The cannabis plant and its evolution are so complex and old that its full potential remains unknown. Even though hemp plantations did not reach industrial scale during the Viceroyalties in the Americas or Europe, numerous attempts to sow this crop resulted in the spreading of cannabis throughout the region. Consequently, this plant could adapt to new types of soil and different, warmer climates, which allowed for the emergence of phenotypic variations in the plant genus cannabis and favoured the evolution of this species.
Indigenous Peoples and Cannabis
In the Americas, indigenous healers and herbalists made use of the medical and psychoactive properties of cannabis flowers, which had developed different features to those of hemp plants sowed in Europe centuries before and 16th-century New Spain. As plants adapt to warmer climates and nutrient-rich soils, a different kind of plant grows—more suitable to be used as a “psychoactive and analgesic” substance. Dissemination of cannabis across the New Continent was so wide that, even in the 19th century, the ubiquity of this plant in Mexico made it seem as if it were a native species.
Male and Female Cannabis
Condemned in some countries, this plant is a novelty for our generations but ancient to those civilizations that studied its several uses and harvested this crop for years in their gardens. Cannabis is amazing because of its potential and its uniqueness. The natural life cycle of the Cannabis Sativa plant begins in spring, when seeds germinate. The vegetative growth stage takes place in midsummer, and culminates when plants start flowering. The flowering stage lasts 2 or 3 months and, for most strains, harvest time is optimal at the beginning of autumn, in the case of plants sowed outdoors in tropical countries.
Controlled or indoor growing makes it possible to maintain optimum conditions for Cannabis plants to develop free of climate constraints, which is why, under adequate conditions, the plant can even reach three to four meters high. These conditions range from seed selection to environmental factors such as: temperature (25-20 °C), humidity (60-70%), photoperiod (from 16 light hours/ 8 dark hours to 12 light hours/ 12 dark hours). Additionally, applying a nutrient solution helps obtaining greater amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). A good quality assurance plan must also include adequate pest control (aphids, spiders, snails, whiteflies, among others).
A Dynamic and Sensitive Plant
It may seem crazy to think that all that we have previously mentioned determines whether a plant produces male or female flowers under natural conditions. Any alteration in the plant may cause stress, which immediately results in a change of sex. Cannabis is a dioecious or unisexual plant, meaning that male and female flowers will grow on distinct plants, although some individuals may show both sexes and are referred to as “hermaphrodites.” Curiously enough, pollination of female plants depends solely on the wind, that is, pollen travels from the male to the female plant through the air and is not carried by insects, as is the case with most flowering plants.
How to Identify Male and Female Plants?
Male marijuana plants flower producing small bell-shaped buds clustered in panicles that hang down and eventually open up, releasing pollen, while female plants produce tear-shaped calyxes with two little hairs—usually white—called pistils, which group together. Male flowers are needed to produce seeds, but if growers wish to use cannabis flowers, male plants must be removed so that females are not pollinated. This attribute remains unknown until the flowering stage begins, because it is at this point that a plant reaches sexual maturity.
Hemp Production and Its Legal Framework
Telling males apart from females is of paramount importance for growers who use regular seeds obtained from pollination. In countries such as Argentina and Chile, cloning—cultivation using feminized seeds and hydroponics—provides a suitable alternative for growing in reduced areas. The sale of hemp seeds remains illegal. Fear of criminalisation and the weather conditions faced by cannabis growers in this part of the Americas are great drivers of new methods to make the most of available land and plant varieties that reach this region.
Planting feminized or regular seeds has its pros and cons: production increases using feminized seeds, because it is guaranteed that all seeds will germinate into female plants. However, we must not fail to note that feminized seeds have not gone through a 100% natural process, as they were forced to produce female plants.