Differences between white/yellow/black/red caapi?
There are actually lots of different ways of categorizing ayahuasca vine types in the Upper Amazon. Mestzio shamans, for example, will distinguish not only red ayahuasca, white ayahuasca, yellow ayahuasca, and black ayahuasca, but also cielo ayahuasca, sky ayahuasca, lucero ayahuasca, bright star ayahuasca, trueno ayahuasca, thunder ayahuasca, and ayahuasca cascabel, rattle ayahuasca, which is supposed to be the best ayahuasca of all.
These distinctions are often based on the types of visions produced, rather than on the morphology of the plant. Sometimes attempts are made to coordinate these various classifications: yellow ayahuasca is said to be the same as sky ayahuasca, black ayahuasca the same as thunder ayahuasca.
Similarly, the Ingano Indians recognize seven kinds of ayahuasca, the Siona recognize eighteen, and the Harakmbet famously recognize twenty-two, distinguished on the basis of the strength and color of the visions, the trading history of the plant, and the authority and lineage of the shaman who owns the plant. All of these variations are a single botanical species, yet shamans can distinguish these varieties on sight, and shamans from different tribes identify these same varieties with remarkable consistency. Indigenous ayahuasqueros look at the shape of the vine, the color and texture of the bark, the shape and softness of the leaves, and the overall nature of the cylindrical shape of the vine, not to mention its smell and taste.
In Brazil, members of the União de Vegetal church distinguish two varieties of Banisteriopsis caapi, which they call tucanaca and caupurí. The tucanaca variety is a smooth vine which grows in the cooler climate of southern Brazil and is known to have a mild purgative effect; the caupurí variety is a knobby-looking vine with large internodes, which grows in the hotter jungles of northern Brazil and is known as a powerful purgative. The table below compares the mean beta-carboline content of these two varieties of ayahuasca vine, expressed as mg/g of dried bark:
Mean Banisteripsois caapi beta-carboline content (mg/g):*
These results indicate, once again, both significant differences in chemical composition among ayahuasca vines and indigenous ability to recognize variants of the same species and correlate these differences with differing physiological effects.
*Callaway, J. C. (1999). Phytochemistry and neuropharmacology of ayahuasca. In R. Metzner (Ed.). Ayahuasca: Hallucinogens, consciousness, and the spirits of nature (pp. 250-275). New York, NY: Thunder’s Mouth Press.