It is common for people to confuse hemp with cannabis plants that produce drug marijuana and hashish. Similar to hashish and marijuana, hemp also contains Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the compound behind the psychoactive effects associated with marijuana. However, the level of the compound in hemp is low.

It is an annual, aromatic, and stout plant that produces fiber and edible seeds.  The stalks, which resemble a cane, are slender and hollow apart from the base and tip. The hemp plant has compound leaves, small and green to yellow flowers. The flowers that produce the seeds grow in a stretched spike-like cluster on the female plants. The male plants have multi-branched clusters of pollen-producing flowers.

Hemp Plant Description 

The plant grows in 110 days with the provision of 10-12 inches of rainfall in the entire growing season. It has a taproot whose ability to penetrate deep soil profiles depend on the soil moisture.  In lands with a hardpan, the taproot fails to extend and leads to lateral and fibrous roots. The plant does well in the presence of sunlight and warmth; otherwise, there will be reduced biomass and seed production.

You will notice its opposite leaf arrangement on the lower leaf pairs. The first correct leaf pair usually has one leaflet though it depends on the variety and growth conditions. The number continues to increase progressively to between 7-9 leaflets and may even go to thirteen per leaf.

Plant Fiber Structure

Bast fibers surround the stalks of the plant that resemble a tree’s bark—the core part of the stem consists of hurd. The hurd has high cellulose content with an absorbent capacity greater than wood shavings.

Growth Stages and Flowering

Hemp has a male and a female plant. There are pure female heads in the dioecious plant and up to 50% male heads.

When flowering begins, the primordium of male inflorescence dangles from long loose clusters with multiple branches. You can identify the female primordium through the enlargement of the floral sheath. Female inflorescence is in a more tight group and has two long stigmas that protrude from every bract. Hemp seeds form in the bracts.

The inflorescence in female plants has a raceme arrangement. Seed development and maturation continue for a prolonged period. You will find immature and ripe seeds when the plant is ready for harvest. Hemp plant is ready for harvest when about half of the seed is visible in each bract.

Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana Plants

Hemp and marijuana plants share many similarities like any other plants of the same species. Many people tend to confuse a lot between the two. Therefore, how do you differentiate them? Below are four differences between hemp and marijuana

1. Composition

The two plants differ in their chemical composition. Both produce high levels of Cannabidiol (CBD). However, there is a difference in the amount of THC. Hemp contains less than 0.3% THC, while marijuana can have up to 30%.

2. Usage

People utilize marijuana for recreation and numerous therapeutic applications. In addition to the therapeutic benefits of the hemp plant, people use it to produce paper, construction materials, clothing, and food products such as flour and cooking oil.

3. Legality

THC is a psychoactive compound and thus subject to regulations. Since the two plants have different concentrations of the compounds, the laws regulating them differ. Marijuana is federally illegal, while hemp is legal.

4. Cultivation

The two plants thrive in different climatic conditions. Besides, people grow them for various purposes. Marijuana requires precise care and attention at each growth stage, and the environmental conditions have to be exact. Sometimes, marijuana will require controlled conditions to enhance breed traits. In hemp cultivation, the objective is to optimize the size and yield. Therefore, its common to find hemp plant grown outdoors without the need for precise control and attention.

It is difficult to differentiate the sex of the hemp plant before it flowers unless through general tendencies in growth habit. The female plants tend to be short and branch more than male plants in a less crowded growth environment. The male plants are easy to break as they have less fiber in the vegetative phase.