Where Do The Names Come From? Part 1 of 3
By: Tucker Eldridge

Carl Linnaeus was the Swedish natural scientist who was credited with creating binomial nomenclature. When we hear of a species being referred to by two names, such as humans being referred to as Homo sapiens, it is because of Mr. Linnaeus and his standardization of naming species.

In 1753, he used this new means of identifying species to coin a new discovery, Cannabis sativa L. The L. in the species name is a reference to his last name Linnaeus. Upon his discovery, he never consumed the plant to identify any intoxicating effects; he relied exclusively on physical characteristics to distinguish this plant from others. Then, 30 years later, a French evolutionary biologist named Jean-Baptiste Lemark identified enough distinguishing growth characteristics amongst cannabis species to distinguish a distinct separate species from Cannabis sativa L., and so Cannabis indica Lam. Was distinguished from Cannabis sativa L. It is at this time that he makes brief mention of the intoxicant effect of indicas for the first time.

In over 200 years since those original classifications where made based off of growth characteristics, we have added an additional sub species to the cannabis family, Cannabis ruderallis, thanks to research done by a Harvard botanist named Richard Schultes, who identified just enough stable genetic variability amongst sample plants to deduce that there were 3 separate species amongst cannabis populations. Again, his research makes no reference to distinctions between intoxicating effects of these sub species.

What can be accounted for in these morphological differences are the environmental factors that contributed to evolutionary distinctions between the species indica and sativa. Indicas are shorter, generally more conical in shape, have wider leaflets, develop more shallow tap roots in relation to plant heights, and the buds that form are denser and closer together. Each of these traits is the byproduct of evolution in relation to the environments they grow in. With indicas originating in the foothills of Afghanistan and Nepal they:

  • Grow shorter and develop thicker taproots due to high winds and limited tree cover
  • Grow shorter thicker taproots due to rocky, dense clay soils that inhibit deep root growth
  • Develop more conically to mirror their shallow wide spread root zones
  • Develop denser buds with greater calyx to leaf ratios because of the lower humidity.

Remember that a bud is just a dense cluster of calyxes, and the more calyxes a plant has, the more opportunity it has to be pollinated and produce seed.

This means, from an evolutionary standpoint, that having more calyxes packed densely together and tighter spacing in between nodes is a competitive advantage because it allows for more opportunities to be pollinated because of the increased number of calyxes.

But, as you move into regions of the world where rates of humidity are regularly upwards of 50%, you start to see a change in which characteristics are classified as advantages. Our dense indica buds now have a much higher propensity to develop mold, and buds that mold are not viable to produce seeds. This means that what WAS a competitive advantage in plants growing and Afghanistan may not bode as well for plants growing in Brazil or Thailand. In these regions of the world we tend to have richer more fertile soil, higher general temperatures and humidity’s, lower rates of wind and the presence of an increased plant cover in the form of trees and shrubbery. It is for these reasons that Sativas generally produce airy buds that are much less dense, are taller and continue to grow vegetatively throughout flower, have greater spacing between branches, develop larger spaces between nodes, have deep taproots emulating the increased general height of Sativas, and have thinner more evenly spaced fan leaves.

  • Airy buds allow greater airflow to limit mold and mildew formation in higher humidity
  • They are taller and continue to grow vegetatively even when they flower because they must be more competitive with surrounding vegetation and spend most of their time in near 12 hours of light due to the location of their growth in relation to the equator
  • Greater spacing between branches means a lower chance of overlapping limbs and foliage which are more susceptible to pest and disease
  • A larger space between nodes means better airflow in areas where winds are infrequent.
  • Deeper taproots allow for plants to increase their reach for viable nutrition within the soil
  • Thinner fan leaves cause a reduction in overall foliage mass to increase air flow inside the plant and reduce pest and disease susceptibility.

These distinguishing growth characteristics are all anyone identifying the differences between indicas and sativas ever looked into from a scientific standpoint. There is nothing in nature that selects for plants rich in any particular cannabinoid over any of the others. But that doesn’t mean that our environment and our cannabis plants chemotype are mutually exclusive, and next month we will talk about how our environment plays a HUGE role in the effect of the cannabis we consume, just maybe not in the way we think it does.

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