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Cannabis Sativa L.

A lesson in botany

Cannabis Sativa was first classified in 1753 by botanist Linnaeus. In 1783 biologist Lamarck classified a second species: Cannabis Indica.

Cannabis Indica bud

Cannabis Indica

Dutch illustration of Cannabis Sativa, 19th century.

Cannabis Sativa L.

Three main types of Cannabis

‘Cannabis’ is the name given to the plant itself. ‘Sativa’ simply means ‘sown’, and is used to indicate the common or cultivated form of a plant. The ‘L.’ refers to Carolus Linneaeus, the Swedish botanist who first gave this common yet celebrated herb its scientific classification in 1753.

Since then, two more main types of cannabis have been identified: Cannabis Indica was classified in 1785 and Cannabis Ruderalis in 1924. Both are sub-species of the Cannabis Sativa family, and the three types are distinguished by the different characteristics and traits they display.

Cannabis or Hemp?

From huge fibre-producing industrial hemp plants to the most potent of medicinal strains, the entire spectrum may be accurately referred to as cannabis, or even hemp (though this is a more archaic usage), as all types are of the same species.

The Cannabaceae Family

Cannabis is part of the Cannabaceae family of flowering plants. These plants are wind-pollinated, and are usually dioecious (producing distinct male and female plants). Hops are in the same family, and more distant relatives include figs, mulberries and the common stinging nettle.

Collection Items

Check out these collection items

Walter Hood Fitch
Histoire Naturelle
Elizabeth Blackwell


This book is the oldest object in the museum’s collection and the oldest known reference to cannabis in a Dutch source. It is the Cruydt-boeck (book of herbs) written in 1608 by the Flemish Professor of Medicine, Rembert Dodoens. The book contains a detailed description of the growth and development of the cannabis plant, and […]

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