The Mescal Bean and Peyote Cactus
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Mescal Bean & The Unrelated Peyote Cactus

Although it contains the potent hallucinogenic alkaloid mescaline, the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii) is not related to the leguminous shrub called mescal bean (Sophora secundiflora); however, they do inhabit a similar range in the arid lands of the southwestern United States and Mexico. They are also not related to the highly intoxicating beverage called "mescal" or "mezcal", made from the fermented and distilled juices of several North American species of Agave, including A. americana and A. atrovirens. Incidentally, the fermented juice is called pulque, and the highly-alcoholic distilled products include Mezcal and Tequila.

The pinnate leaf, silvery-brown pod and bright red seeds of mescal bean (Sophora secundiflora), an attractive leguminous shrub native to the southwestern United States and Mexico. The poisonous seeds contain the alkaloid cytisine, and were once used in the intoxicating, vision-seeking "red bean dance" prior to the widespread use of the "less-life-threatening" peyote cactus.

A peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii) in full bloom. This remarkable cactus (NOT a mushroom) is native to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and the northern and central Mexican Plateau. Native Americans harvest the plant by cutting off the top (button) and allowing the sturdy taproot to regenerate. The stem crown is radially-divided into sections, each bearing a small meristematic region (called an areole) from which arises a tuft of hairs.

A dried, Pacific coastal psilocybin mushroom Psilocybe cyanescens with an umbrella-like cap and stalk (left), two peyote (Lophophora williamsii) buttons (center) and a complete peyote plant (right). The complete plant has a thick, tapering, carrot-like root. Indians cut off the above-ground crowns and sun-dry them into brown, "mescal buttons." The hair tufts on the crowns become much more conspicuous in the dried buttons. It is easy to see how the Spanish authorities could have mistaken the dried crowns or tops (buttons) of peyote cactus for the caps of teonanacatl mushrooms. The Aztecs may have fooled their conquerers into thinking that these religious plants were mushrooms, while the identity of one of their most spiritual and sacred plants was actually a cactus.

The night-blooming San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi). In the Andes of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia the natives call this tall, columnar cactus "aguacolla" or "giganton." An intoxicating drink called "cimora" is made from the boiled stems. The floral bracts at base of Trichocereus blossoms contain numerous long hairs. Like peyote, members of this genus contain mescaline.

See Another Beautiful Night-Blooming San Pedro Cactus

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