In another post I discussed the historical evidence, mostly from the 1800’s, of vigorous efforts to introduce of Coca plantings worldwide, and took note of a number of places where Coca was grown as part of a botanical garden or conservatory display of Andean plant life.
A hundred and fifty years ago Coca was grown in almost every public Botanical Garden facility in the world and in quite a few private indoor gardens as well.
Some of the more famous gardens with notable stands of Coca plants (and accompanying displays of how Coca was used by those quaint Andean Indians) include; the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London; the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Royal Botanic Garden at Sydney, the Gardens at Versailles, and the Jardim Botanico at Rio de Janeiro.
Another beautiful example of an indoor Coca garden was the one created by Angelo Mariani at his company’s headquarters in France.
If you want to learn more about the fabulous Angelo Mariani and his empire of Coca wines, tonics and medicines, and if you can read French, you will enjoy exploring the archives of this blog:
So, all these highly successful indoor Coca plant gardens showed that a modest level of Coca plant production is quite feasible and, once the gardens are well-established, they can be self-sustaining over decades. That makes it pretty easy to see that Coca plants can be successfully grown using modern indoor technologies.
Of course the major issue with growing Coca plants indoors is that if you are growing them to produce Cocaine then you are going to have to have a shitload of indoor space and it will probably not be anywhere near profitable even if it is legal. This means that high margin markets would have to be found for the whole natural Coca leaf itself, and followers of this blog will know that I see many ways that this can be a viable natural medicine business, as it already is in Peru and Bolivia.
But … now let’s mention the single greatest challenge to indoor Coca growing anywhere outside of Peru, Bolivia and Colombia – and possibly a few other places that remain nameless.
You can grow Coca plants two ways – from seeds or cuttings. The biggest problem with growing from seed anywhere outside of the immediate area where the seed is harvested is that Coca seeds have a very short natural “shelf life”. The seed is protected by an outer protective fruit which begins decaying rapidly, and that renders the seed inside infertile.
As far as I can tell nobody has been successful at removing or slowing the decay (anyone used nitrogen?) of the fruity shell or otherwise making Coca seed viable beyond 2-3 weeks. So even a very modest-scale grower in, for example, the Western US, would have to have a very dependable source of at least several hundred viable seeds from the Andes to get started – no small task, to be sure.
Then there are cuttings, which work great. Coca growers use this technique when they expect to plant only a few crops of Coca in a patch, because Coca plants grown from cuttings are sterile. Coca growers who plant from cuttings simply take a cutting with leaf bud activity and plant it in the shade by sticking it into a prepared soil bed. Nothing fancy – just good moist soil shaded from direct sun. And it’s easy to get growing plants from cuttings – Coca growers using this technique reportedly have a 75% or greater success rate.
Getting viable cuttings anywhere outside of Peru/Bolivia is also a major obstacle facing anyone thinking of growing a Coca garden because cuttings don’t travel well if they dry out, and ideally they go directly from being cut to being planted anyway. Of course a country like Colombia could decide to get smart, but they are far too dependent on – you might even say addicted to – US “AID”.
The other side to this problem is that as just mentioned plants from cuttings are sterile (no seeds) so the grower will have to get fresh cuttings annually or keep cloning existing plants – which will lead to genetic exhaustion pretty quickly. That means, importantly, that leaf production will fall and ultimately the plants will die off.
So growing a few thousand Coca plants would be no small operation even if Coca plants were suddenly legal. Obtaining high quality seed or cuttings from their source in the Andes to get a planting started would still be a challenge, but one that I’ll bet will get solved PDQ the moment it becomes clear that Coca can be grown in the first US state to allow it.
So who is it going to be? My bet is on Washington, Oregon or Colorado. But there are some mighty fine Coca growing environments in New Mexico, California and Arizona too.
(Editor’s note: in a new post (5/18) I present early field notes of explorers in South America in which they discuss traditional cultivation methods, environmental conditions for Coca production, and related practical information that bears on what it takes to produce a successful crop of Coca plants. If you found this post on greenhouse Coca growing interesting you’ll also enjoy the new “field notes” post.)
It all depends on which state legislature can be shown the incredible health and economic benefits that will accrue to the US pioneers in the upcoming natural medicine revolution.