Saturday, 1 December 2012

Stropharia cubensis

Discovered by F.S. Earle in Cuba in 1904 (as Stropharia cubensis), this species is the largest and, arguably, the most handsome of all the Psilocybes. Where other Psilocybes are just plain folk, cubensis is gentry. In 1907 it was collected in Tonkin (now N. Vietnam) by N. Patouillard, and again in 1939 near Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca, Mexico, by acclaimed Harvard botanist and explorer Richard Evans Schultes, who described it in the Harvard University Botanical Museum Leaflets, and deposited specimens in the Farlow Herbarium at Harvard. Schultes was aided by Dr. Blas Pablo Reko, a Mexican naturalist who was one of the first to unravel the mystery surrounding the Indians' use of the divine mushrooms. Unaware of these previous citings, W.A. Murrill described it in 1941 as the Florida novelty, Stropharia cyanescens. It is also one of the most widespread psychoactive species in the subtropics, ranging from the U.S. Gulf Coast, where it fruits virtually year-round on cow pies, to Mexico, Central America, South America, West Indies, Thailand, Cambodia, India and Australia. Known to the Indians of Mexico as "San Isidro," this species is extremely active, with dried specimens typically yielding over 1% combined psilocybin/psilocin content. N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a psychedelic compound that is inactive orally, is an intermediary metabolite present in the biosynthetic pathway of Psilocybe cubensis, being only one step away from psilocin and two from psilocybin. Psilocin (designated 4-hydroxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine) and the human neurotransmitter serotonin (designated 5-hydroxytryptamine) differ by only one hydroxy molecule. In this respect, the mushrooms are mirror images of the human brain. Strains of Psilocybe cubensis are easily domesticated and will aggressively and potently fruit over a wide range of environmental parameters. Thanks to the Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), a colonizer of Old World origin (via S. America), spores of this mushroom are carried for vast distances, thereby infecting virgin pastures. The Cattle Egret first appeared in Texas in 1955 and is now an abundant resident of Gulf Coast pastures, as is Psilocybe cubensis. The relationship between cattle, cattle egrets, and Psilocybe cubensis is an example of symbiosis -- a situation in which dissimilar organisms live together in close association. Cattle egrets are fond of hitching rides on the backs of cows where they make easy prey of swarming insects [Smith 1996].
The Crested Caracara is another bird that frequents the pasturelands of Texas and Mexico. Also known as "Audubon's Caracara" or "Mexican Eagle," this raptor is often seen feeding at cattle carcasses, in company with vultures. When carrion is scarce, the Crested Caracara may spend hours turning over cow pies in search of large beetles and other insects. Like the Cattle Egret, this bird is a potential vector of Psilocybe cubensis spores [Smith 1996].
Above: Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway). Also known as "Mexican Eagle," this raptor is depicted on the Mexican flag and is believed to be an omen of good luck. Aquarelle by Carol Ann Wells. Courtesy The Stain Blue Museum Collection.