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Botany 101: Discovering the Science Behind C. Sativa Plant

Botany 101! Have you ever wondered why we identify all weed plants as Cannabis Sativa L.? What does the "L" stand for? Well, it's all based on botany and how plant scientists (Botanists) classify Cannabis in the Plant Kingdom.

What is Botany?

Botany is the natural scientific study of plants and includes physiology, structure, genetics, ecology, and classifications to communicate and understand all plant species and their genetic relationships. Classifying millions of plants worldwide into categories and subcategories based on similarities gives us clues to all plants' specific characteristics and medicinal uses.

Five Kingdoms of Living Things

All living things are classified into five different kingdoms. The Monera kingdom includes some of the oldest living organisms on earth, representing single-celled organisms whose DNA is not enclosed in the nucleus, like bacteria and blue-green algae. The Protista kingdom includes any organism whose cells contain a cell nucleus that is not an animal, plant, or fungus, that prefers aquatic environments, like many species of plankton and seaweed. The Fungi kingdom is mushrooms, yeasts, and mould. The Animalia kingdom contains all animals, both living and extinct. And lastly, we have the Plantae kingdom, which comprises flowers, ferns, mosses, trees, and cannabis!

The Plantae Kingdom

The Plant Kingdom diverges into four related biological groups of flowering plants, conifers, ferns, and mosses. Ready to impress your friends with science facts? Flowering plants are called angiosperms, and their predominant trait is that they produce seeds in their flowers or fruits. This group contains 80% of the world's plants, with over 270,000 species, from the common dandelion to the foods we eat. Cannabis is an angiosperm.

Botanical Classifications

All plants are further arranged into families based on common characteristics and reproductive structures like roots, flowers, and fruit. Plant taxonomy is a way to organize and name all plants based on the research of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778). He created the foundation for many botanical (and zoological) classifications that we still use today! Through observation and his system of binomial nomenclature, Linnaeus classified over12,000 species. Today, botanists use DNA testing, but very few species and plant families have been regrouped or renamed.

Plant Families

There are over 620 plant families, and it's important to mention that plant family names always end in "aceae."What's interesting about plant families is that sometimes plants that appear very different, group together because of specific shared traits. The Rosaceae, or the Rose family, is an example of plant family diversity because it includes roses and most food plants like apples, berries, cherries, peaches, plums, raspberries, and even almonds! These species share botanical characteristics as herbaceous small woody plants, with five petals and five sepals, many stamens, visible pistils, stipules, and serrated alternate leaves.

The Lamiaceae, or mint family, includes many culinary herbs like sage, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, catnip, and mint. The common botanical characteristics of this family are square stems, aromatic and opposite leaves, and irregularly shaped, often two-lipped, flowers. The Apiaceae, or carrot family, includes many edible culinary herbs like dill, cilantro, parsley, carrots, celery, parsnip, fennel, and even poisonous plants like Water Hemlock! Their common characteristics are double umbels, alternate compound leaves, and non-woody herbaceous plants.

The Cannabaceae Family

The Cannabaceae family, or the Hemp family, includes hops, hackberries, hemp, and cannabis, which explains why it is often compared to hops. They are in the same family. This entire is strongly aromatic due to its complexity of terpenes that are naturally occurring. The hop family is revered in beers which each different hope species infusing different scent and flavours into the finished product. 

Common botanical traits of the Hemp family are tricky since some are trees, some are greens, and some are vines, but many are dioecious, meaning they have both male and female plants. CannTerp’s TerpTender ProPack is an excellent way to get familiar with the different terpene isolates found in plant families. You can use these food grade terpenes isolates to infuse your cocktails, food, oils, diffuser or concentrates to get more familiar with specific terpenes.

Scientific Names

There are many common names for plants, but every species in the world has only one botanical name to help distinguish them from similar plants. Every living organism has its scientific name, or Latin name, which is a combination of Genus + species. Every botanical name is unique and universal across all languages!

Within each plant family, the genus is another identifying classification. The genus is always capitalized and named first in botanical names, and the species is always lowercase and second. The full name is italicized. When referring to more than one genus, the plural is genera.

Genera Example: Eucalyptol 

There are over 700 species of Eucalyptus trees, with one of the best-known features being its distinct aroma profile that comes from the presence of eucalyptol, a terpene that is found in the leaves and bark of the plant. The species are then broken down further, for example Eucalyptus globulus (Blue Gum), Eucalyptus camaldulensis (River Red Gum). The first part describes the genus, with the second part providing how the species is further classified down to unique differences (one is red and the other is blue). These are from the same genus and therefore share DNA, but the specific name is unique to the species. 


The species in every botanical name typically identifies something about the plant that differentiates it from others in the shared genus; however, you might see these names repeated in different genera. Common species are:

  • sinensis (from China)
  • japonica (from Japan)
  • tinctoria (used as colour dyes)
  • rubrum (red leaves or flowers)

Another common name is officinalis. It represents the official medicinal species of the genus, as seen in Salvia officinalis (Common Sage), Calendula officinalis (Marigold) or Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm). These three plants come from different genera, so they are entirely unrelated and share no genetics. They do share the common trait of being valuable medicinals within their genus.

In Latin, sativa means cultivated. Scientific names for unrelated species will sometimes include sativa, like Avena sativa (Common Oat) or Cannabis sativa. The species name describes a specific trait of these unrelated plants and in this case C. Sativa was characterizes by the effects of the high it provides, and in this case an energetic and uplifting feeling. Other varieties were cultivated for their therapeutic effects (i.e., reduce anxiety) and furthermore for industrial purposes (hemp).

Cannabis Sativa L.

When learning botanical names, you might see a letter after the genus and species. This letter signifies the botanist who first named the plant! Remember Carl Linnaeus, who invented plant taxonomy? The "L" in Cannabis sativa L. stands for Linnaeus, as he was the first botanist to identify the plant! Many plants have the letter L at the end because of Linnaeus, but because he named so many plants, this letter is only sometimes included in scientific texts.

Other Letters in Botanical Names

Other letters at the end of botanical names are helpful indicators. "Spp." is an umbrella term that will signify all species in a given genus. Suppose you are reading an article that references Cannabis spp. It indicates every species in the genus Cannabis (sativa, indica and ruderalis) and suggests that all species are interchangeable. An "sp." after the genus, in the case of Cannabis sp., indicates that it refers to family, but the specific species is unknown.

Naming Hybrids

An "x" in a botanical name indicates that two species have successfully bred, also known as a hybrid. For example, Peppermint Mentha x piperita is a mint hybrid, so its botanical name is marked with the "x". The "x" is very common in Cannabis spp. because many plants are bred through hybridizing other plants! The crossing of different plants with unique traits, helps to create unique and specific strains that give rise to all of the unique terpene profiles that plants express. 

You've Made it This Far!

Botany isn't easy, but you've made it this far! Let's recap the botanical classifications of our favourite plant:

Cannabis is part of the Plantae Kingdom of angiosperms, which are organized into families based on shared DNA and characteristics. It is in the Cannabaceae or Hemp Family. Each family is arranged by genera, and the Cannabaceae family has 12 genera, including Celtis (Hackberries), Humulus (Hops), and Cannabis (flowering plants and Hemp). Each genus has its unique species; in the Cannabaceae family, there are 102 species of plants. The Cannabis genus has three species: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.

Interestingly, the number of species in the Cannabis genus is widely disputed, and sometimes

  1. indica and C. ruderalis are considered sub-species of Cannabis sativa.

It is this amazing process of evolution, speciation and hybridization that has given rise to all of the unique strains, terpene profiles, health effects, and variety of uses that the same plant can often have today. Over time, Homo sapiens have learned to harness the unique properties of these plants and their terpenes, to infuse into products or use for pleasure in aromatherapy. 

But wait, there's more!

We've reached the end and covered a lot, but this is just the beginning! There is much more to explore in the world of Cannabis botany, like the physiology and structures of the Cannabis plant, from leaves and flowers to reproductive parts and aromatic compounds! For a more authentic experience, check out CannTerp’s newest products: Live Resin and Live Resin Infused terpenes, enhanced complexity from 100% Hemp derived terpenes.

Buy terpenes today at CannTerp -100% steam distilled and undiluted, food-grade premium terpenes. We are proudly Canadian and believe in the power of supporting other Canadian businesses. Local pick-up available within the greater Toronto area. 


Amanda Breeze is an enthusiastic educator on all things terpenes and aroma. She hosts The Smoking Spot podcast, featuring stories and sensory evaluations of our favourite plant. Follow her on Instagram: 

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