Botany: What Kind of Plant is Cannabis?

Botany: What Kind of Plant is Cannabis?

“Marijuana” is slang for Cannabis, a genus of flowering plant that is a member of the hemp family. An annual, flowering herb, Cannabis is a native of Asia that has been naturalized and cultivated worldwide. Traditionally, three major classes have been recognized: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis. However, the case is made that these may simply be the most common versions of almost 700 variations of the same species.

Cannabis sativa, which originates in equatorial areas of the world, can grow up to 15-20 feet tall. Indicas, which grow at higher altitudes, are shorter and have larger leaves than sativas. Ruderalis, the shortest and most fibrous of the three, is also less leafy and distinguished by the ability to auto–flower.

Cannabis may be one of the most recognized plants in the world due its distinctive leaf structure of serrate-edged leaflets radiating from the base in a palmate Cannabis is dioecious, having both male and female plants, although monoecious plants are not unusual. Both sexes flower but remain visually undifferentiated, except by size and shape, before flowering. Female plants tend to be shorter and have more branches while males are taller and less leafy.

Flowers develop as dense clusters or buds. Male flowers are less dense and hang loosely on sparsely-leaved flowering limbs. Female flowers, dense and bristling with leaflets, typically stand upright in thick leaf clusters along the flowering limb. Male plants are staminate and produce pollen. Female plants are pistillate and produce seeds. Seeds are fertilized by wind-driven pollen.

Seeds germinate in the spring over the course of 3-7 days. A spindly embryonic stem topped by “seed leaves” emerges and grows to approximately 10 centimeters, or 4 inches. In the next stage of growth — the vegetative stage — the plant is stimulated to sprout leaves and limbs by increasing exposure to light during the lengthening days of summer. In nature, the plant flowers in the fall, triggered by the light signals of shorter days and longer nights.

Female Cannabis plants have been cultivated for centuries for medical use and for producing a psychotropic effect. The chemical compounds that achieve these effects are produced in trichomes clustered on the flowers of female plants.

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