Ayahuasca: alkaloids, plants & analogs
Section 3 : Part 2 :
The genus Phalaris
Some points of interest and some points of confusion
For the sake of convenience, Phalaris will be treated fairly generically in the following discussion. More species specific detail can be found by following the pertinent links of interest below.
A short comment: Phalaris aquatica is referred to as P. tuberosa in most of the literature.
Due to the rules of nomenclature, Phalaris aquatica takes priority as it was described and published first. [Linnaeus described both.]
This was largely known as P. tuberosa until 1961 when it was pointed out that Linnaeus had described P. tuberosa from a specimen of P. aquatica, some 16 years after naming P. aquatica in 1755.
Unfortunately, relatively few workers use the name Phalaris aquatica.
Phalaris arundinacea and P. aquatica have been repeatedly noted to show similar behavior with regards to genetic and environmental influences on alkaloid production.
Alkaloid concentrations and proportions are highly variable from week to week and also from year to year and usually show dramatic seasonal fluctuations (most pronounced in the high alkaloid producers). Additionally, fluctuations in actual alkaloid composition have been noted.
Concentrations between plant parts and first growth versus regrowth are also very different.
In many populations there may be marked differences not only in amounts but in the actual alkaloid profile from one plant to the next.
This brings us to an important factor which must not be overlooked; there is commonly the presence of distinctly different indole alkaloid subtypes within almost any given population.
In some lines there is a consistent alkaloid expression but in many, if not most, it appears that several distinct chemical types usually exist within any given population of their offspring. This is why good clones are best propagated by rhizome divisions. Seeds sown from clones will only rarely express 100% of a particular type. This is a frequently reported but poorly understood phenomenon. This is less of an issue with some strains than others.
The Phalaris indole alkaloids are commonly divided into 3 subtypes: Non-ring substituted, like DMT; or Methoxylated, like 5-MeO-DMT; or gramine [Gramine can also be methoxylated (as traces)]. The Phalaris β-carbolines are correspondingly divided into the first two groups.
In some senses this is an arbitrary system as all can potentially co-occur (usually with only one in large amounts). This system of classification arises directly due to the ease of field screenings to separate P. arundinacea into 3 readily identifiable types based on their color reactions with Xanthydrol. (ex: DMT: Purple. 5-MeO-DMT: Blue. Gramine: Pink or no reaction depending on the reference) This will not differentiate DMT from either tryptamine or MMT, nor any of the 5-Methoxylated tryptamines from each other. As 5-MeO-N-methyltryptamine has been shown to be the major tryptamine in a number of European Phalaris arundinacea populations, tlc is required for (fairly) accurate screenings.
Selection for individuals from a given population can enable successful breeding for high desirable alkaloid types but multiple assays are required to ascertain the purity of a given stand to decrease the potential occurrence of alkaloid subtypes within a given strain. One of the main criteria used by J. Appleseed for his selection of strains for ayahuasca is choosing only those which tested positive for tryptamines as the major alkaloids in every single individual he assayed.
A nice look at the wide variability of alkaloid subtypes of Norwegian and Russian Phalaris arundinacea clones of was published in Østrem 1987. A similar variability of expression in commercial Phalaris arundinacea strains was covered by Hovin & Marten 1975.
While most populations appeared useless for our purposes, some clones, such as WIR 39375 [Arkhangelsk region (wild)], WIR 39373 [Moscow region], WIR 36924 [Novgorod region (wild)] and WIR 34003 [Sverdlovsk region (wild)] look promising for selective breeding efforts of alkaloid subtypes. Similarly, while a poor tryptamine source overall, the Canadian cv. Castor [PI 378124] shows some potential for selective development of clones.
Most strains of Phalaris are entirely useless for entheogenic applications. There are a variety of potential reasons for this:
1) Many tryptamine producers contain only small amounts. Many strains contain only low amounts of alkaloids period. [For example: Some like the variegated Phalaris arundinacea strains, known as "gardener's garters" or "variegated ribbon-grass" and the pink blushed "Strawberries and Cream", repeatedly showed no detectable alkaloids in tlc by Appleseed.]
2) Many strains produce gramine, often only producing gramine and sometimes its derivatives. [Gramine and tryptamine sometimes exist in an either/or relationship but they have been reported to co-occur in some clones.]
3) Many P. arundinacea strains produce 5-MeO-MMT as their main alkaloid.
4) Many strains produce hordenine and/or b-carbolines as their main products.
It is followed by a general list of some useful clones and strains, reported chemistry and references. References for this section can be found in the main reference section at the end of the book.
- Phalaris arundinacea & Phalaris aquatica; A look at some selected reports
- The Phalaris species
- A few of the many Phalaris strains of interest
- Age and regrowth
- Alkaloid distribution
- Breeding observations
- Diurnal differences
- Effects of drying (or freezing) versus fresh material
- Light levels
- Nutritional effects on alkaloids
- Optimum conditions for harvest
- Water content
- Seasonal differences
- Phalaris staggers; a few words on the state of the literature
- Temperature effects