventual root rot.


Once established these plants will be able to handle large amounts of watering compared to other cactus genera. Like other plants warm temperature and sunlight will result in rapid growth. Watering should take on a cycle between watering and keeping the soil moist (but not damp) with a short "drying out" period to keep soil microflora in check once every 10–14 days/ 5 days. Watering should be stopped or severely limited in the winter months when plants go dormant.


These cacti respond well to balanced feeding that can be augmented depending upon the grower's desires. Overfeeding is not suggested as it will often result in burning the plant and microflora blooms.

Mescaline content

Echinopsis peruviana is one of a number of Echinopsis species native to the Andes that have been reported to contain the psychoactive alkaloid mescaline. Others include E. pachanoi, E. lageniformis, E. scopulicola, E. santaensis and E. puquiensis. All those columnar species thought to be psychoactive have been called "San Pedro" in Spanish. Reported concentrations of mescaline vary widely, with causes suggested to include: taxonomic uncertainty leading to difficulties in identification; genetic differences between species and within populations; environmental factors, such as temperature and water availability, affecting plants during growth; and variations in laboratory techniques.[4]

Some studies have reported no mescaline content in wild-harvested Peruvian specimens of E. peruviana,[5] and in plants grown in Europe.[6] In those studies that have compared different species and cultivars, when mescaline has been found, it has been at very much lower concentrations than in the highest yielding forms of other species; for example 0.24% of dry weight for E. peruviana KK242 compared to 4.7% for a strain of E. pachanoi on sale in traditional Peruvian shamans' markets, a factor of almost 20 times less.[4]


The Peruvian torch (Echinopsis peruviana) grows high in the Andean mountain deserts of Peru and Ecuador and is similar to the San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi) which is found in the same region. The human use of the cactus dates back thousands of years to the northern coast of Peru and the monks of a pre-Inca culture known as Chavín (900 BC to 200 BC). They prepared a brew called "achuma", "huachuma" or "cimora" which was used during ritualistic ceremonies to diagnose the spiritual links to a patient's illness.


  1. "Echinopsis peruviana ssp. puquiensis". Retrieved 2008-02-23.
  2. 1 2 Faucon, Philippe. "San Pedro Macho Echinopsis peruviana". Retrieved 2008-01-15.
  3. San Pedro Cactus Growing Tips (
  4. 1 2 Ogunbodede, Olabode; McCombs, Douglas; Trout, Keeper; Daley, Paul & Terry, Martin (2010). "New mescaline concentrations from 14 taxa/cultivars of Echinopsis spp. (Cactaceae) ("San Pedro") and their relevance to shamanic practice". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 131: 356–362. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2010.07.021.
  5. Djerassi, Carl; Liu, L.H.; Farkas, E.; Lippman, A.E.; Lemin, A.J.; Geller, L.E.; McDonald, R.N. & Taylor, B.J. (1955). "Terpenoids. XI.1 Investigation of Nine Cactus Species. Isolation of Two New Triterpenes, Stellatogenin and Machaeric Acid". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 77 (5): 1200–1203. doi:10.1021/ja01610a033.
  6. Agurell, S. (1969), "Cactaceae alkaloids. I", Lloydia, 32: 206–216


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