Cannabis ruderalis refers to a possible third subspecies of the cannabis plant, in conjunction with subspecies C. sativa and C. indica. According to today’s vernacular taxonomy, a “Ruderalis” plant has one or all of the following characteristics: autoflowering (flowering induced by age as opposed to a change in available light), a naturally occurring morphology, and CBD levels approximately equal to that of THC.
“Your plant may be a ruderalis if it started flowering without reducing the photoperiod below 12 hours of light.”
“What’s the difference between Ruderalis and Indica, or Ruderalis and Sativa?”
More About Ruderalis
You may already be familiar with the terms Indica and Sativa. But you probably haven’t heard your budtender suggest a great new “Ruderalis” strain before. So what is this third subspecies, where is it found, and what are its differences from Indica and Sativa plants?
Differences from Other Cannabis Varieties
Almost immediately upon their inception, the terms Indica and Sativa were used to identify cannabis plants based on the shape and size of the main leaves, and the amount of fiber they produced. Today’s cultivators use them for roughly the same purpose — separating plants into indica and sativa according to their growth traits and physical makeup. In the mid-to-late 1970s, American biologists Loran Anderson and Richard E. Schultes argued that there are three cannabis species: C. sativa, C. indica, and C. ruderalis — departing from previous taxonomic theories which only included two Cannabis sativa subspecies, C. sativa and C. indica. The C. ruderalis plant was shorter than the other two subspecies with minimal branching. Ruderalis plants also have small, thick leaves with four to six blades per leaf.
In 1976, around the time Schultes and Anderson were making their claims, Ernest Small and Arthur Cronquist argued the existence of only one central cannabis species, which they labeled C. sativa. Human intervention, they contended, subsequently created two subspecies: C. sativa (low-THC hemp) and C. indica (high-THC cannabis cultivated for intoxication). Since the mid-2000s, botanists have diverted from Small’s and Cronquist’s taxonomy — arguing that sativa and indica subspecies may have predated human intervention. As a result, ruderalis is seldom used in our vernacular taxonomy today. We can, however, define ruderalis based on a few distinct characteristics that separate it from our current taxonomic definitions of indica and sativa.
Anderson and Schultes originally characterized a distinction between plants based on their ratio of the cannabinoids THC and CBD. They observed a difference between cultivars high in THC with low CBD (C. sativa), those with high THC and CBD (C. indica), and those with a high CBD to THC ratio (C. ruderalis). The THC:CBD ratios of all three cannabis subspecies have changed significantly since the days of Anderson and Schultes, largely due to human intervention and extensive crossbreeding. Today, we may consider a plant ruderalis if it has an approximately equal ratio of THC to CBD.
Ruderalis plants are primarily identified by plant-age based autoflowering. A Ruderalis will flower according to age rather than a change in the photoperiod. In other words, the plant will flower when it comes to full maturity, independent of its light cycle. The ruderalis’ autoflowering mechanism makes it a difficult plant to control for commercial cultivators, who depend on controlled light cycles to manipulate the growth of Indicas and Sativas. Due to the shortened flowering period, growing ruderalis plants from seed is ideal for indoor home growers as they offer shorter plant cycles without the need to keep a mom plant or a clone. For those growing at home for medicinal purposes, the high-CBD, minimally psychoactive ruderalis species may provide the desired effects while requiring less attention from the grower than Indicas or Sativas.
Ruderalis Genetic Origin
Russian botanist Dmitrij Janischewsky was the first to identify Cannabis ruderalis as the third cannabis subspecies in 1930. This classification was not a result of unique physical expressions, but rather unique traits in the plant’s flowering cycle. Janischewsky noticed that while most cannabis plants begin to flower as a result of the changing available sunlight, ruderalis plants automatically began to flower between 20-40 days after sprouting.
A 2004 study by K.W. Hillig identifies C. ruderalis as a subspecies originating in central Asia, with stark morphological similarities to C. sativa from the same region. Hillig’s findings suggest that Cannabis ruderalis is either a feral, autoflowering subtype of C. sativa, or a third and separate subspecies entirely, with similar THC:CBD ratios and geographic origins to C. sativa.
Can I Find Ruderalis at a Dispensary?
People aren’t likely to find “Ruderalis” strains for sale at a dispensary because the species is generally of greater interest to growers, though they may be able to find autoflowering seeds, which have Ruderalis lineage.
The Ruderalis plant’s high CBD and minimal THC content minimizes its potential for both desired recreational effects and commerciality, though possibly of interest to medical users who respond well to CBD.
You’ve probably noticed how Hybrid cultivars have become as prominent as Indicas and Sativas, if not more so. All modern cultivars are technically hybrids, but the plants we officially classify as Hybrids are the intentional crossbreeds of Indicas and Sativas, designed to produce specific qualities and effects. Similarly, growers breed Hybrids with Ruderalis strains to create Hybrid seeds that auto-flower and exhibit physical traits conducive to an indoor grow environment. Growers often label Ruderalis hybrids as “Automatic” or “Auto” in reference to auto-flowering. Popular examples include Royal Haze Auto, Amnesia Haze Auto, and Royal Bluematic.