Most conversations about cannabis focus on Indica and Sativa cultivars. Cannabis Ruderalis, a third cannabis variety, also has fascinating characteristics useful to expert breeders. Read on to find out more about this lesser-known cannabis subspecies that can produce buds on time, every time. 

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In 1924, D.E. Janischevsky became the first botanist to classify Cannabis Ruderalis when he found it growing in the Russian wild. Janischevsky distinguished Ruderalis from Sativa and Indica based on their appearance: Ruderalis has smaller buds than Indicas and is less fibrous than Sativas. Ruderalis, as it exists today, may be its own species, or it may be a subspecies evolved from Indica and Sativa cultivars.  The very name “Ruderalis” suggests that the cannabis variety is the descendant of Sativa and Indica strains. Ruderalis comes from the Latin “ruderal,” a term used in botany to describe plants that grow in rubble and ruins. Ruderal species are often domesticated plants that get left behind in places heavily impacted by human occupation. No longer cultivated by humans, ruderal plants adapt to the wild, developing phenotypes unique from their parent species.  Once considered the wild ancestor of cannabis Sativa and Indica strains, botanists now believe the reverse about Cannabis Ruderalis. The most widely held theory is that Cannabis Ruderalis is a hybrid evolved from feral Indica and Sativa strains, adapting to survive the shorter growing seasons and harsher climates of central and northern Asia and eastern Europe. 

The differences between Ruderalis, Indica, and Sativa

Ruderalis plants vary significantly in appearance from Sativa and Indica strains. Standing between one and three feet tall, Cannabis Ruderalis is shorter than Sativa and Indica plants. Unlike the buds produced by domesticated Indica and Sativa strains, Ruderalis buds are small, though dense. Because of their short, broadleaf fingers, Ruderalis leaves are very similar in appearance to Indica leaves. However, Ruderalis plants overall have fewer leaves than Indicas and Sativas.  difference between sativa, indica, and ruderalis plants Chemically speaking, it's similar to industrial hemp in that it contains trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but a relatively heavy concentration of cannabidiol (CBD).  While both Sativas and Indicas contain enough THC to get you high, Ruderalis plants are unlikely to produce a psychoactive effect.  Finally, Cannabis Ruderalis grows based on a different clock than Sativas and Indicas. Cannabis Ruderalis plants are auto-flowering, while Indicas and Sativas are photoperiod varieties. This means that Ruderalis plants will begin flowering as soon as they are mature, about 21-30 days into their growth cycle. On the other hand, the growth cycles of Sativas and Indicas rely on exposure to the sun. As long as Sativas and Indicas are exposed to more sunlight than darkness, they will continue to vegetate. Once sunlight exposure is reduced to 12 hours or less in a 24-hour period, they will begin to flower. Consequently, the growth cycle of Ruderalis plants is easier to predict and much shorter than that of Indica and Sativa plants, which can last several months until harvest. 

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Breeders use Ruderalis to enhance cannabis genetics

On its own Ruderalis is neither large, fibrous, or potent enough to be used as industrial hemp or medicine, but Ruderalis genetics are valuable to cannabis breeders for a few reasons. Cannabis Ruderalis has a number of highly desirable characteristics that, when introduced to other cannabis cultivars, can create strains that are easier to cultivate and contain an enhanced therapeutic profile.  For example, Cannabis Ruderalis’ adaptation to the wild has made it especially resistant to pathogens and pests. Breeders who introduce Ruderalis genetics to a cannabis strain’s gene pool increase the likelihood that the plants will survive outdoors and have an overall more robust immune system.   The size of the Ruderalis plant is another asset for breeders. Pure Sativas can grow to be up to 10 feet tall, a height that typically requires outdoor growth. However, outdoor cultivation exposes plants to pests and a wider variety of diseases. When hybridized with Ruderalis, the lanky height of Sativa plants can be reduced to better adapt to indoor grows.   Some breeders are interested in creating a strain rich in CBD and THC specifically cross THC-potent strains with Ruderalis plants. Ruderalis plants contain very little THC, but their CBD concentration is notable. As cannabis consumers become more educated on the effects of cannabinoids, the popularity of strains containing high levels of both THC and CBD increases, making Ruderalis a useful genetic tool for breeders.   Cannabis strains fall into two categories: photoperiod and auto-flowering. One of the most appealing characteristics of Cannabis Ruderalis plants is that they are auto-flowering. Whereas photoperiod cannabis strains rely on the light cycle, remaining in the vegetation phase when exposed to more light than dark and flowering only when exposure to light decreases, auto-flowering plants automatically begin flowering based on their maturation. Breeders may crossbreed their desirable photoperiod strain with a Ruderalis plant to speed up maturation and reduce the time until harvest. 

Cannabis strains with Ruderalis genes

The following five strains have Cannabis Ruderalis in their genetics, likely as a result of intentional crossbreeding by growers interested in producing enhanced strains with beneficial Ruderalis phenotypes:  Northern Lights — One of the most popular Indica strains today, Northern Lights is known for boosting mood, enhancing creativity, and facilitating relaxation.  Haze Berry — Users describe experiencing increased focus and energy in response to consuming this Sativa dominant strain. Likely as a result of crossbreeding with Cannabis Ruderalis, Haze Berry rarely exceeds three feet in height.  Royal Haze — This THC-rich strain is said to enhance mood and produce a burst of creative energy. Royal Haze reaches maturity in 10 to 11 weeks.  Quick One — The name says it all. Quick One was specifically bred to be harvested in just eight to nine weeks.  Hulkberry — With 27 percent THC, Hulkberry’s effect lives up to its name. Users report intense euphoria and physical relaxation after consuming this powerful strain.

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