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Understanding Indica, Sativa, Ruderalis

What’s the Difference Between Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis?

There are many different strains and categories of cannabis, each with their own unique properties. Each plant from each strain offers a variety of phenotypes, terpene profiles, and effects, while different categories such as Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis offer various patterns of growth, phytocannabinoid profiles, levels of resiliency, recreational effects, and medical applications. If growing marijuana is legal in your state, learning about the differences between the categories could be beneficial, especially if you plan on growing from seed. To get started, it’s important to learn the differences between the plant’s genders as well as its major categories: Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis.

Understanding Marijuana Genders

There are three genders of marijuana plants, and they include male, female, and hermaphrodite. It can be a bit confusing understanding plant genders, especially when you’re first getting started, but being able to identify the gender of a marijuana plant is essential for successful growers.

Like humans, each cannabis plant has two chromosomes that determine its gender. Male plants have XY chromosomes, and female plants have XX chromosomes. It is also possible for cannabis plants to be hermaphrodites, meaning that a female plant develops pollen sacs when the unharvested plant is exposed to extended light, in an effort to self-pollinate.

Most growers want to grow unfertilized female plants because they don’t contain seeds and they typically produce more THC-rich resin. Once a male plant has fertilized a female plant, the plant prioritizes the development of seeds, thus halting the production of feel-good chemicals, such as THC, humans love to consume. It’s safe to say that pollination reduces the quality and potency of the final product, so preventing pollination by identifying males is vital for a successful operation.

Generally, male plants will grow taller than females, but their growth pattern depends on the growing conditions. The main identifying difference between males and females is males have pollen sacs and females have small hairs called stigmas that the pollen sticks to during fertilization. The stigmas later develop into the pistils that cover each flower.

In short, the reason identifying a plant’s gender is top priority is because unfertilized, seedless females (or sinsemillas) are considered the best for growers. It can be challenging to determine the gender of a plant because plants do not reveal their genders until just before the optimal pollination time, and by then, it can be too late. If you discover male plants, keep them far away from your females or pollination could occur.

A Brief History of Cannabis Types

While the scientific community proposes cannabis varieties such as Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis are species epithets, rather than distinct subspecies, the cannabis community certainly observes the different qualities and traits between the varieties.

History does show a discovery of something classified as cannabis Indica that was apparently different from the cannabis Sativa, or hemp, being domesticated and cultivated for textiles and narcotic compounds in Europe at the time. The discovery was made by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a French biologist living in the late 1700s. He first classified what he thought was a different species of cannabis, naming it cannabis Indica to differentiate it from the cannabis of Europe. Lamarck’s classification is one of the earliest records of a person splitting cannabis into different varieties. Lamarck discovered cannabis Indica, but the plant he discovered was not a separate species as much as a variety of cannabis that had grown wildly in India having been exposed to environmental variables that encouraged the development of certain intoxicating phenotypical properties that he observed, and classified, as cannabis Indica.

Today, we know there are three distinct varieties of one species: Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis. While they are all cannabis, each one is special in that it has been bred to feature a strong aspect of cannabis’ overall psychotropic and/or therapeutic profile, i.e. Sativa is the variety that features the properties of cannabis that cause a stimulating effect; Indica is the variety that features properties of cannabis that have a relaxing effect; and Ruderalis features the properties of cannabis that cause automatic flowering because Ruderalis evolved in Southern Siberia.

Each variety is special as it has been bred and cultivated to contain dominant traits neatly presented with each variety and even more selectively with each strain. Moreover, once we observed Cannabis as having unique traits and properties depending on where it grew as a native plant, we selectively bred to strengthen those favored traits, resulting in the categorization of three distinct varieties referred to as Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis. Moreover, each category or variety belongs to the single species of cannabis but has been cultivated and selectively bred to offer three dominant varieties that appeal to consumers in unique ways, and today’s breeders take it a step further by crossing the dominant varieties with each other, creating hybrids like Sativa-dominant hybrids and Indica-dominant hybrids.

Cannabis Sativa

Carl Linnaeus first classified cannabis Sativa in 1753. Sativa originated in eastern Asia but has since spread throughout the world, due to its extensive cultivation. The name of the plant means things that are cultivated.

Sativa is one of the most popular varieties of cannabis among smokers, and it can grow fifteen-feet high. Because of the potential growth height, many growers prefer to plant this type of cannabis outdoors, giving it plenty of room to reach its maximum growth potential.

Sativa is invigorating, stimulating, and often creativity-inducing. Sativa helps to increase the user’s energy levels and is commonly consumed for daytime use.

Sativa has a high ratio of THC to CBN. THC gives the high, while CBN helps to control the high and prevent some of the adverse effects of THC, such as anxiety and paranoia. The ratio of the two phytocannabinoid compounds in cannabis is what gives Sativa the well-rounded high smokers enjoy.

Sativa strains are commonly high in THC, so the dosage is important especially when considering medicinal applications. While more concrete evidence is needed, Sativa strains are said to help treat the following medical conditions:

  • Depression
  • Certain mood disorders
  • ADHD
  • Fatigue

Sativa strains typically have sweet tastes and smells and are often less pungent than Indica. Sativa leaves are longer and thinner than their Indica counterparts, and the foliage of the plant is less dense.

What Should You Know About Growing Sativa Strains?

First, it is essential to note that there are no differences in the laws regarding Sativa, Indica, or Ruderalis. If it is legal for you to grow cannabis in your state, it’s legal for you to grow Sativa. There are some laws that restrict the growing of cannabis, and only permit the growing of hemp, so be careful when you begin.

Because these plants come from regions near the equator, they typically have a longer flowering period than other strains of cannabis. Sativa strains grow well in hot environments. Consider the following helpful tips for ensuring your Sativa plants grow big, strong, and healthy:

  • Whether grown in a pot or outdoors, Sativa can grow to great heights. Most strains are going to grow up to ten feet tall, so there must be plenty of headroom. If you do not have enough space, it may be best to grow this type of marijuana outdoors, where it is free to grow as tall as possible;
  • Humidity levels can cause problems with Sativa, leading to mold growth and other issues. Keeping a careful watch on the humidity levels in your growing room is essential for healthy Sativa strains. Sativa strains typically require relative humidity (RH) to be between 55 – 65%;
  • Without careful pruning, Sativa plants can grow very spindly, making them weak and more likely to be damaged. Defoliation should begin as soon as the plants start to fill out in growth, by removing any lower leaves that are not receiving enough light;
  • These plants respond best to high levels of light, and they are sensitive to cold temperatures, so the growing room temperature must be carefully monitored to prevent the temperatures dropping below 59°F or rising above 85°F;
  • Most of the height growth for Sativa plants happens when light changes occur, and the plants begin flowering. Many new growers become fooled by their Sativa plants because they remain shorter than other varieties during the vegetative stage;
  • Some strains of Sativa never showcase amber pistils, one of the hallmark signs it is time to harvest;
  • Sativas will typically respond best to soil that is not too saturated in supplemented nutrients;
  • Growers should know Sativa strains typically produce lower yields than Indica strains, but they make up for this with potent levels of THC.
  • High-THC Sativa-dominant hybrid cannabis seeds are available from a variety of online seed banks.

Cannabis Indica

Cannabis Indica is a stockier plant than Sativa, typically growing no higher than 3 – 6 feet tall, making it more conducive to growing indoors. Indica strains typically flower much faster than Sativa strains, with Indica strains presenting thicker foliage and broader leaves.

Indica strains of marijuana have a more sedative effect than Sativas and tend to relax the entire body. These strains are often used medicinally and have been known to help treat conditions like:

  • Pain;
  • Muscle spasms;
  • Headache and migraines;
  • Insomnia;

Indica strains tend to have an earthy smell and taste and are often more pungent than Sativa strains, and most smokers say Indicas are skunkier than Sativas.

What Should You Know About Growing Indica Strains?

Indica offers a higher yield with a shorter plant, which is why so many indoor growers prefer it over Sativa. Although they are generally smaller than Sativa strains, they need more distance between plants because they can grow quite bushy.

Indica originated in the mountains of South-Central Asia, which is one of the reasons it has a shorter flowering stage. Those growing in colder climates will find this variety of cannabis ideal because it tends to be tolerant of colder temperatures. Consider the following tips for growing Indica strains effectively.

  • Indica reaches its maximum height growth potential during the vegetative stage. As soon as the light cycle changes and flowering begins, the plants will not grow much more in height, though it will continue to grow in width. High-yielding weed seeds are available from online seed banks like i49.
  • Because Indica originated in areas where cool temperatures are the norm at night, it is best to drop the temperature of your growing room by about 10° each night.
  • Indica strains are more susceptible to mold and mildew growth because of their dense floral clusters, so it is essential to control humidity. The relative humidity (RH) of your grow room should be between 45 – 55% for the best growth and mold and mildew prevention.
  • When harvesting, do not remove the sugar leaves until just before curing. This will help to ensure the plants dry out sufficiently. Mold-resistant cannabis seeds are available from online seed banks like i49!

Cannabis Ruderalis

When people talk about cannabis, they rarely bring up Ruderalis, even though it is one of the primary varieties of marijuana. Like Indica, Ruderalis plants grow relatively short, reaching a maximum height of approximately two feet.

Ruderalis strains originated in southern regions of Siberia. Accustomed to colder climates, Ruderalis has a short life cycle and blooms quickly compared to Sativa and Indica. These speedy-flowering genetics have been crossed with Indica and Sativa strains, creating what we call auto-flowering strains. To view some auto-flowering strains’ profiles, check out for a catalogue of these short yet powerful varieties.

The main reason Ruderalis is not as popular as other types is because it lacks the psychotropic properties of Indica and Sativa. Most growers only use Ruderalis strains as a source of producing auto-flowering traits.

Although it is likely you will never grow a pure Ruderalis strain unless you plan to create hybrids, it helps to know their characteristics. Consider the following tips for growing Ruderalis:

  • Ruderalis begins to flower very quickly, almost from the first stage of growth;
  • It can be found growing wild in many areas of Russia as a robust plant often referred to as a ‘ditch weed’;
  • The Ruderalis plant does well when planted and cultivated in one pot, rather than being transplanted;
  • Ruderalis grows best in an airy substrate, such as perlite, an organic material that allows the roots to breathe properly;
  • Ruderalis needs 20 hours of light with 4 hours of darkness each day;
  • Keeping the substrate moist is vital for healthy root growth;
  • Ruderalis needs plenty of root space in their containers to develop large flowers.

Bottom Line

Now, you have a much better understanding of the differences between Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis. Growers typically choose their strains based on growth times, size, yields, and typical effects.

Most growers are interested in growing Sativa or Indica, but Ruderalis also has its place in the cannabis community. No matter which type you choose to cultivate, knowing how each variety develops is key to building confidence as a grower.

It is exciting growing cannabis because the result allows you to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Healthy cannabis growth equals large yields of high-quality flower.

When considering the differences in varieties, growers may wish to experiment with each one to see which one serves their interests the most. Interested in getting started with some Indica, Sativa, or Ruderalis seeds? Visit an online cannabis seed bank like