Cacti (or cactuses, the jury’s still out) are the strange-looking plants that can. But for how much longer? Standing strong for 30 million years, we now heed these odd-looking succulents as our climate change canaries.
Darwin was also fond of the cactus, and together they made a science-shaping prickly pair. And beyond the realms of science, these fleshy heroes also give us San Pedro – a psychoactive gateway to Gaia, the interconnectedness of everything used by Shamans for millenia.
Not bad for a humble plant.
‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.’ – Charles Darwin
The cactus is a maverick and unequivocally also a master of environmental adaptation. On his 1835 voyage through the Galapagos Islands, British naturalist Charles Darwin dreamed up his esteemed Origin of Species, and these spiky specimens were front and centre in his theory.
He noticed the feeding habits of tortoise populations and recorded the differences in tortoise variety and prickly pear cactuses across the various islands. On islands where tortoises were a no-show, the fruit of the prickly pear cactuses grew near and on ground level. But on the islands where tortoises called home, the prickly pear cactuses sported tall trunks with raised fruits beyond the bite of their hungry beaks. These curious cases of elevating fruit started Darwin thinking about the connection between these heroes in a half shell and their food.
King of inhospitable environments, these stubborn succulents persist. Even when the floor is literally lava, which formed the Galapagos Archipelago, the Lava Cactus was one of the first species to settle in. Their superpowers? They store water in their stems for months, and their leaves have evolved into spikes to reduce transpiration and deter passing leaf-lovers.
Survival of the fittest at its finest.
CONNECTING WITH CACTUS
‘San Pedro gets its name from Saint Peter, who holds the keys to Heaven's gates. Pretty fitting for a plant with a prowess for taking seekers to sacred realms.’
San Pedro comes from a cactus that goes by the same name. It's prolific in the wild but also grows in home gardens. Tall and ornamental, Peruvian indigenous groups have used it as an esteemed teacher for over 3,500 years. Peyote comes from the small Lophophora williamsii cactus. Now endangered, native tribes in Mexico and southern Texas have used this spineless and slow-growing cactus for healing for 6,000 years!
Both species contain mescaline, a psychoactive (and sadly, illegal) hallucinogen with a long history of shamanic use.
San Pedro, aka Huachuma, is the more moderate, with effects lasting 12-14 hours. Whereas Peyote packs more of a punch but lasts for only 10-12 hours. San Pedro gets its name from Saint Peter, who holds the keys to Heaven's gates –pretty fitting for a plant with a prowess for taking seekers to sacred realms.
As the oldest recorded psychedelic medicine, there's insight into San Pedro's medicinal and psychotherapeutic impact from thousands of years of anecdotal experience. These cactuses are plant teachers that can release people from depression, PTSD, mood disorders, anxiety, chronic pain, and addictions.
From the 50s to the 70s, the door shut on psychedelics as a mental health and addiction alley. But these substances are back on the scientific radar, especially for use alongside psychotherapeutic approaches. Up until now, evidence produced in supervised clinical settings has been lacking, with unsupervised recreational use the only testimony. The re-emergence of psychedelic medicine may provide new pathways to treat patients who don’t respond to current treatments.
OPEN YOUR THIRD CACT(EYE)
‘First, a dreamy state… then great visions, a clearing of all the faculties… and then detachment, a type of visual force inclusive of the sixth sense, the telepathic state of transmitting oneself across time and matter, like a removal of thoughts to a distant dimension.’ – Andean Shaman
The Gaia hypothesis goes something like this: the planet is one self-regulating entity, and all living things contribute to the continuation of life. Many people credit these psychoactive cacti with giving them a direct line to Gaia, a sense of connection with all life.
Huachuma rituals often start at midnight – like the night-blooming San Pedro cactus, the ceremony seeks to open the subconscious like a flower. People describe contact with spirit guides, ancestors, and unearthly beings, whether in quest of clarity, guidance, closeness with nature and the spiritual world, to expand consciousness or heal.
A warm, out-of-body experience, San Pedro promotes heart-opening and acute awe, a bliss-like awareness of beauty everywhere. The experience in the mind can be life-changing; visions, heightened senses, emotional swells, powerfully introspective and healing.
Aldous Huxley couples his mescaline encounters with his ideas of perception – 'sensations, feelings, insights, fancies – all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves.'
Both radical and immeasurably eloquent, Huxley’s accounts of his solo experiments with psychedelics changed the world. His accounts shifted the view of mescaline and maybe even reality as we know it. His revered writing was so influential that who knows if the 60s revolution of concepts and culture would’ve happened without it.
ARE CACTI CACTUS?
‘The prickly truth is that nearly one-third of all cactus species will soon have to confront their mortality.’
If cactuses are survivalists, what does climate change mean for these thorny things?
Let’s travel to Tucson, where the giant Saguaro grows. You know the landscape – rocky, big sky country where the distinctive silhouettes of these cacti sit like ancient protectors in the Sonoran Desert.
If there’s an ecosystem built for climate stress, this is it – 2020 was Tucson's hottest summer to date; day temps never dipped under 37°C (100°F), and 50 days reached over 40°C (105°F) or over.
Yes, cacti like heat, but heat alone is not the problem.
With the heat comes fire, and nothing ignites fire better than grass. Unfortunately, these cacti are cradled in a combustible carpet of Buffelgrass, and removing the grass to save them is not a simple task.
The prickly truth is that nearly one-third of all cactus species will soon have to confront their mortality.
First, growing numbers of humans lead to loss of habitat and development of arid and agricultural land. Secondly, cacti are things of beauty and can be rare in places like Europe. This drives the illegal exotics trade – one cactus can cash in at $1,000, so taking them from their natural habitats is tempting. Finally, reduced cactus populations mean fewer seeds for new cacti to grow.
Cactuses are also more vulnerable than you might think.
While they like it hot, they lose out when their fellow desert-dwelling creatures can't adapt. Some cacti depend on butterflies to pollinate, and when climate change causes them to die out, so do the cacti. Even coastal-living cactus species aren’t safe; in a century or so, they'll be underwater.
GREEN MEANS GO
Cactus is greener than Army Green – it's a more desaturated, yellow-base green that pops. In psychology, green aligns with balance, harmony and peace – it's a sign of life and reassures us on a primal level.
Green also signifies renewal, growth, and abundance – so our limited edition Cactus is a great way to embrace your succulent side with your next Magic Fit® Tee.
But hurry because if you miss out, you’ll be green with envy.