Indica, sativa, or hybrid? How to read a cannabis leaf
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- What does an indica leaf look like?
- What does a sativa leaf look like?
- What does a ruderalis leaf look like?
- What is a hybrid cannabis leaf?
- Why is it important to know the difference between cannabis leaves?
- What can I do with cannabis leaves?
- Health benefits of cannabis leaves
While there are countless strains of cannabis to choose from , there are only four known “types” of cannabis: the well-known indica and sativa, along with the lesser-known ruderalis, and finally the hybrid, which is a combination of the others. Each has its own physical characteristics that make it identifiable to growers. Most notably, the leaf.
In this guide to reading cannabis leaves, you’ll learn how to identify each type of leaf just by looking at them. We’ll also share insider tips on the different ways you can use marijuana leaves.
What does an indica leaf look like?
First named in 1785 for a kind of marijuana that grows in India, the indica leaf is short and stout, possessing between seven and nine wide, finger-like structures.
Steven Somoza of Hydroponics, Inc. in Los Angeles, California, has more than eight years of cannabis cultivation experience and shared with Weedmaps, “ Indica-dominant strains tend to have a stocky bush-like appearance, typically developing fat and wide leaves.”
The indica leaf’s short stature makes it a good choice of cannabis to grow indoors. You can spot an indica leaf if you pay attention to color, as indicas are a deep shade of green, which signifies a high chlorophyll content. Pure indica strains may include Hindu Kush, Purple Kush, and Afghani Kush, but pure strains of any kind are rare and challenging to find.
The indica leaf is short and stout, possessing between seven and nine wide, finger-like structures. The slender sativa leaf has more fingers than the indica leaf, sometimes as many as thirteen.
What does a sativa leaf look like?
In contrast to indica plants, sativa plants fare better outdoors due to their exceptional height (up to 12 feet). The slender sativa leaf also has more fingers than the indica leaf, sometimes as many as thirteen.
In contrast to indica leaves, sativa-dominant genetics “typically grow lengthy, can take longer to mature, and develop skinnier leaves” according to Somoza.
Besides size and finger differences, you can distinguish between an indica and a sativa leaf by the latter’s lighter shade of green. Pure sativa strains may include Jack Herer, Panama Red, and Durban Poison, but connoisseurs debate whether these strains are truly pure or simply sativa-dominant. Jack Herer, for example, may be 80% sativa and 20% indica depending on the plant.
What does a ruderalis leaf look like?
Originating in Russia and Central Asia, ruderalis is a separate species of autoflowering cannabis that grows in the wild. It is shorter than sativa and indica, sometimes only reaching a foot or two tall. Ruderalis leaves are thin and each plant only exhibits three to five delicate fingers. Russian Auto CBD is one of the only known pure ruderalis strains, as most that contain this species are hybrids.
What is a hybrid cannabis leaf?
Finding pure marijuana strains is no easy task these days and hybrids are ubiquitous. Hybrid leaves tend to be harder to identify as they may favor their parent strains in different ways. White Widow, Cannatonic, Blue Dream, Gorilla Glue, Chemdawg, and Sour Diesel are some of the many popular hybrid weed strains available.
Why is it important to know the difference between cannabis leaves?
The ability to distinguish between cannabis leaves, particularly the indica and sativa varieties, is a useful tool for both new and seasoned growers. For starters, knowing how to read cannabis leaves gives cultivators insight into how well (or how poorly) their plants are flourishing.
Somoza elaborated, “A new grower must learn to ‘read’ these leaves as just one of many ways to get a feel for the plant’s health. Most deficiencies and problems will show at the leaves with quick enough onset: drooping, tip-curling, leaf spotting, pest damage, etc.”
To assess the health of your cannabis plants, do a quick, daily check-up to see if any of those signs are present. Somoza also advised, “Get in the habit of rubbing your leaves and turning over and inspecting leaves when you defoliate.”
Keeping a watchful eye on leaves during all stages of growth can help familiarize you with what makes a healthy cannabis plant and what constitutes a struggling one.
What can I do with cannabis leaves?
Raw cannabis leaves are versatile and valuable, so be mindful the next time you trim them from your plants. First, let’s identify the two types of cannabis leaves that you’ll encounter whether you’re growing an indica or sativa-dominant strain:
Sugar leaves: Coated in white trichomes, sugar leaves are small and grow from the buds. Somoza explained the process of sugar leaf development this way: “ As cannabis matures, the bracts or buds of the plant will swell and develop ‘sugar’ that will grow and fall on surrounding leaves. These sugar leaves are loaded with cannabinoids and are still useful when trimmed off during or after harvest.”
As a rule of thumb, indica strains produce more resin glands which yield a greater amount of trichomes. Therefore, indica strains tend to have more sugar leaves than sativa strains.
Fan leaves: Bearing a smaller amount of trichomes, these larger and broader leaves are easily seen protruding from marijuana plants. Like sugar leaves, fan leaves are also useful, as Somoza revealed, “ I find that fan leaves are great for composts or a compost tea that goes right back into your garden.”
Both sugar leaves and fan leaves have an array of uses and benefits in the kitchen and in the medicine cabinet. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Both sugar leaves and fan leaves have an array of uses and benefits in the kitchen and in the medicine cabinet. Here are a few things you can do with cannabis fan leaves and sugar leaves:
- Make a raw cannabis juice from the leaves. Just pop a handful into the blender and sprinkle in other healthful ingredients, such as spinach, kale, apple juice, ginger, or maybe even almond milk if you want to experiment with a marijuana milkshake!
- Whip up some cannabutter that packs a punch with powerful cannabinoids. Sugar leaves make a great basis for cannabis leaf butter which you can spread on bread like any other special herb butter.
- Infuse coconut oil with raw cannabis leaves and use in recipes for baked goods like cookies and brownies. You can also use cannabis coconut oil on the skin.
- Chop up the leaves and toss into a romaine salad with your favorite superfood fixings like blueberries and flax seeds.
- Brew a potent cup of cannabis leaf tea and squeeze in some fresh lemon juice for an immunity boost.
- Compost any leftover cannabis leaves to ensure that not one part of the plant goes to waste.
Health benefits of cannabis leaves
Besides adding a flavorful twist to your recipes, cannabis leaves carry many potential health benefits. Cannabis is a plant and as such contains essential nutrients and antioxidant properties as any other leafy green would.
Raw marijuana also boasts heart-healthy “good fats” in the form of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. You may incorporate omega-rich avocado or salmon into your diet to derive skin benefits, but raw cannabis leaves can offer some of the same perks. If you need more fiber in your diet, raw cannabis leaves are excellent sources and can aid with digestive issues including constipation.
Further, cannabis fan leaves and sugar leaves are abundant in aromatic terpenes that may have antibacterial, antiviral, and even anti-tumor properties. Researchers have conducted numerous studies on the possible anti-tumor effects of cannabis terpenes, some of which have yielded encouraging findings. For example, myrcene, the most abundant terpene in cannabis, has demonstrated the potential to kill human breast cancer cells in a 2015 study published in the Journal of the Korean Society for Applied Biological Chemistry. Another study, published in 2012 in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that the terpene cedrene, as an essential oil ingredient, might contribute to killing tumor cells in human tissue .
Whether your cannabis leaves end up in the compost pile to nourish the earth or in your body to nourish you, they can be nutritional powerhouses.
Indica, sativa, or hybrid? How to read a cannabis leaf Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents What does an indica leaf look like? What does a sativa
How to identify indica and sativa plants
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- Is there really a difference between indica and sativa?
- Identifying sativa vs indica plants
- Preference of indica vs sativa
- Sativa vs. Indica Cultivation Considerations
For those who regularly use cannabis for therapeutic or recreational purposes, the notion of cultivating plants for personal use may be appealing. Growing cannabis can be straightforward, but as with most crops, yield and quality can be improved with awareness of the plant’s life cycle and growth requirements. When it comes to growing cannabis, the first decision is to determine whether to cultivate indica or sativa plants.
Is there really a difference between indica and sativa?
Up until recently, the cannabis plant was classified as sativa, indica, ruderalis, or the elusive afghanica, which originated in or near Afghanistan. The usefulness of this cannabis taxonomy for contemporary consumers has been questioned by experts, including Dr. Ethan Russo , who has recommended abandoning this classification system. Due to human intervention, very few modern cannabis plants are purely indica or purely sativa. Russo argues that it’s more helpful to identify biochemical compound content, such as cannabinoids and terpenes .
However, differentiating indica from sativa remains very useful for cannabis cultivators. Using morphology, or phenotype, is the most common way to classify cannabis cultivars . Indica and sativa, the most commonly recognized cultivars, have distinctive physical features and growth traits. Understanding their respective growth cycles and how to tend each plant type will help ensure optimal growth and bud output.
Hybrid strains are also commonplace, with many growers opting for plants that blend the most desirable properties of both sativa and indica. Hybrids may be indica- or sativa-dominant, like Sour Diesel. White Widow exemplifies a balanced hybrid cultivar.
Identifying sativa vs indica plants
Identifying Sativa Plants
Sativa cannabis plants originated close to the equator, thriving in temperate regions with mild winters and long summers. Sativa strains can reach up to 10 feet tall and are characterized by sparse foliage and light-green, thin-fingered, delicate leaves. They boast a long flowering period as there is no climatic impetus to reproduce rapidly and disseminate seeds. The extended flowering period is somewhat offset by a reduced vegetative period, in which no flowers are present. Sativa is known for generally lower yields than their indica counterparts.
Sativa cultivars are not ideal for home growers hoping to cultivate indoors, or within a restricted space. These plants generally require balmy temperatures and relatively high humidity where they thrive when given have space to grow.
Identifying Indica Plants
Cannabis indica cultivars are smaller in height than their sativa counterparts with broad, dark-green leaves and a bushier appearance. Indica plants are popular among home growers due to their high yields and shorter flowering periods. They typically mature faster than sativa cultivars under similar conditions, producing flowers in as few as eight weeks.
The rapid flowering period occurs due to the biological need to reproduce and spread their genes before the arrival of harsh winter conditions. These cultivars also tend to have a different smell, perhaps reflecting a different terpene profile .
Indica plants were originally found in unforgiving dry and colder Asian climates, which resulted in their robust and more compact physical profile. Their short stature makes them ideal for indoor cultivation.
Sativa strains have light-green, thin-fingered, delicate leaves. Cannabis indica cultivars have broad, dark-green leaves. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Preference of indica vs sativa
If you’re contemplating growing cannabis and wondering whether to grow indica or sativa, your choice will likely be guided by the kinds of effects you’re looking to experience. It’s important to note that effects have more to do with the cannabinoid and terpene makeup of the plant and less to do with its morphology. Here’s the lowdown on the differences between growing indica and sativa.
Sativa vs. Indica Cultivation Considerations
The growth cycle of any plant can be divided into the four distinct stages of germination, seedlings, vegetation, and flowering. While harvest doesn’t represent a formal phase, it does constitute a significant phase for the grower.
Some home growers elect to grow cannabis from feminized seeds, which produce exclusively female plants. This ensures none of the female flowers are pollinated by male flowers, which would cause them to produce seed, reducing the cannabinoid yield. Seeds can be easily germinated within paper towels dampened (not wet) with distilled water.
If you’re growing sativa strains from seed, aim for an optimal temperature of 75 F (24 C) to encourage germination within three to seven days. Lower temperatures will delay the emergence of the radicle (the part of the plant that develops into the root).
If you’re growing indica plants from seed, expect a slightly shorter germination period. Like sativa seeds, indica seeds require a warm temperature to germinate (approximately 71 to 75F or 22 to 25C).
When the beginnings of the tap root and a leaf or two appear, the seedling can be carefully transplanted. Both indica and sativa plants require special care and benefit from proper soil composition, climate control, and lighting as they are establishing root systems. The seedling stage lasts from 1-3 weeks.
The vegetative phase is characterized by the growth of the stem and leaves. The length of time a sativa or indica plant remains in the vegetative state depends entirely on its exposure to light. Sativa and indica plants move into the vegetative state after three to six weeks.
The vegetative phase is characterized by the growth of the stem and leaves. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
The sativa vegetative period starts slowly, with the stem elongating more rapidly later in the vegetative cycle. The stem of the sativa plant is fibrous rather than woody, and the leaves develop as narrow fingers. Throughout the duration of the vegetative cycle, seven to twelve leaf pairs form in a certain pattern . The first leaf pair comprises a single leaflet. The second pair has three leaflets. The third pair has five leaflets, and so on. Sativa uses less chlorophyll during the vegetative cycle than indica, resulting in light-green leaves.
Indica strains do not undergo the same stem elongation as the plant focuses on developing a thick, woody trunk to support the weight of future buds. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of cannabis indica plants is their leaves. Indica’s unmistakeable fat, forest-green fingers help to soak up light and accelerate growth. Outdoors, indica plants are unlikely to grow taller than six feet (two meters), and indoor plants usually grow three feet (one meter) or less. Indica strains tend to spread out wide like a bush, with vigorous branching.
In both strains, pre-flowers can be easily mistaken for new branches. If you haven’t used feminized seeds, the pre-flowering period is the time to separate male plants from female plants. Males must be removed immediately to avoid pollinating females unless the intention is to produce seeds. The first male pre-flowers appear as a small sac, while female plants produce a structure called a cola that looks similar to a hair and will later become a flower or bud.
Flowering occurs when the days shorten, or when the plant receives 12 hours or less of continuous daily light. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Flowering occurs when the days shorten, or when the plant receives 12 hours or less of continuous daily light. You can force flowering by reducing the hours of light exposure or photoperiod, signaling to the plant that the nights are becoming longer.
Sativa strains can take 10 to 12 weeks before the flowers are ready to harvest. These plants continue to grow tall and fast throughout their life cycle and can double in height even after they’ve entered the flowering period. The overall life cycle for sativa can last up to six months, resulting in a more extended growth-period than that of indica.
Indica strains flower more rapidly than sativa, forming flowers after seven to nine weeks on average. They continue flowering for up to twelve weeks. Many indica slow their upward growth as they begin flowering, and instead become bushier, with branches and leaves fanning out. Their life span is three to four months.
Sativa buds are ready to harvest when the majority of the trichomes, or resinous glands on the buds, appear milky-white with only an occasional clear trichome in the mix. Sativa bud structure is frequently elongated and thin, with an appearance similar to spears. However, the flower buds of sativa can also form foxtails, when the calyxes, or nug groupings, of the female buds stack up on each other.
Indica buds are tightly packed and tend to grow in a more chunky formation than those of sativa. Indica trichomes that are ready to harvest can take on a milky-translucence as well, but often appear more amber in color.
Sativa buds are ready to harvest when the majority of the trichomes appear milky-white with only an occasional clear trichome in the mix. Indica trichomes that are ready to harvest can take on a milky-translucence as well, but often appear more amber in color. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
How to identify indica and sativa plants Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents Is there really a difference between indica and sativa? Identifying