A blog image banner with title text and pictures of a peyote cactus.

The Peyote Cactus: A Sacred Plant Facing Extinction

Lophophora williamsii (commonly known as peyote) is a small psychoactive cactus that grows in a small region of North America. Unfortunately, like many species, these rare cacti are becoming increasingly rarer. Lets take a look at some of the reasons these wonderful cacti are facing extinction and some of the ways people are working to prevent it.

Challenges The Peyote Cactus Faces 

The disappearance of the peyote cactus from the wild is not caused by a single threat, but rather, multiple factors including:

Habitat Loss

The natural habitat of the peyote cactus is located in the Chihuahuan Desert covering a small area of southwestern Texas and northern Mexico. Large tracts of this land are being leveled to make way for farmland and urban areas. Because of the legality surrounding peyote, the relocation of cacti in these areas is not permitted. This causes the cacti and the natural shrubs that they are found growing under to be scraped away by heavy machinery and destroyed.


With the growing demand for this sacred medicine and illegal poaching, the peyote cactus has become overharvested. Peyote take 10 to 15 years or more to reach maturity in the wild. Because of its slow growing nature, it is not able to regenerate as fast as it is being taken from its habitat. 

Furthermore, poor harvesting practices also play a role. The proper way to harvest peyote is to remove the head of the cactus at ground level, leaving the root intact. The root will produce new heads and continue to grow. Unfortunately, a large percentage are pulled up by the root making it harder for peyote to regenerate itself. 

Climate Change

Climate change poses another threat. Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can alter the delicate balance of the desert ecosystem where peyote thrives. Droughts, extreme weather events, and shifting climate zones can negatively impact peyote growth and reproduction.

Legal Challenges

The legal status of peyote adds another layer of complexity to its conservation in the United States. In all states including Texas where it grows naturally, peyote is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. Members of the Native American Church are allowed to use the cactus in religious ceremonies under laws that protect their rights to religious freedoms. However, they are prohibited from cultivating it in most states. It's cultivation is however legal in some states such as Arizona. While these laws provide some protection for religious use, they complicate broader conservation efforts. 

In Mexico, where much of the remaining wild peyote populations are found, conservation laws exist but are often poorly enforced. Illegal harvesting and trade continue to threaten peyote, despite regulations aimed at protecting it.

Why Preservation is Important

The peyote cactus has been used for spiritual purposes by indigenous communities dating back at least 5000 years. To these people, peyote is a sacred medicine and to this day it plays a large role in their lives. Preservation of the cactus is an important factor in preserving the cultural heritage of these Indigenous peoples.

Conservation Efforts

Fortunately, there are organizations that are working to preserve these sacred cacti. One such organization is Morning Star Conservancy. Based in the United States, this organization's efforts include:

Land Procurement

Morning Star Conservancy is currently raising money to procure large tracts of land where the peyote cactus grows naturally. By owning land in this area they can prevent its natural habitat from being destroyed. This is critical because the the cultivation and repopulation of the cactus is prohibited in these areas. 

Seed Production

One of the organizations main focuses is the production of seeds. Having planted a large number of cacti, they plan to become a major seed producer. These cacti are grown in greenhouses that are built with the help of their volunteers. These seeds can be used to produce cacti that may be introduced into the wild when and if the laws permit this in the future. 


Morning Star works closely with local Indigenous communities, with many members of the organization being Indigenous themselves. They have been holding workshops in which they share cultivation knowledge with these communities. Spreading cultivation knowledge is important to the survival of the peyote cactus.


The threat of extinction facing the peyote cactus is a complex issue with no easy solutions. However, by addressing habitat loss, promoting sustainable harvesting, mitigating the impacts of climate change, and navigating legal challenges, we can work towards a future where peyote is allowed to thrive.

You may learn more about Morning Star Conservancy and consider donating towards their conservation efforts by visiting them here: Morning Star Conservancy.

You can further help preserve the peyote population by purchasing cacti and seeds from a sustainable grower such as Sacred Buttons. This limits the impact on the peyote population made by sellers who may be poaching from the wild. 

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.