tial acculturation into Anglo and other societies, cacti still have importance for ceremonial and medicinal purposes. Central Mexico provides an example of local use of plants having a negative impact on wild populations. Two species of Mammillaria, M. bocasana and M. plumosa, are used locally for Christmas decorations, which has led to the complete destruction of some populations of these cacti near villages (W. A. Fitz Maurice, personal communication).
The peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii) is a more serious example of the impending loss of a cactus in a specific region that is important in Native American culture. This plant is believed by many Native Americans to be a gift from God and a sacrament, and the tops of the plant are consumed as part of the religious ceremony of the Native American Church (Anderson 1995, 1996). The stems of this cactus contain the alkaloid mescaline, which affects the senses, often leading to enhanced visual experiences. Thousands of fresh or dried "buttons" (Fig. 8.4) are consumed annually in these all-night ceremonies involving singing, praying, and quiet contemplation. Hispanic "pey-oteros," who are licensed by the state of Texas, harvest large quantities of the tops of the plants and sell them legally to Native Americans throughout the United States and Canada. Their harvesting technique is ecologically sound in that only the upper part of the stem is removed, thus allowing the remaining portion of the plant to develop new stems or "heads." Historically, the peyoteros have visited the populations only rarely, allowing the plants to regenerate, but this is not the case today. Although peyote is widespread throughout northern Mexico and parts of Texas, its distribution in the United States is limited mostly to privately owned fenced areas along the Rio Grande.
As many as a million tops of the plants are harvested for use in the peyote ceremony each year, thus creating a severe demand on the populations of peyote in southern Texas. The supply of the cactus in the United States is becoming scarce because not all populations are available for periodic harvest. Some landowners have erected high fences and introduced exotic game animals, creating game ranches. Anyone, often including peyoteros, is strictly prohibited from coming onto their property unless they have paid a fee to hunt the game animals. This prohibition also includes Native Americans, who wish to go to the "peyote gardens" to collect plants for their personal use (Anderson 1995). An additional problem is that other ranchers, wishing to improve grazing for their cattle, destroy the native plants, including peyote, with giant root plows in order to plant exotic grasses. Thus, more and more people want to collect tops from the small, available populations on ranches where entry is permitted and the harvesting of peyote buttons is allowed, thus creating a serious conservation crisis. A possible solution is to allow the collection of peyote in neighboring Mexico, but both Mexican and U.S. regulations prohibit this. The only other alternative is the commercial propagation of peyote, but this has not yet been tried extensively and there is some question about its legality. Unfortunately, some Native Americans believe that cultivated peyote plants are not as "good" as those from the wild.
Importance of Artificial Propagation
CITES specifically defines artificially propagated plants as those that are grown from seeds, cuttings, or propagules
under "controlled conditions" (Oldfield 1997). The stock or source of these artificially propagated plants has been established and is maintained in such a way that the survival of the species in the wild is not adversely affected. Such propagation programs should operate so that the stock organisms can be maintained indefinitely. The Convention of CITES specifically states that artificially propagated Appendix I plants (Table 8.3) may be treated in exactly the same way as Appendix II plants, which in many countries means that they are treated as non-CITES plants. However, most countries require some documentation on the origin of the plants. Unfortunately, in many cases this documentation is both expensive and extensive, which discourages many nursery operators from propagating Appendix I species.
Clearly, the impact of illegal collecting on wild populations of cacti could be greatly reduced if large numbers of quality plants were made available in the trade at a reasonable cost. Most hobbyists want to have specimens of a certain cactus, and they are willing to purchase well-grown artificially propagated plants because they know that they are both protecting the wild populations and are getting plants that have a better chance of survival in cultivation. However, there will always be a few individuals who feel they must have plants from the field. One of the most important conservation actions that can be taken is for CITES and other government agencies to encourage and facilitate the artificial propagation of Appendix I cacti.
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