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Posted April 25, 2013 by evergreen-culture in Marijuana 101
 
 

Marijuana 101: It’s Just a Plant

M101-Plant
M101-Plant
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he most basic truth about cannabis is that, quite simply, it is just a plant. It grows essentially the same way that any other plant in your garden grows. The scientific classification of the cannabis plant is cannabis sativa L. This classification was made by Carolus Linnaeus (thus the L.) in 1753. Further classification happened in 1785 when Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck added an additional species, cannabis indica, after studying varieties of cannabis that grew in and around India – specifically those in the Hidu Kush valley region. The plants do show distinctly different characteristics.

The three varieties of cannabis

The three varieties of cannabis

Sativa and sativa-dominant varieties are typically taller with fewer branches, long, thin leaves  and a longer flowering season due to the regions and climates they grow in. Indica and indica-dominant varieties tend to be stockier plants with many side branches, large, wide leaves, and a relatively shorter flowering cycle when compared to the sativa varieties. While there is some debate whether these actually represent different species or simply varieties within a single species, usually people will speak of cannabis separated into three main families – sativa, indica and ruderalis. More on those later.

Cannabis, no matter the variety, is an annual plant that completes it’s lifecyle in a single year, propagating through sexual reproduction. It is a dioecious plant, meaning that reproduction occurs between distinctly male and female plants.

Male plants produce pollen in small clusters of relatively-small blossoms, while female plants produce large blossoms that are made of calyxes. Each calyx has two pistils – long, feeler-like protrusions.

Flowers on a male cannabis plant

Flowers on a male cannabis plant

The female’s flowers are covered in a sticky resin meant to capture the pollen released by the male plants, pollen which descends the sticky pistils, reaching the calyx where an ovule is fertilized by the male’s pollen, producing a seed that is a genetic mixture of the two parent plants.

Closeup of a female flower - notice the calyxes with the feeler-like pistils protruding from them

Closeup of a female flower – notice the calyxes with the feeler-like pistils protruding from them

For this reason, male plants – while great for fiber and hemp-based products – do not have any value for medicinal or social applications. It is the female that is cultivated and dried for these purposes. You may have heard the term sinsemilla when referring to marijuana. This is Spanish for “without seeds” and is accomplished by removing male plants prior to them releasing pollen, thus preventing the ovules from being fertilized on the female plants, which in turn keeps the plant from spending energy on creating seeds. The response of the female plant in this situation is to increase blossom size and resin production as she does everything possible to receive pollen that may float by.

Trichomes

These mushroom-looking stalks are trichomes

So let’s talk about that stickiness you feel when you squeeze a marijuana bud between your fingers. The resin is actually comprised of small structures called trichomes that exist all over and around the cannabis flower on a female plant. These trichomes look like little stalks with a ball on top, and it is these structures that contain the cannabinoids that your body processes through the endocannabinoid system. These are what give your bud the appearance of being covered in sugar, what some call “frosty”. It is also the substance that provides the distinctive smell of cannabis. These trichomes go through stages as well. The early stage, as the trichomes first form, is marked by a crystal clear appearance. As production of cannabinoids such as delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the main, known psychoactive produced by the cannabis plant – and cannabidiol (CBD) – which acts as a counter-agent to THC and has many benefits regarding health and regulatory functions within the human body – increase, the trichomes become cloudy or milky in appearance which marks the second stage of their development. As these substances degrade, the trichomes move onto a third stage demonstrated by an amber color – this, along with the pistils changing color, accounts for the brownish-red hairs on your bud. You will often hear of cultivators seeking to harvest when most of the trichomes are in the 2nd and 3rd stages – it is at this peak “ripeness” that a balance of properties and characteristics is achieved.

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Cannabis Seedling

As seeds sprout, they eventually enter a growing stage, known as the vegetative stage. Initially the seedlings feed off of small, rounded “leaves” called cotyledons. These are not true leaves, but are photosynthetic, providing the needed energy for the tiny seedling to begin developing a strong root system in order to support the significant growth that will occur when it enters the vegetative stage. Once roots develop, the cotyledons wither and fall off, replaced by true leaves that have the familiar marijuana pattern and look. The juvenile plant begins gaining height and sending out branches and leaves which allow for further photosynthesis and thus larger and more lush growth. The plant recognizes that it should be in this stage based on the length of the daylight period. Eventually, sexual maturity is reached and pre-flowers begin to form. Pre-flowers indicate whether the plant is a male or a female and signal that the plant is ready to move into the next stage of development – the flowering stage – though they can remain in the vegetative state indefinitely under the right conditions.

As days grow shorter, the plant reaches a stage where it realizes it is time to begin the flowering (or fruiting) stage. At this stage the plant begins to stretch its main growth tips upwards in preparation for clusters of flowers that form large, conical blossoms that will develop a thick coating of trichomes (on the female plants) or smaller cluster that will fill with pollen (on the male plants). Indoor cultivation of cannabis actually replicates this by keeping the plants in the vegetative state under 18 hours of light followed by 6 hours of total darkness per day, and then switching to 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of total darkness which triggers the flowering stage.

A large blossom on a female cannabis plant near completion

A large blossom on a female cannabis plant near completion

Indoor cultivators also typically use different mixes of light wavelengths in an attempt to imitate the light characteristics that would be present in nature during these two stages as well – with more blue light in the vegetative stage (thus imitating the sun being higher resulting in more of the red end of the spectrum being filtered out by the atmosphere, leaving relatively more blue light) and more red light in the flowering stage (the sun being lower and thus allowing for more red light to find its way to the plant). For this reason, many indoor growers utilize different bulbs or LED wavelength mixes for these two stages when growing cannabis. Both sativa and indica varieties follow this photoperiod-induced change to flowering, The exception is the third variety of cannabis – ruderalis – which moves from vegetative to the flowering stage based on time and development alone, not depending on the light/dark time periods. Maybe you have heard of “autoflowering” cannabis plants or seeds. These strains have genetics from the ruderalis line of cannabis bred into them in order to remove or reduce the dependency on lighting changes when growing cannabis.

Cannabis seeds

Cannabis seeds

Regarding the differences between the main two varieties of cannabis – sativa and indica – there are some contrasts regarding the makeup of their particular cannabinoid profiles. Most indica, and indica-dominant strains have a higher CBD:THC ratio. This is why strains that are indica-heavy can produce a relaxed or “couch-lock” effect as the CBD act as a counter-balance to the THC which produces the euphoric or cerebral effects. These indica-dominant strains are highly sought after for their medicinal properties and efficacy. Most sativa, and sativa-dominant strains have a much lower CBD:THC ratio (some nearing 0% CBD with 18%+ THC) and thus produces an effect that is more energetic and creative. These strains are valued for their pain relief and mood-elevating properties. While “landrace” strains (those native strains growing around the world which have changed through evolution alone) typically are pure indica or pure sativa plants, selective breeding and seed production has spawned a huge industry of experimentation and improvement as the best plants with the best qualities are bred together to create hybrids that produce a balanced effect with the most desirable characteristics from the indica and sativa parents (length of flowering, height of plant, yield of flowers/resin, THC/CBD profile, quality of effect, etc.). Ruderalis varieties are much smaller with considerably lower production – however they have been bred into sativa, indica and hybrid lines in order to introduce their automatic flowering (without requiring special light changes) into other strains of cannabis.

Outdoor Plant

A huge cannabis plant grown outdoors

Cannabis is grown both outdoors and indoors for consumption. Outdoor cultivation relies on the natural influences of soil, sun, rain and the seasons to move the plant through its lifecycle and will typically result in much larger, higher producing plants. Indoor cultivation reduces the natural flowering time and seeks to produce the highest yields and quality through growing methods that range from soil, to hydroponics (no soil is used, instead the roots are bathed in a nutrient-water solution that is continually fed to the root system), to aeroponics (similar to hydroponics, but with the nutrient solution being misted onto the roots), to coco (looks like soil, but is actually coconut husks that have no nutrients and thus are watered with similar nutrient solutions used in hydroponics/aeroponics). Plant are kept in the vegetative period for as long as desired – the longer in this stage, the larger the plant and higher the yield typically (thus the reason for outdoor plants producing up to a pound or more of dried bud – they get huge) – and then placed under lights that are on a schedule which triggers flowering.

Buds are harvested, trimmed and hung to dry

Buds are harvested, trimmed and hung to dry

Once a cannabis plant has reached its peak, it’s flowers are harvested, trimmed and hung to dry. The drying period varies based on room temperature, humidity and air movement, but typically a period of 4-7 days is required. Once line dry, it is placed into glass jars to cure.

Dried flowers curing in jars

Dried flowers curing in jars

Curing continues the drying process, allowing moisture to move from inside the plant out so it can evaporate. The taste, smell and quality of the smoke refines over this period as excess moisture is allowed to slowly work its way out of the flowers. Once dry, the flowers are ready for consumption – curing is not a necessary process, but improves the overall taste and smoothness of the herb.

Whether you vaporize it, roll it into a joint, smoke it out of a pipe or bong, or infuse it into butter or some other food product, it really is just a dried up herb that you are consuming. Nothing added. No chemical processes to make it all happen. Just a seed that was planted and did its thing. The stigma created around cannabis (marijuana) has displaced this foundational fact. We aren’t talking about a “drug” here. We are talking about a plant. The DEA is not busting huge drug production facilities when dealing with marijuana, they are pulling plants out of someone’s garden.

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