Germination and Growth of Trichocereus Cacti 

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Cacti seedlings need high humidity for germination and establishment. Germinating them in plastic bags or reusable disposable plastic containers. These containers are readily available at any grocery store can be used to make a sort of mini greenhouse.

    The seeds should be soaked for a few days, cactus seeds can be germinated by being placed in a paper towel in a baby food jar with a bit of distilled water in the jar. If the seeds are soaked the soaking period is done when the seeds have imbibed and sunk to the bottom of the soaking container, change water daily until this occurs (1-2 days)

    The high humidity required for germination also supports the growth of molds and bacteria that may attack the seedlings. Misting with a hand held sprayer is used to maintain moisture levels, though care must be taken to avoid drenching the seedlings because stangnant water in the bottom of the containers spells certain doom. It is imperative that the seeds are also devoid of any remnants of the fruit they are from otherwise contaminants might become a problem.

    Although fungicides are often recommended I believe that a basic pH, regular air movement and adequate spacing between the seeds are better alternatives. Many cacti grow in soils of limestone origin and will tolerate a pH high enough to inhibit the growth of most problematic molds and bacteria. Inert medias having a near neutral PH also work well. Despite the humidity required regular air movement is also crucial to suppressing the growth of molds. Daily aeration for gradually longer and longer times will help prevent mold and help harden off the seedlings. Equal parts vermiculite, coarse sand, and perlite are a good basic medium though lime and DE may be added for more Si and Ca as well as mold and insect control. Soil from your yard is also a good ingredient provided it is loose, arable and has little to no un-decomposed organic matter. A site with lots of worm activity may be a good source of such soil. Use such soil as ¼ to 1/3 of the mix, or alternatively use the inert mix for germination and then transplant seedlings 2cm tall to the mix containing the soil.

    With clean fingers or a gentle instrument place the individual imbibed or soaked seeds on the surface of the mix in a grid and gently press them down so they are flush with the surface. Once the seeds have germinated some clean washed semi coarse sand may be placed around them for support.

    Initially the seedlings will require mostly patience. They should be fertilized sparingly; I recommend the use of Peters 20:20:20 macro with micro at a dilution of ¼ teaspoon per gallon, a dilution which also works to fertilize larger cacti with each watering. Water with the dilute solution once every two weeks or so. The seedlings may benefit from spraying the fertilizer during the dark period when the stomata are open; it can have a foliar feeding effect. Growth stimulants such as cytokinins and betaines may also be sprayed during the dark period to promote faster growth. There has been some evidence to suggest that plants respond quite well to the use of dilute fertilizer solutions with each watering, particularly in the active growing season.  Organic fertilizers are good alternative to the use of synthetic fertilizers, though studies suggest that low concentrations of synthetic fertilizers have little to no damaging ecological effect. High concentrations of synthetic fertilizers may not hinder plant growth but are often damaging to microbial life.   Microbes in the soil can be of great benefit for cacti and can improve growth considerably.
    Trichocereus cacti grow in an area not that far from the equator and consequently are not used to the duration of light found in more temperate summers. The seedlings will respond well to 12-14 hours of light. It is important to remember that cacti breath at night and then store the Co2 in the form of acids for use in photosynthesis during the day, they do not do well with the longer periods of light that other plants thrive in. The dark period must be somewhat cool as well being in the mid 60’s for an ideal. Trichocereus cacti may receive too much light in temperate zones when placed in a full sun position particularly at high elevations, in these cases they should be placed in partial sun locations.

    In nature the Trichocereus cacti grow in a soil rich in trace elements such as calcium, copper, iron, manganese and magnesium many of which play key roles in enzymatic pathways and function, thus these trace elements can be important factors in alkaloid biosynthesis. Excellent sources of trace minerals include seaweed preparations, chelated compounds and complete fertilizers such as the aforementioned Peters 20:20:20. Dolomite limestone is rich in both Ca and Mg and is a good ingredient in cactus mixes.  Hard water will provide enough Ca for growth but more calcium may be needed for optimum growth. Bone meal is is great organic fertilizer for cacti that provides Ca, P and often N as well.

Ideal concentrations of nutrients and hormones
Clorenchyma levels of nutrients in some cacti species compared to an agronomic mean average from Biology of Agaves and Cacti by P.S. Nobel

Table 1A

N 1.52% 1.67% 1.62% 2% 2-3% up to 4-5%
P 3820ppm 1670ppm 1700ppm 3000ppm 0.2-0.5% up to1%
K 1.02% 1.63% 1.95% 2% 1.25-3%
Na 92ppm 215ppm 315ppm 1000ppm NA
Ca 1.92% 5.92% 4.62% 2% 0.5-2%
Mg 0.58% 0.78% 0.62% 0.7% 0,2-0.5%
Mn 134ppm 478ppm 122ppm 70ppm 20-100ppm
Cu 3ppm 14ppm 9ppm 8ppm 2-10ppm
Zn 33ppm 44ppm 22ppm 40ppm 15-50ppm
Fe 178ppm 203ppm 161ppm 150ppm 50-100ppm
B 54ppm 44ppm 62ppm 30ppm 10-50ppm

A-Coryphantha vivipara
B-Trichocereus chilensis
C-Ferrocactus acanthodes
D-Agronomic mean
E- Dry weight of nutrient levels from average plant material ( from Hydroponics B. Jones 97)

    The tables above list tissue levels of nutrients in a non-entheogenic Trichocereus cactus T. chilensis. While the concentrations of nutrients in other Trichocereus may be different it is likely that such a difference isn’t too great. It is noteworthy that some nutrients increase gradually over time, while others decrease, so age has a lot to do with nutrient levels and likely alkaloidal content reflects this as well. The other columns in bold show averages of nutrient concentrations from agricultural plants.  While sodium (Na) levels in the cacti tend to be considerably lower than the average other minerals such as iron (Fe) tend to be slightly higher than average. While most macro and micro minerals fall in the normal range for plants calcium (Ca), and mangenese (Mn) have concentrations above the average. It seems that Ca levels in cacti tend to be considerably higher than the average level in leafy plants while the high Mn and  copper (Cu) concentrations in T. chilensis do not seem to be reflected in the other cacti species. Cu and Mn do play roles in enzymatic function and while the “higher” concentrations are still extremely low it would be wise to ensure the cacti get these elements. Organic fertilizers and amendments such as granite dust, low sodium seaweed and fish preparations tend to be good sources of trace elements.

    Some work has been done recently with foliar feeding of cacti, in particular Trichocereus. Their   CAM mode of respiration and photosynthesis means that the stomata of the cacti are open at night and closed during the day. Low dilutions of peters 20:20:20 (1/4 tsp per gal) may be sprayed onto the cacti around midnight or so. The plants do well being foliar fed twice weekly when stomata are open, remember to rinse them if they have had no overhead water.  The result is a cactus that almost glows, the glaucous coating becomes more prominent and the trace elements of the fertilizer (peters) help the cacti produce its defensive alkaloids. A hormone rich seaweed extract may be of use in foliar feeding as well. Indoors or in the greenhouse Co2 enrichment would also be done at night. An ideal Trichocereus indoor grow would have hot day temperatures in the 90’s or so and cool nights in the 50-60’s, the cool nights would have Co2 enrichment and an overhead spray system for foliar feeding being cautious to avoid an excess of moisture that may promote rot.

    Trichocereus like to have somewhat cool roots, which can be a problem in containers in sunny locations. One method of providing a favorable environment for the roots is the double pot system. The system is to simply obtain some black plastic nursery style containers, two for each plant; one is buried in the ground and the cactus is planted in the other pot, which is then set inside the first one shielding it from the hot sun. The rims of the pots can be hidden by landscape bark or stone for a neat look and the cacti are easily removed from the yard for over-wintering. When using plastic containers the mix must be very well drained, I like to use lava rock as 1/3 to ½ of my mix in larger containers and I make sure that none of the holes are obstructed with regards to draining. Limestone gravel, expanded clay products and pumice are all good amendments for drainage and have been reported to be preferable to lava rock and perlite. Large wooden planters can also be ideal containers if they can be carried are well drained and are large enough to allow cool moist soil. It should be noted that some Trichocereus like T. bridgsii are less tolerant of constantly moist conditions than T. pachanoi thus the cultivator must be mindful of the water requirments of the species being grown.

    Rooting the cacti is fairly easy, first a piece a minimum of about 6 inches long is cut and then the cut surface is allowed to dry until is becomes corky and callused. The cuttings are then potted up in a rooting medium, I prefer white epoxy coated aquarium gravel because it is well drained, inert, sturdy enough to support larger cuttings and gives very good results. Though the gravel can be used to grow the cacti in a hydroponic fashion after roots have formed I like to pot them up in a richer soil based mix and then re-use the gravel for more rooting.

    Rooting hormones are not crucial though I use B-1 and naphthalene acetic acid with the first watering in newly potted plants. It is a good idea to pot them up in a semi moist mix and then allow it to dry somewhat before the first watering, this will help promote root growth and establishment by giving the damaged incurred in the roots during transplanting time to heal.

    Root mealy bugs and wooly aphids can be annoying pests and are common on store bought cacti, they can be attacked with insecticides or the infected plats can be un-potted and then the infected roots are trimmed off, the cuttings may then be dusted with DE and callused before rooting again. The infected roots must be destroyed or thrown out, any infected potting mix may be oven pasteurized at 250F until it reaches an internal temperature of 160F or more for at least an hour, the mix may then be re-used.

    Flowering in temperate areas can be difficult. Trichocereus cacti tend to be self sterile so seed production requires that the pollinator and the seed bearing plant be of different stock. In temperate areas with cold winters the cacti may not flower or set seed unless grown in a greenhouse. The plants require low temperatures and long nights to flower though it seems that container grown Trichocereus may be very difficult to flower. Large containers, cool well-lit dormant periods in which the cacti are not moved seem to be crucial, as well as long nights. Flowering seems to involve waters stress as well.

                A Flowering Strategy for Trichocereus Grown in Temperate Zones

1 Take mature healthy plants and place in ideal location for growth.

2 Water the plants very little during the growth season, and fertilize with a very weak solution of high P low N fertilizer such as peters bloom booster at ¼ teaspoon per gallon at a frequency of once a month or less.

3 In the late summer while the temperatures are still warm stop watering all together (around mid august).

4 During the dormant period ensure that the temperatures are in the 40’s and that the nights are long and uninterupted by light. The cacti must remain well lit during the day. The cacti should not be moved at all during the entire time of dormancy flowering and seed set or the flowers may drop.

5 When the days start to lengthen and the temperatures rise flower buds should appear on the cacti in the form of hairy balls, it is then time to water the plants. When the flowers start to grow a dilute fertilizer such as miracle grow is used with each watering (1/4 tsp per gal). Do not drench but use water modestly. If flowers do not appear by early summer repeat step 2 onward.

6 When the flowers are open it will be at night, holding a plate or tinfoil under the flower and teasing the pollen off of the anthers can be used collect pollen. The pollen should be stored in the fridge until another flower opens and then it can be used to fertilize the flower by the use of a Q-tip, paintbrush or even a finger. It is important that more than one genotype be used in flowering because the cacti tend towards self-sterility.

7 Once pollinated the flower should close and shrivel but the base should remain attached to the cacti. If the flower falls off completely fruit will not form. Fruit formation should take several months after which the fruit will easily detach and be filled with small black seeds.

8 The fruits should be cut up and fully dried, the seeds then removed and washed carefully of any remnant of the fruit, they can then be dried and stored for germination.

Small cuttings of mature plants might flower when given a six-week cold period in the fridge. Be sure to keep temps above freezing and the cacti dry.

    Long nights, cool temperatures, low N and low water seem to be central to flowering in containers. Root bound plants may flower better. It is important that the plants stay in a single location during the flowering fruiting period, this may require some careful planning as that dormant locations are often different than growth locations. A HPS light in a dark cool basement might be used as the light source, while the temperatures can get fairly warm during the day it is important that they be quite cool at night, weeks of lows around 35 F should be ideal.

    Document and label your cacti to ensure that different genotypes are used for pollination. Hybrids should be easily made between T bridgsii, T. pachanoi, and T. Peruvianus though playing with fertilizing other cacti genera with Trichocereus pollen should be done for the sake of experimentation. Genera that might be crossed with Trichocereus include Cereus, Matucana and Selenicereus

                                             Breeding ideas for Trichocereus

                                 Selenicereus grandiflorus X Trichocereus pachanoi

    Selenicereus grandiflorus is a climbing epiphyte with a large white sweet scented nocturnal flower. The morphology of the flower is fairly similar to that of T. pachanoi, likewise it opens but once. Selenicereus grandiflorus is widely known for its chemical properties, it is known to have a digitalis like effect. Hallucinations, mental confusion and delirium have also been associated with the ingestion of large amounts.  Synonyms for this cactus include Cereus grandiflorus and the common name “Queen of the Night”. Selenicereus is used for grafting younger and smaller scions, and seems to flower more freely than T. pachanoi. Hybrids between the two cacti should be good for grafting and have superb flowers.

    Pollen from T. pachanoi should be dusted upon the stamen of S. grandiflorus and S. grandiflorus pollen may be collected and used to fertilized T. pachanoi. The Selenicereus is likely to have many more flowers per plant than T. pachanoi so the cultivator should employ this by attempting to fertilize every flower with the Pedro pollen. The two cacti may not interbreed freely so by using every flower the chances of success are better and if they do cross easily the cultivator is ensured enough seed to look for desirable phenotypes in the F1 generation.

    If the F1 seeds make fertile plants then the most desirable phenotypes may be crossed again or used to fertilize other genera. If the F1 plants are sterile they maybe reproduced via cuttings.
The slender climbing floriferous Selenicereus and the columnar nearly spineless Trichocereus might have some interesting hybrids. Phenotypes to look for might include a prostrate cactus with adventitious roots, a more freely flowering slender columnar cacti, a stout epiphyte requiring less humidity than Selenicereus, and anything with hybrid vigor. The chemistry of potential hybrids might prove to favor entheogenic virtues, holistic virtues or both.

                                    Trichocereus pachanoi X Trichocereus bridgsii

    Hybrids of this cross would be ideal for the pursuit of a four-ribbed plant having the appearance of T. Pachanoi. It is not uncommon for T. bridgsii to have a consistently four-ribbed phenotype, however T. pachanoi (though somewhat variable) has six to seven ribs. Lore has it that a four-ribbed San Pedro is enamored as a powerful entheogen (though the lore may actually indicate that T. bridgsii is the preferable entheogen).

    I speculate that long spination of T. bridgsii may be a dominant trait, and that the spination of T. pachanoi would be recessive to that trait.  If this is true then all f1 plants should have the spination of T. bridgsii.  The f1 generation is more likely IMO to have four-ribbed phenotypes than to have short spines. The parental T. bridgsii should consistently have four ribs. The parental Pedro should be selected upon the basis of potency. F1 selections should be made on rib count and then inbred to look for short spines in the event that they are recessive.
    It may be that natual hybrids exist between T. peruvianus and T. bridgsii as that the long spined peruvianus is both unrecognized as the type T. peruvianus, and the long golden central spines are quite reminicent of the spination of T. bridgsii. If this is indeed true then one would expect to find short spined phenotypes turning up in  some of the seeds of longspined peruvianus fertilizations. M.S. Smith reports that the short spined T. peruvianus is the most consistantly accepted form of T. peruvianus.

  It is likely that a freely flowering stock would promote earlier and easier flowering in the scion. This possibility may be used to hybridize cereiod cacti without the difficulties of waiting for maturity and flowering in containers. Floriferous stocks may include Echinopsis multiplex, and or freely flowering Trichocereus plants such as T. grandiflorus. The use of floriferous stocks could potentially result in significant reductions in the time, space and difficulty of breeding Trichocereus cacti. Experiments in other plant families have shown that a non flowering plant will generally flower when grafted to a flowering plant, even if one is a long night bloomer and the other is a short night bloomer. It is likely that members of the Cactaceae would not deviate from these findings.

    Hybridization of Trichocereus with other genera may produce desirable entheogenic or decorative plants. Though other genera may not be very compatible the Cactaceae is known for its ability hybridize in both nature and cultivation. Experimentation is both fun and may result in some unique plants.

    Selections from large seed germinations can allow the chance for ideal phenotypes to occur through meiosis. Potency is very difficult to measure initially and it may be years before seedlings are testable without expensive equipment. Early flowering and cold hardiness can be tricky phenotypes to test. For cold hardiness trials cuttings of each cactus must be subjected to increasing amounts of cold until some receive damage yet others do not. For flowering trials a mature specimen of San Pedro or a freely flowering Echinopsis might be employed as a grafting stock to promote flowering in the scion. Height trials would require specific amounts of space, while width selection may be made fairly early. Shade tolerance and sun tolerance are also best done with cuttings though seedlings can be screened for better growth at lower light levels. It may be best to do germinations of hundreds of thousands of seeds in phenotypic selections so as to have the largest chance of genetic diversity.

    Montrose, albino, and variegated specimens may all appear in large seed germinations. Massive seedling germinations, selective breeding and hybridization can allow the cultivator to seek their own ideals. Though a breeding program for Trichocereus may be fruitful after decades it can doubtless be considered a noble entheogenic project.

Alkaloidal strategy

1 The cuttings are rooted and potted up in a basic well-drained soil. The pot-in-pot system is recommended with one 3 gal nursery size container for every plant. Remember to use lots of lime and lava rock for calcium and drainage.

2 The cuttings are grown in a location with bright light but not a full sun exposure. The exposure should get full sun in the morning or evening but be somewhat shaded during the heat of the day.

3 The cuttings are foliar fed twice weekly during the growing season with ¼ tsp peters 20:20:20 per gallon. They are also watered with the same concentration at every other watering.

4 The dormant period is typical, stop fertilizing and watering few weeks before the last frost date, move to a covered location to chill while dry outside until the cold demands they be moved inside. The plants are watered infrequently and the temps are kept cool to maintain dormancy. When the temps start to rise introduce to light again and start the fertilizing schedule as soon as new growth is apparent.

5 The plants are grown in this manner for about 3 seasons or so then the 3’ + plants enter the dormant period for a few weeks. The plants are placed in total darkness for this dormant period and then the oldest darkest green material is cut. The top 10 inches is rooted after callusing and the lower 6 inches stays in the pot for further growth. The remaining middle portions are stacked in a cool dark spot for six weeks or longer. Keep the temps low during the dormant and stacked periods in order to avoid etiolation. After several weeks or more the cacti should at their best.

    Alkaloid concentrations if Trichocereus species are highly variable. While anecdotal evidence maintains that T. peruvianus tends to be stronger, the scientific evidence clearly maintains that the prizewinner is T. pachanoi. On a dry weight basis some pachanoi have been found at a 2% dry weight, which is considerably stronger than the average peruvianus. The mescaline concentrations in T. bridgsii, T. peruvianus, and T. pachanoi are all quite similar, the average data suggests that are about about 50mg of alkaloids per 100g of fresh flesh and that 50% or more of this is mescaline.  The aforementioned species tend to have about 25 mg of mescaline for every 100g fresh weight. While all of these species see some ceremonial use it should be noted that T. bridgsii is used by youth in some South American cities as a recreational inebriant. M.S. Smith and other authors maintain that ceremonial use tends to be symbolic in that the strength of the preparations is quite low and the full effects rarely felt. Recreational use differs from ceremonial use in that low strength or symbolic preparations would be considered recreationally worthless, thus it may be that T. bridgsii can have significantly high amounts of mescaline, probably near the 2% dry level of some T. pachanoi. It seems unlikely that recreational users  having access to diverse natural Trichocereus would employ a weak variety.  Anecdotal evidence on the Internet seems to support the idea that some cultivars of T. bridgsii may be among the most potent of the entheogenic Trichocereus species. Scientific evidence has not found T. bridgsii  to be any stronger than the other ceremonially employed Trichocereus.

    Doping or the use administration of precursor chemicals to the cacti for the purpose of increasing alkaloid concentrations is in my opinion not nearly as practical as providing ideal growth conditions with a full compliment of macro and micro nutrients. Doping seems to be an act of folly, is more trouble than it is worth and is not worth addressing further.

    All plants must be kept track of meticulously if breeding or study is intended. An alphanumeric system is recommended.

The following is an example of number system for record keeping.

SP001 San Pedro T. pachanoi 001-999

TP001 T. peruvianus 001-999

TT001 T. terscheckii 001-999

TB001 T. bridgsii 001-999

    The numerical system allows one to keep an accurate record of the history of each of your plants. A sub system might be employed for keeping records of individual cuttings, for example SP004 may provide cuttings SP004A SP004B and so on, notes may then be kept for care such as fertilizing dates rates and ratios etc.

     Labels can be made several ways, the best would be non-corroding wire tied loosely around the base of the plant (to prevent girdling) with a label attached. Such labels are widely available in garden centers. The wire would allow the label to stay on during transplanting, and should the cactus grow too wide a new longer wire may be used. An embelishment might be getting dog tags printed for each original seedling. Other alternatives for labels include ones that are stuck into the soil mix like little posted signs or stickers that get put on the pots. Stickers on the pots may also be used to designate the side of the plant that gets southern exposure. It is advised that for ideal growth the same part of the plant is placed facing in the same direction each time it is moved, while this is not a must it is standard practice for many cactus growers.

    Growing and breeding Trichocereus genera entheogens is not prohibited by any current legislation. Preparing and consuming these cacti however is quite illegal in many places. Use discretion and caution with regard to the use of any entheogen. Remember that in the US prohibition was not repealed by obedience, but during the reign of unjust law many innocent people become criminalized. Be aware that there are those who would deprive you of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness just for your having eaten a cactus. It may be wise to just grow these wonderful plants for ornamental and academic purposes in the hopes that someday entheogenic legislation reflects wisdom rather than prejudice and ignorance.

    A final note with regards to credit, the information container herein comes fom many sources including the internet and personal experiance. Some of the information is speculative and the author takes credit for any inaccuracies or missconceptions. The author does not condone the purposeful disobediance of any law. All information contained herein is presented for informative purposes alone. Any reproduction for any purpose with the exceptions of personal profit and or gain is encouraged.

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