Hemp plant

Hemp is amazingly tough and useful.

As we drove along a rural road recently we spotted a healthy patch of wild marijuana.

Most Iowans call it ditch weed.  For an” illegal” plant it’s amazingly common across much of the United States and loves living in poor soil out in the hot summer sun.

The plant is technically called Cannabis sativa and comes in two forms that look identical. One is usually called marijuana and contains the active ingredient THC that gives it medicinal and psychoactive properties.


Ditch weed, or hemp, is the other form. It lacks much THC but can grow to 12 feet or even taller on sturdy stalks. It has many industrial uses such as strong rope, clothing, recyclable plastics and animal feed.

A thick patch of it even stopped the old truck we had once when it veered off the road with an approaching train. Phew!  Dodged that disaster.

Cannabis was domesticated at least 12,000 years ago in South Central Asia, where it is also a native wild plant. People valued it so highly that they brought it along whenever they migrated to a new place. Uncommon in the United States until the early 1900s it was probably brought to our country by Mexican immigrants.

Cannabis was banned in 1937 by the Federal Marijuana Tax act that remains in force, even though several states have decriminalized it.

A fast-growing annual, cannabis may spring up in nearly anyone’s garden. Birds love the seeds, and patches are excellent habitat for pheasants and other wildlife.

Few plants are as controversial, but society is moving toward legalizing it for its many benefits.  Read in The Gazette Natures’ Notes on some fascinating history of marijuana.



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