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Species of Coca and Their Characteristics

Identifying My Coca Plants

In May 2005, I received some coca seeds from Peru. From 11 seeds sent, 3 have been established to about 10-15 cm tall after 7 months. However, it has been difficult for myself to determine the exact species and variety of this strain without a clear reference. As noted by Murple, most andean growers don't recognize E. coca, E. novogranatense, etc. To them, they're all coca. They categorize different kinds of leaf as well, but not in the same way that botanists do.

The following picture was taken earlier when The E. novogranatense var. Novogranatense (shown on the left) and the new plant from Peru (shown on the right) were still seedlings. Here, it's clear that the Novo leaves are narrower than those of peruvian plant. At this stage, there is no difference in colour between the two:

The picture below (right) is my peruvian plant at the moment (December 2005), i.e. after 7 months from seeds. The leaves have turned into somewhat dark green on the upper side, much darker than the pale green colour of E. novogranatense var. Novogranatense (left):

E. novo var Novo (4 years)

Erythroxylum from Peru (7 months)

The basic physical difference between E.coca and E.novogranatense is that the E.coca has larger leaves that are elliptical, oval and broader above the middle, while E.novogranatense has smaller, narrower leaves and is broadest in the middle making a more regular oval shape.

According to PROSEA, The leaf of E. novogranatense var. Novogranatense has parallel lines either side of the central vein, while the leaf of E.novogranatense var.Truxillense doesn't possess such lines. As shown on the pictures below, the underside leaf of my peruvian plant does posses such parallel lines but very weak (faint) as compared to my novogranatense leaf.

The first two pictures from the left (below) are of the E. novogranatense var Novogranatense (each for upside and downside), while the other two are of the peruvian coca (each for upside and downside).

Novo (upper surface)

Novo (lower surface)

Coca (upper surface)

Coca (lower surface)

The peruvian Erythroxylum plant below was about 7 months old from seed (the picture was taken on December 2005).

Update of the Peruvian Plant

The peruvian plant above has grown to a mature size now. It is in fact Erythroxylum coca var. Coca, as you can see from the picture below:

DBotany grant anyone the right to use this photo for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

And the following photo is E. novogranatense var Novogranatense so you can make a direct comparison:

DBotany grant anyone the right to use this photo for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

From "Flora Malesiana", 1958 Sept ser. 1 Vol 54 pp 543-552

ERYTHROXYLACEAE (J. P. D. W. Payens, Leyden)

Key To The Species

E. novogranatense:Stipules persistent. Styles free. Sterile cells of the drupe inconspicuous, very much smaller than the fertile cell. Leaves oblong-obovate, long persistent, bright green above. Ramenta none or few. Flowers white. Fruits on leafy branches. Young twigs not warty.

E. coca:Stipules persistent. Styles free. Sterile cells of the drupe inconspicuous, very much smaller than the fertile cell. Leaves broad-elliptic, soon falling, dark green above. Ramenta numerous. Flowers yellowish-green. Fruits almost always on bare branches. Young twigs warty.

E. ecarinatum:Stipules early caducous. Styles more or less connate or stigmas almost sessile. Sterile cells of the drupe either conspicuous (as large as or even larger than the fertile cell) or absent. Styles almost absent, stigmas sessile. Ovary I-celled. Drupe biconvex, compressed. Seed without endosperm. Midrib of the leaves prominent on both sides.

E. cuneatum:Stipules early caducous. Styles more or less connate or stigmas almost sessile. Sterile cells of the drupe either conspicuous (as large as or even larger than the fertile cell) or absent. Styles well developed. Ovary 3-celled. Drupe trigonous, not compressed. Sterile cells as large as or larger than the fertile one. Seed with endosperm. Midrib of the leaves prominent beneath, not prominent (usually sunken) above.

Further reference on species of Erythroxylum can be found here.

From Mary C. Acock et al, "Annals of Botany" (1996) 78; 49-53:

"The purpose of this work was to quantify temperature and light effects on leaf growth and cocaine concentration in Coca and Novo. Results of leaf yield will be incorporated into a crop simulation model that will be used to predict growth of Coca and Novo under a variety of soil, cultural, and weather conditions".

"Seeds of Coca and Novo were sown in early May 1989 in 0.32 liter pots containing media composed of a greenhouse potting media (sandy loam) and and Promix BX (7:3 by volume, pH 6.1, 4.7% organic matter)."

"Seedlings were grown for 12 months old under greenhouse conditions. After 10 months, plants were transplanted to 1.5 liter pots and shoots were pruned to a height of 12.5 cm. When the plants were 12 months old, they were pruned and transferred to growth chambers."

"Nine plants in the chamber occupied a bench space of 0.9 x 0.75 m. They were given a 12 hour cycle for light/dark, but the first 90 minutes were spent fading in and the last 90 minutes were fading out to simulate natural daylight". The light source was three banks of cool white fluorescent tubes (one tube per 900 cm2 of chamber area)."

"Humidity was controlled so that the chamber was held at a vapour pressure deficit of 1.13 kPa."

"Plants were watered as needed and fertilized with 125 ml of Peters soluble fertilizer (20N:8.7P:16.6K) at a nitrogen concentration of 500 mg per liter every fourth watering."

"All leaves were harvested twice, i.e. when the plants were 13.5 months old and 19.5 months from seed."

"As a result, the optimum temperature for leaf production was 26.2 C for Coca and 27C for Novo."

"The highest leaf cocaine concentration occurs at around 24C for Coca and around 25C for Novo. The amount of cocaine produced by a plant is a function of leaf mass and leaf cocaine concentration. Coca plants had higher concentrations of cocaine in their leaves but Novo plants were vegetatively more vigorous, outproducing Coca by 118%. This resulted in a cocaine content per plant that was not significantly different between species for any given temperature. The optimum temperature for cocaine production per plant mirrored that of leaf mass, thus cocaine production is more a function of leaf mass than of leaf cocaine concentration."

"Novo also prefers higher light levels than Coca, confirming the previous reports that Coca was a shade-lover while Novo was a full sun plant."

"For both it was said that temperature over 35C retarded growth in previous reports and the plants they had on a day/night cycle of 35C/31C in this study failed. Previous reports had said that tips going under 10C also retarded growth."

"The optimum day/night temperatures for production were 30C/26C for both species. The optimum Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density was 250 micromol per m2 per sec. for Coca and 400 micromol per m2 per sec. for Novo. The most important bit was that plenty of cocaine, 0.6-1.22%, was produced by both E. coca and E. novogranatense. This was produced at some laboratories located at about 22 meters (72 feet) above sea-level.

From Murple's (a guy who made journey to Bolivia) experience :

"There is a common misconception that coca is grown high in the Andes. The truth is, most coca is grown quite far down the mountains. It's not grown on the high slopes, but down in the low valleys and foothills. When I was in Bolivia, all the coca plants I saw were down at around 500-1500 meters. The only coca plants I saw up in the highlands were in a museum in La Paz (around 3500 meters). I didn't see *any* coca plants higher up on the Altiplano. Not a whole lot of anything grows up on the Altiplano, least of all coca. I doubt coca would even survive the climate up there."

"The idea that coca needs extreme altitudes to grow is totally wrong. I'm not sure about Australia, but here in the US... I suspect that coca would grow amazingly well in much of California. The altitude and climate of the hills in southern California are damn similar to the Yungas regions where it's native. I suspect that coca would also grow really well in any Mediterranean type climate with hills of at least a few hundred meters."

"A huge percentage of the plants grown in Peru and even more of those grown in Colombia are E. coca, which is quite acceptable for chewing. There are huge regional differences in Bolivia, as this is a big country that covers ecologies ranging from tropical rain forests to glaciers. Most of the coca grown in Bolivia is for chewing, and some of the Bolivian coca - particularly that of the Yungas - is considered some of the finest chewing coca in the world. In fact, the coca which is grown for making cocaine is almost exclusively limited to the Chapare region. The Chapare coca is quite different from Yungas coca. There is as much variation between coca strains in Bolivia as there is variation between wines in Europe."

"To the people in the Andes, there is no E. coca, E. novogranatense, E. trujillense, etc. These classifications surely do matter, just not to the people in the Andes. To them, they're all coca. They categorize different kinds of leaf as well, but not in the same way that botanists do. In any case, this particular strain is likely used like any other strain of coca. I don't believe Huanuco is in a cocaine producing area, so its probably used for traditional uses... chewing, topical application, ritual sacrifice to Pachamama, or for fortune telling (sort of like reading tea leaves)."

"Bolivian coca is meaningful only in a geographical sense... like German beer or French wine. There are quite a few varieties of coca grown in Bolivia, and these varieties can be as different from each other as they are from varieties grown in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador or Chile. These are large countries that contain quite a few different ecosystem. There's plenty of isolated villages."

From "History of Coca: The Divine Plants of the Incas", by W.Golden Mortimer (table):










montana region of eastern Andes, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, mainly between 500-1500m above the sea level

western Amazon of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru

Colombia, Venezuela and Central America, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and rugged mountains of Cauca and Hucha

desert coast of Peru and in adjacent arid valley of the Maranon, Truxillo region on the north coast of Peru

Description of plant and/or leaves

pointed leaves, parallel longitudinal lines on leaf undersides

tall, spindly shrub with long, weak branches and relatively large elliptical leaves which are blunt or rounded at the apex; flowers have a shorter flusher pedicel and a markedly denticulate staminal tube only short styled morphs

large bush plant with small, narrow, thin and bright yellow-green leaves which are rounded

up to 3m tall with multiple trunks reaching 4 cm in diameter, branches are dense erect and spread leaves narrowly elliptical to oblong-lanceolate 20-65 mm long; medium to light green above, pale green to glossy green beneath and midrib with slight medial ridge


grassy or haylike




favorable tropical environment with high rainfall, moderate tiperatures and well drained mineral rich soils; moist cool

does not like intense heat or poorly drained soils, short-lived

hot, seasonably dry habitat resistant to drought

has been cultivated in arid, desert climate and wet montana habitat of Colombia; even more tolerant to drought; prefers desert conditions


very little

very little

will survive under a wide range of environmental conditions. Resistant to drought.

Means of propagation





Commercial uses

most important commercial species providing by far the largest supply of coca leaves and cocaine; 95% of Peru's crop

used for chewing

illegal in Colombia; grown illegaly for coca chewing and cocaine production

principal variety used in beverage industry owing to its high content of essential oils and flavors-several hundred tons exported to N.Y. for preparation of extracts, used in making Coca-Cola

% Alkaloids





% Cocaine of total alkaloid content


very little



From "Coca Cultivation and Cocaine Processing: An Overview" by DEA, Sept. 1993

It has been estimated that there are over 200 Erythroxylum species growing in the Western Hiisphere. Only 17 species can be utilised for producing cocaine. Fifteen of the 17 species contain relatively low levels of cocaine alkaloid and subsequently are not cultivated. In South America, two species and two varieties within each species are cultivated. They are:

E. Coca Species
variety Coca
variety Ipadu
E. Novogranatense Species
variety Novogranatense
variety Truxillense

These varieties are traditionally cultivated in the following areas:

E. Coca var. Coca
E. Coca var. Coca
E. Novogranatense var. Truxillense
E. Coca var. Ipadu
E. Novogranatense var. Novogranatense
E. Coca var. Ipadu
E. Novogranatense var. Truxillense

The most widely grown variety of coca is E. Coca, variety Coca, which is cultivated on the eastern slopes of the Andes from Bolivia in the south to as far north as Ecuador. This area of the Andes has a tropical climate and experiences high amounts of rainfall. Coca in this region is usually grown between 1,650 and 4,950 feet in elevation.

E. Novogranatense, variety Novogranatense, thrives in the drier regions of Colombia and to a lesser extent Venezuela. It is also grown at lower elevations where the climate is generally hotter.

The main variety of E. Novogranatense, variety Truxillense, is grown up to an elevation of 4,950 feet.

The last variety, E. Coca, variety Ipadu, is found in southern Colombia, northeastern Peru and western Brazil - in the Amazon basin.

E. Coca, variety Ipadu, is primarily cultivated by Indians for their own consumption and is not as high in cocaine alkaloids as the other three.

It is not an easy task, even for an expert, to readily distinguish between the different varieties of coca plants. One of the ways to identify the variety is to look at the leaves. Both varieties of E. Coca (E. Coca var. Coca and E. Coca var. Ipadu) have broadly elliptical shaped leaves. The leaf of variety Ipadu has a rounded apex whereas the apex of variety Coca is more pointed. The leaf of variety Coca is large, thick and dark green in colour. The leaf of E. Novogranatense, variety Novogranatense is pale green with a rounded apex and is somewhat narrower and thinner than the leaf of E. coca variety Ipadu and variety Coca. E. Novogranatense, variety Truxillense is very similar to variety Novogranatense except that it does not possess the lines parallel to the central vein of the leaf that are characteristic to so many varieties of coca plant.

The cocaine alkaloid content of the E. Coca and E. Novogranatense species also serves to distinguish between these species and the many other species of wild coca that grow in Latin America. These other species contain much lower levels of cocaine alkaloid. The usual cocaine alkaloid content of a sample of coca leaf material is between 0.1 and 0.8 percent. The cocaine alkaloid content can go much higher, as was shown in one sample of coca leaf from the Chapare region in Bolivia that measured 1.2 percent. Coca grown on the upper slopes of the Andes also contain more cocaine alkaloids than coca grown in low-lying areas. It is therefore believed that the best quality coca is grown at higher altitudes.

How E. novogranatense Differ than E. coca

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