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Common Cannabis Lingo Vs. Botanical Taxonomy

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Brandon Choquette 22 Feb 2020

Cannabis is a unique, diverse plant known by many names, with roots in almost every culture around the world. 

While in the last few decades, many lives have been adversely affected in a draconic drug war fueled by politically-minded prohibitionists, overall, Cannabis has played an iconic role in influencing a vast, grassroots network of diverse subcultures that have contributed to various aspects of the mystical plant we all love and know.

How do we define the various aspects of cannabis?

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Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants belonging to the family Cannabaceae, though the actual number of species within the genus is still widely disputed. 

Terms such as Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis were adapted as marketing taxonomy commonly used by cannabis cultivators to classify homogeneous phenotypic expression – or, more simply, similar-looking plants.

In 1753, Cannabis was officially classified in the Western hemisphere by Carolus Linnaeus as Cannabis Sativa (C.Sativa). Linnaeus is well-known as the “father of taxonomy,” and his system of classification placed plants and other organisms within a hierarchical structure. The term Sativa is the taxonomic term used to classify a seed selected for use in the cultivation of domesticated crops.

Cannabis historians believe that the broad-leaf phenotype trait was developed from a non-local, feral Asian land-race that adapted to the geological region over decades of inbreeding via open pollination.

However, in 1785, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed that there were, in fact, two separate classifications of Cannabis. This is where we get the terms Indica and Sativa, the two main phenotypic classifications in use today today. As it happens, in 1785, the only plants known were of original “landrace” cannabis genetic stock, expressing broad-leaf or narrow-leaf phenotypic traits based upon geologic origin.

 The word Indica’s original origin is derived from a classic Greek and Latin term for “of India,” later adapted as Cannabis Indica (C.Indica) to describe a psychoactive broad-leaf drug-type (BLD) cannabis originating near the Hindu Kush mountain range. 

Cannabis historians believe that the broad-leaf phenotype trait was developed from a non-local, feral Asian land-race that adapted to the geological region over decades of inbreeding via open pollination.

The correct botanical term to use is “cultivar,” which is used to describe a sub-taxon of a species of classified cultivated plant varieties, and is widely used in crop sciences. 

The term Ruderalis is derived from ruderal, which is a common botanical taxonomy used to classify dwarf or ruderal plant species.

Ruderalis was first classified in 1924 by D. E. Janischewsky, who noted the visible differences in seed, shape, and size from previously classified C.Sativa. It is possible that Ruderalis might represent feral cannabis genotypes which occupy regions farther north in latitude.

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Cultivar or strain?

Cannabis has become such a mainstream topic that new people interested in the plant have taken to using the various forms of common marketing taxonomy which have, over time, been influenced by multiple subcultures.

A commonly misused term is “strain,” which, in microbiology, classifies a genetic variant or subtype of a bacteria, fungus or virus. 

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The correct botanical term to use is “cultivar,” which is used to describe a sub-taxon of a species of classified cultivated plant varieties, and is widely used in crop sciences. 

The terms “cultigen” and “cultivar” are often confused with each other. A cultigen is any plant deliberately altered or selected for cultivation by humans. Only a cultigen which is recognizably homogeneous can be accepted as a cultivar. 

In relation to Cannabis, cultivar would be considered more applicable than strain to describe the various hybrid crosses that innovative cannabis breeders develop today.

 

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