Though you’re probably familiar with the indica and sativa subspecies of marijuana, did you know there’s another major one?
Cannabis ruderalis, a relatively common third member of the cannabis family, typically grows wild in regions where hemp cultivation once thrived. The subspecies is most prevalent in parts of Russia and Asia where cold winter climates prevail, where the plant adapted to survive with varying amounts of light. The root word ruderal refers to plants that are the first to grow in areas that have been disturbed, whether from human irrigation or natural disasters like earthquakes or floods, etc. Ruderal’s Latin origin comes from the word rudus, which means rubble (think of the little weeds that pop their heads up through the cracks in your driveway).
The cannabis ruderalis subspecies started growing in areas that had been previously used for hemp cultivation, adapting to a point where they were self-sustaining and auto flowering, which is what truly distinguishes this plant from its indica and sativa siblings.
For many generations, growers have attempted to cross-breed their indica and sativa plants with ruderalis in the hopes of picking up the auto-flowering traits of the wildly free plant. Whereas indica and sativa plants start to flower and produce buds based on the photoperiod, or amount of light they’re consuming per day, the ruderalis subspecies will typically flower between 21 and 30 days after planting, regardless of light exposure. The consistency and self-sustainability of ruderalis are invaluable to growers, especially those with large scale grows. With an auto-flowering crop, farmers would require far fewer resources to yield the same end product. The problem most run into when they cross-breed with ruderalis is the degradation of THC, as the stalk-like cannabis variant is lacking in psychoactive components.
Ruderalis also has a very predictable life cycle, growing from seed to seed-producing in as little as ten weeks, again, regardless of light exposure. The ruderalis seeds are incredibly resilient, able to survive in the frozen ground for years while waiting for an optimal time to grow. When left to grow on its own, cannabis ruderalis is much shorter than an indica or sativa variant, usually standing one to three feet tall. The plant is stalky and thick, its leaves growing in full, rough, irregular patterns. While typical cannabis plants are darker shades of green and purple, ruderalis tends to be lighter in shade, more of a soft green.
While the ruderalis variant itself doesn’t have much use psychoactively, it does tend to run high in CBD, making it very attractive to growers cultivating the plant for medicinal purposes. The cannabis subspecies’ predictable grow schedule and redeeming medicinal qualities make ruderalis a valuable commodity in today’s growing marijuana landscape. As more and more people start home grows, now that the legal status is changing, it will be interesting to see how many incorporate ruderalis into their hybrids. With its auto-flowering traits, people who work day jobs or can’t necessarily tend to their plants in the way an indica or sativa usually require could grow ruderalis-bred strains as a workaround.