Cannabis, weed, hemp, pot, mary jane, doobie, ganja, grass, marijuana. There are many names associated with cannabis. Botanically speaking, cannabis falls in the hemp family (Cannabaceae), which includes about one hundred and seventy plant species. Hops and cannabis are the two most well-known genera in the Cannabaceae plant family.
Plants in the family are characterized by flowers without petals and mostly rely on wind pollination. Many plants in this family produce plants that are either male or female. This holds true in cannabis or weed plants, where male plants are usually removed in favor of female plants, and auto-feminized varieties are preferred.
When referring to cannabis, it is commonly accepted that the plant referenced contains the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and non-psychoactive cannabidiol, or CBD. In this context, THC is the component that is responsible for the high associated with cannabis use.
When speaking about hemp, it is generally the plant that contains mostly CBD with negligible amounts of THC. These fiber-rich plants produce textiles, plastic, clothing, paper, and animal feed, among other things. This form of the cannabis plant is also sometimes referred to as industrial hemp.
Regardless of which plant in this genus you are referring to, there are similar characteristics. Cannabis grows as an annual plant. The leaves are shaped like a hand, biologically stated as a palmate or digitate-shaped leaf arrangement. Plant size may vary widely from a few inches to thirteen feet. This leaf shape is not unique to cannabis, so let’s see what other plants may look similar to cannabis.
1. Castor Oil Plant
The castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) is also named castor bean, the palm of Christ, or wonder tree. Castor oil plants originate from Eastern Africa and the Mediterranean region but are commonly planted as ornamental plants outside these regions in tropical and subtropical areas.
Despite castor oil being a crop plant for producing castor oil, it is often viewed as decorative in gardens. The leaves vary from dark green to varieties with red-tinged leaves or red foliage. As with cannabis, the castor oil plant’s leaves are classified as palmate and may have between five and twelve lobes per leaf.
Castor oil plants grow as shrubs of about ten feet tall but can grow to the size of small perennial trees in tropical regions, growing as tall as thirty feet. Like cannabis, the castor flower has no petals. The fruit capsules of the castor plant are spine-covered pods that burst open to release mottled seeds. These seeds contain a high oil content but also the toxin ricin.
2. Scarlet Rose Mallow
Scarlet rose mallow (Hibiscus coccineus) has monikers like Texas star, swamp hibiscus, and wild red mallow. Scarlet rose mallow is a member of the Malvaceae plant family and is native to the Southern United States.
Scarlet rose mallows grow three to six feet tall and produce gorgeous five-petaled scarlet-colored flowers in summer and early fall. The scarlet rose is a boon to the garden as its large, showy flowers attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.
When not in bloom, the scarlet rose mallow is equally attractive, with bright green palmate leaves and three to seven-lobed leaves. The leaves of this perennial plant are bright green but often have red edges or outlines on the leaves. The leaves bear a striking resemblance to cannabis leaves and measure five to six inches across.
3. Laceleaf Japanese Maple
Laceleaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum Dissectum’) is a variety of Japanese maple and may also go by the name of palmate maple. Laceleaf maples are native to parts of Asia and Southern Russia.
Laceleaf maple is a slow-growing shrub that grows up to eight feet tall and loses its leaves in winter. The leaves strongly resemble cannabis leaves with a palmate leaf shape that divides into five, seven, or nine lobes.
As with strains of cannabis like purple Kush, the laceleaf maple leaves start as purple-colored in summer. Unlike cannabis, laceleaf maple leaves change color throughout the year. The pointed palmate leaves of this variety change from purple to green and bronze and eventually red or orange in fall.
4. Roselle Hibiscus
Roselle hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is also known as the lemon bush, roselle hemp, or Florida cranberry. Roselle hibiscus is native to Africa and India. It is very popular in Asia and the West Indies and has become naturalized in many countries.
Roselle hibiscus has a perennial growth habit in more tropical climates but is an annual shrub in regions with cool winters. The name roselle hemp could be due to the plant being used to produce bast fiber or because of the three to five-lobed palmate leaves. The fiber from roselle hibiscus is used as a substitute for jute fiber.
Roselle grows to about eight feet and produces hundreds of pale-yellow flowers that give way to a fleshy red calyx surrounding the seed pod. Tart-tasting teas and infusions high in vitamin C are made with roselle calyxes. They are also used to make jams, preserves, and chutneys. Le leaves are used as a spicy-flavored leafy green vegetable.
Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus) has common names like Bombay hemp, Java Jute, and Guinea hemp. Kenaf is native to Africa and has an annual or biennial growth pattern. Kenaf plants grow up to nine feet tall, and the tall upright growth pattern resembles hemp.
As with hemp and cannabis plants, kenaf has a palmate leaf structure with three to five lobes. The kenaf plant is most useful for producing fiber similar to jute, pulp to produce paper, and oil made from their seeds.
Kenaf was used in Egypt as far back as three thousand years ago, where it was also used as a food source for humans and to produce animal fodder. The Egyptians also used it to produce rope and to weave sails for their boats. Today kenaf is being used in the automotive industry to produce more sustainable materials on certain models of Ford and BMW vehicles.
The coralbush plant (Jatropha multifida), also called Guatemala rhubarb, butterfly tree, or coral shrub, is a member of the Euphorbiaceae plant family and is native to the Caribbean and Mexico. Today Coralbush has spread to most tropical and subtropical climates as an ornamental garden plant.
Coralbush leaves can be mistaken for a weed plant due to the large pinnate leaves with between nine and twelve lobes. A weed leaf can have up to eleven lobes, contrary to most believing it has a five-lobed leaf. A coral bush can grow six to twelve feet tall and spread up to six feet wide.
Unlike cannabis plants, the coralbush has coral-red flowers and can bloom most of the year in tropical climates. Coralbush is toxic to humans, but the blooms provide a great food source for butterflies.
Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is known as manioc and yucca and is native to South America. Cassava leaves and roots are important food sources in many tropical regions, including parts of Africa and India. Cassava is a perennial shrub that grows to roughly ten feet tall.
The palmate leaves of the cassava plant look like large cannabis leave. As well as, the roots are toxic if eaten raw due to the high levels of cyanide. The cooking process breaks down the cyanide and renders cassava leaves edible. Cassava greens are similar to spinach.
Cassava roots are long and fleshy and are processed into flour, tapioca, or porridge (oatmeal). The cassava root starch is gluten-free and contains calcium and phosphorus minerals. Cassava greens contain various forms of vitamin B and are a good source of vitamin C.