How to identify San Pedro Cactus: Echinopsis pachanoi

Echinopsis pachanoi is a succulent native to Peru. It grows in the South American Andes and is common to find them 1800 to 2800 m in altitude, where temperatures can go below 0° C. This cactus has been used for centuries in traditional medicine and nowadays is still used to treat ailments in humans and animals. It can be confused with other members of his family but just by paying attention, we can know how to identify San Pedro Cactus.

It can be found wild just in South America. However, for its adaptability to all kinds of weather, it has been domesticated.  Nowadays, it is normal to see it in other latitudes like the southwestern United States. Sometimes, it is hard to tell the difference between one species of cactus from another, especially for the untrained eye. But just by knowing some characteristics, we can identify a San Pedro Cactus.

How to identify a San Pedro Cactus

To know how to identify a San Pedro Cactus we need to see some external features like color, shape, spines, height, areoles, flower, fruit just to name a few. San Pedro or Achuma can be confused with the Peruvian Torch Cactus (Echinopsis peruviana). They are both from Peru and the same Genus (Echinopsis), which makes them close relatives. They also have similar uses, for example, both are used traditionally as a substitute for shampoo ( view website for products). Yet they are different, these are some of San Pedro Cactus’ distinctive features.

Height, shape, color

San Pedro Cactus is one of the fastest-growing cacti, it grows on average about 50 cm (20 in) tall per year. Most specimens are 3-6 meters (10-20 ft) tall but there are records of some reaching 12 meters (40 ft) tall. Its stem is tubular, with a diameter of 6 – 15 cm (2.4 – 5.9 in), and its color goes from light to dark green, sometimes glaucous. It usually has 6-8 ribs or columns which are a little more bulbous and rounded than similar species.

This cactus grows vertically and without arms but generally with many stems or branches that emerge from the same crown or base. If a stem is broken more will emerge from it. Similar to other species like Peruvian Torch, but this one does not grow as fast or tall as San Pedro Cactus, and its color is generally more glaucous than green.

Areoles and spines

The areoles are the bumps on the cactus stem out of which prickles, clusters, or spines grow. San Pedro Cactus’ areoles are whitish and along the ribs evenly 2 cm (0.8 in) apart one from the other. They look like they are upturned and produce 4-6 spines, which grow up to 2 cm (0.8 in) long. They are light brown when emerging and become grayish-white when they grow.

Some cultivated varieties of San Pedro Cactus tents have shorter spines from 1 to 3 mm long (0.04 – 0.1 ft) even some of them are practically spineless. They also grow less than their wild counterparts. The spines are one of the easiest ways to tell apart a San Pedro cactus from other cacti. For example, the Peruvian Torch Cactus has light to dark brown spines which can reach up to 4 cm (1.6 in) long.

Flower and fruit

San Pedro Cactus produces white flowers at the top of their stems. They only open at night, when it is colder, have a strong fragrance, and after two or three days they wither and fall from the cactus. They are 19 – 24 cm(7.5 – 9.4 in) long and up to 20 cm (7.9 in) in diameter. They have black, thin, hairs along the base of the flowers. They are bigger than most flowers of other cacti. For example, the flowers of the Peruvian Torch Cactus are very similar to the San Pedro’s Cactus flowers but smaller.

It is hermaphrodite like most cacti and when pollinated produces a dark green oblong fruit. They generally are 3 cm (1.2 in) across and 6 cm (2.4 in) long. They become magenta when ripe. They are edible and their taste is mild but it is not recommended to eat them. They are very similar to other cacti fruits including the Peruvian Torch fruit.

Using this guide you will know how to identify a San Pedro Cactus easily. This cactus has been used for centuries in Peru for its cosmetics and medicinal properties. It was used by the shamans of ancient South American tribes in their religious ceremonies. Next, there are some of their uses and benefits.

San Pedro Cactus Uses

There is archeological evidence that suggests this plant has been used for at least 3500 years by the ancient tribes of Peru. Nowadays, it is still used and very appreciated for its many applications. The fresh stem is used for washing the hair and treating dandruff. Shampoo is made with the cactus fermented stem. With the blend and soaked stem is made a soap perfect to wash and improve the fabric of wool clothes.

Stem poultice is used to ease headache and kidney pain by applying in the affected areas. Hot stem poultices are used to alleviate low back pain by applying them regularly where it hurts. It is also very appreciated for its antifungal and antibiotic properties. It is used to cure cuts and skin injuries by applying freshly cut slices in the affected area. The ground cactus is used like any antifungal cream to cure mycosis.

San Pedro Cactus benefits

Even when there are not many studies about the benefits of this cactus, the active content has proved to be a good antidepressant and helps to treat anxiety. It is used to aid people who are struggling with grief, alcohol, and drug addictions. The consumption of the stem in small doses is used to improve concentration. In South America, it has traditionally been consumed to treat diseases like cancer, diabetes, fever, paralysis, infections, just to name a few. It is believed it has aphrodisiac properties.


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