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What is Cannabis Ruderalis?
ruderalis leaves

Ruderalis is a strain of cannabis that originated from Central Asia.

Marijuana comes in a wide range of different strains that are often labelled as indica, sativa, hybrid, or even hemp.

Many claim that the differences between indica and sativa strains are like night and day. But the truth is, after so many years of crossbreeding, most strains that exist today have some sort of hybridization in their genetics.

While the accuracy of strain names is often debated, there’s a lesser known species of cannabis that is said to exist. This species is known as Cannabis ruderalis.

Species 101

Species 101
(Photo: Shutterstock)

The true number of cannabis species remains a subject of much debate. However, a few theories have been proposed.

One theory is that all cannabis varieties belong to the same species with C. indica, C. sativa, and C. ruderalis being subspecies.

This theory is popular for two reasons: most cannabis plants can easily interbreed, and populations of indica or sativa which escape cultivation have a tendency to become feral and lose their high THC content.

Another common theory is that cannabis exists as a number of distinct species. For example, indica and sativa are often considered different species.

While ruderalis is less commonly considered its own species, the idea has drawn some supporters.

Cannabis Ruderalis

Cannabis Ruderalis
Wild female ruderalis plant (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Cannabis ruderalis is a wild, feral type of cannabis which can be found throughout Central Asia and Russia.

It was previously thought to be the wild ancestor of both indica and sativa varieties, but this theory has mostly been discarded.

These days, C. ruderalis is commonly believed to be a hybrid of indica and sativa that escaped cultivation and managed to adapt to the colder, harsher Northern climate.

Appearance

Ruderalis is visibly different from sativas and indicas. For starters, ruderalis is much shorter, and only grows to a maximum height of 2 to 2.5 feet.

The leaf fingers are short and wide similar to indica strains, but overall ruderalis has fewer leaves than indica or sativa.

The short and sturdy stature of ruderalis makes it ideal for growing outdoors, and because it has been wild for so long, it is highly resistant to pests and disease.

Auto-Flowering

One major difference between ruderalis and other cannabis varieties is that ruderalis plants are auto-flowering.

This means that they flower based on maturity, spontaneously going into flower 21-30 days into their growth cycle. They can also continue flowering for the whole season until they are killed by frost.

This is different from indica and sativa plants, which flower all at once when the nights get longer in autumn, and die soon after.

THC and CBD

Ruderalis produces very little THC, which lowers its appeal for recreational users seeking a powerful “high.”

However, ruderalis often has significant levels of CBD and has gained popularity with modern breeders because of this.

History of Ruderalis

History of Ruderalis
Cannabis ruderalis was first classified in 1924 by the Russian botanist D.E. Janischevsky.

Janischevsky came across cannabis plants growing wild in Russia. The plants appeared different enough from the known hemp and drug varieties that he determined them to be a third species of cannabis.

The name ruderalis comes from the word ‘ruderal’, which is a term used by botanists to describe hardy, non-domesticated plants that prefer disturbed soils and environments.

Wild cannabis is usually found growing near highly-trafficked areas such as roadways, which is where the term ‘ditch weed’ comes from.

Besides Central Asia, wild plants can be found throughout North America as well. These plants are often referred to as ruderalis, even though they have no relation to the populations in Russia.

The fact that these escaped hybrids appear quite similar to C. ruderalis is sometimes used as evidence for the single species theory of cannabis.

Origin and Genetics

The cannabis plant originated from Central Asia thousands of years ago and then spread outwards as humans began to cultivate the crop.

Since ruderalis was first discovered in this region, some botanists think that ruderalis is actually a wild ancestor of modern cultivated cannabis varieties.

However, even if ruderalis were at some point the common ancestor of both sativa and indica, it’s modern form would still be very different.

See Also
Cannabis Journal

A 2005 study compared the genetics of C. indica, C. sativa, and C. ruderalis and found that the ruderalis gene pool lies somewhere between hemp and drug-type cannabis varieties.

This suggests that ruderalis could be an escaped hybrid that has become wild over time, taking on distinct characteristics as a result of inbreeding and environmental pressures.

Modern Uses / Crossbreeding

Modern Uses / Crossbreeding
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Even though ruderalis can be considered a wild type of cannabis without any of the useful psychoactive or industrial properties of its cultivated cousins, ruderalis still has some uses for modern breeders.

In fact the weedy, wild traits of cannabis ruderalis can be very helpful for creating new hybrid strains.

Sativa strains are well adapted to hot, tropical climates and can grow up to 20 feet tall. When grown indoors, the upper parts may end up getting burned by the heat produced by growing lamps, while the lower parts of the plant remain cool.

Outdoor environments are usually better for cultivating taller sativa plants, but this puts the crops at greater risk of pests and disease.

Ruderalis, with its diminutive size and hardy pest resistance, makes for a great addition to the sativa gene pool. When hybridized, outdoor crops gain protection against pests, and indoor crops can be reduced to a more manageable height.

Being very low in THC, ruderalis strains usually have to be crossbred with pure sativas to get the high THC levels sought by most cannabis users.

Since ruderalis strains typically have more CBD than THC, they can also be crossed with indicas to produce high-CBD strains for medical use.

The fast growing, auto-flowering nature of ruderalis can also be useful for speeding up the slow maturation time of sativas. Additionally, auto-flowering reduces the risk of frost damage in outdoor crops, as ruderalis plants tend to flower earlier in the season.

Summary

Cannabis ruderalis is a wild type of cannabis that was first discovered in Central Asia. It’s name comes from the term ‘ruderal’, which describes the strain’s feral and hardy nature.

Ruderalis may be the ancestor of modern cannabis varieties, or simply a hybrid of indica and sativa that escaped cultivation and eventually adapted to harsher growing environments.

Ruderalis strains can be crossbred with indicas or sativas to produce hybrids with more desirable characteristics, such as auto-flowering and high-CBD strains.

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