When people shop for cannabis and what varieties they may select for certain times of the day, you will almost always hear them reference the words: indica, sativa or hybrid.
Cannabis indica and cannabis sativa are recognized as the two most popular species of cannabis. What most people don’t know is they have a younger sister in the cannabis family with the name ‘cannabis ruderalis.’
A 'hybrid' is considered a genetic cross of either of the three, and is what is predominantly available in the marketplace. Pure species, sometimes known as 'landrace' strains, are rare.
All three varieties, indica, sativa and ruderalis, have a common genetic ancestor yet grew in different climates and as such have a different appearance, cannabinoid concentrations and flowering times, among other differences.
These varieties show perfectly how Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection works as each of these three species has adapted to grow in the different climates, where certain traits have been preserved that were beneficial to the plant in that climate, causing the variations between the three.
The sativa plants are indigenous to eastern Asia and are commonly found in areas closest to the equator (Thailand, Colombia) due to its ability to thrive in hotter climates.
At the equator, the amount of daylight is consistent all year-round and is typically very hot – meaning these plants have evolved to experience 12-hour days and 12-hour nights throughout their growing cycle.
Sativa plants typically grow between 10-12 feet (three metres) but in some circumstances can grow to be bigger than 20 feet (six metres), making it the tallest out of the three varieties. Because they grow so tall they also have the longest of the flowering periods – up to 12 weeks but usually around 10 weeks.
The light green leaves are extremely long and thin and are packed quite sparsely around the plant but are designed to soak up as much light as possible.
When harvested, the sativa buds are generally loose and light-coloured with an occasional slight off orange tinge and with long and wispy orange hairs. They very rarely acquire the purple coloration seen in some indica cannabis plants but may acquire it if grown in colder climates or if manipulated by the grower.
A typical example of a cannabis sativa strain is a "Haze."
The cannabis indica variety is believed to have hailed from the environmentally harsh regions within rocky mountain ranges within the Middle East – more commonly found within the Hindu Kush region of the Himalayas.
They are found a bit further away from the equator, so the day length varies upon the seasons compared to the plants at the equator – 14 hours of sunlight in summer and only 10 hours of sunlight in the winter, meaning the plants have had to adapt differently to survive in these climates when compared to the cannabis sativa.
The plants usually only grow up to 3-4 feet (one metre) and have dark green and densely packed leaves that are thick and wide. These leaves contain a high concentration of chlorophyll, the pigment that gives it its dark green colour, but also what helps it photosynthesize. They need more chlorophyll because when they do get the sunlight they need to utilize it as quickly and efficiently as they can in the climates with less light.
Another adaptation seen in the cannabis indica variety is its ability to produce a sticky, resin that protects the plant from harsh conditions, associated with a high concentration of cannabinoids.
When harvested, the cannabis indica buds are very compact and heavy and usually quite small with occasionally purple coloration.
A typical strain of cannabis indica is a "Kush."
It is no surprise if you haven’t heard of the cannabis ruderalis species because it was classified around 200 years later than indicas and sativas. It is generally only two feet tall (1/2 a metre).
Ruderalis originates from the roughest climates found in Eastern Europe and Russia where it has adapted to cold regions where the amount of sunlight can be as little as six hours long. The leaves are a fairly dark green and very small, making this plant look more like a small shrub than what is thought of as a typical cannabis plant.
The strain contains almost no THC so has little-to-no intoxicating properties when consuming it, which possibly also might explain why its discovery was much after the other two.
One very interesting feature about the cannabis ruderalis variety is its ability to instantly flower almost at the beginning of its growth cycle (indica and sativas flower late on in their cycles, usually when fully grown, and based on the cycle of the sun).
This trait is called ‘automatic flowering’, and is being cross-bred into various indica and sativa strains by cannabis cultivators which causes them to start flowering much earlier on in their growth cycles – around three weeks in.
The benefit of this is that they require much less attention, will flower regardless of the light cycles being used, and can also be cultivated in a much cooler environment, with a potential for bigger yields.