“One in ten plant species contains anticancer substances of variable potency, but relatively few have been bioassayed.”

-Edward O. Wilson

It is easy to take plants for granted.  They are quiet and unassuming.  Most of the time, we acknowledge them for their air purifying properties.  Other plants have deities whose sole devotion is to the plant.  Hemp falls into the category of the latter.  Many ancient cultures are known to have gods and goddesses for cannabis.  Ancient Korea and China had Magu, goddess of the hemp plant.  Ancient Egypt had Seshat, whose depiction maintains a hemp leaf over her head.  Modern day cannabis worship gets fame from Abrahamic faith, the Rastafarians, who make it known that cannabis consumption is part of their practice.  This history of devotion begs the questions: Why hemp?  Why cannabis?  What makes this plant so special?  While the female cannabis plants are notorious for their mind altering capabilities, high lacking hemp gains its fame by a more subtle, utilitarian means.  The botany of the hemp plant gives us hints as to why it’s so revered.


botany of the hemp plant
A botanical depiction of the male cannabis plant, better known as hemp.  Unlike the majority of the plant world, the CBD in hemp’s anticancer properties is presently being researched at length across the globe.

Botany of the Hemp Plant – A long history of study and usage

When we look at the two plants, male hemp and female marihuana, there are some obvious similarities.  Tall, woody stalks, large fan leaves, and flowers.  However, the flowering traits are where the differentiation becomes pronounced.  Whereas the female plants have dense colas, covered in trichome boasting resins, the male flowers are loose on the stalk.  Furthermore, the male flowers produce pollen, while the female flowers produce seeds.  Both varieties have durable, long fiber producing stalks.  Use dates as far back as 8,000 B.C. due to an archeological finding of hemp rope in what is modern day Taiwan.  In the early 1900’s, European hemp fiber exports topped 160 million pounds a year, predominately for ropes and sail making.  Even after hemp became illegal alongside marihuana in the USA in 1937, the government all but begged farmers to grow it during WWII for naval sail and rope supplies.

botany of the hemp plant
The simple anatomy of the hemp and cannabis plant.

Botany of the Hemp Plant – Anatomical overview

From a technical standpoint, the cannabis plant consists of the stalk, node, fan leaf and flower.  Hemp’s therapeutic properties permeate through the stalks and leaves, though the highest concentration of cannabidiol, CBD, lays in the roughage.  Medical application of the leaves predates modern medicine.  The ancient beverage bhang became popular in India, where the plant is native and still grows wild.  Regionally, post federal legalization of the hemp cultivation and research in 2014, a deep understanding of the hemp plant has re-blossomed (pun intended).  The drive and demand fueling much of this blooming desire is the hemp plant’s CBD rich leaves.  The international attention to the therapeutic benefits of CBD, from the World Health Organization to the Federal Drug Administration certainly helps fuel the fire.

The goddess Magu wearing a wreath of cannabis leaves.

So next time you are shopping for your favorite CBD products, take a moment to consider the hearty and steadfast hemp plant.  Think about how long it has been around and how lucky we are to have it back in the mainstream today.

9 thoughts on “Botany of the Hemp Plant – A Brief History and Anatomy

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