Plants That Look Like Cannabis

Cannabis is one of those plants that pretty much everyone over the age of 13 (for better or worse) can recognize. You can probably picture a cartoon version of this leafy, stalky, controversial plant in your mind if you try. Also called Marijuana, Hemp and weed or pot, Cannabis is versatile and common around the world for its innumerable useful properties. When I was living in West Philadelphia, police often raided houses after seeing some growing in a front yard. It was clear to everyone that this rogue sprout must have fallen from someone’s dime bag while waiting for the bus, or something similarly innocent. The cops never found anything in my neighbor’s houses, and it was almost silly to think that someone would intentionally grow outside their front stoop in the city. 

The thing about this plant and almost all of its look-alikes is that they all grow like– well, a weed. Recently, I thought to myself, what if we planted non-Cannabis imposters all over the city, effectively normalizing its presence? Would these dope doppelgangers reduce the number of house raids on my neighbors? Would Cannabis copycats enrich the soil as Marijuana does? First, I needed to know what these plants were and if this plan even made any sense. It turns out, there are a handful of North American native Hemp look-alikes. One of my favorites is Cranberry Hibiscus. The rich purple color on these leaves looks a little more like a Japanese Maple than a Cannabis plant, though the leaf shape is a dead ringer for the five-fingered serrated edge green leaves we all know and love. The Cranberry Hibiscus grows in full sun as well as lightly shady areas and can bloom in the late fall and early winter in the U.S.  

So Many Plants that Look Like Cannabis

Misra, Rajesh et al. “Abelmoschus angulosus var. mahendragiriensis (Malvaceae): a new taxonomic variety of wild okra from Eastern Ghats of India.” Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 65 (2017): 993-1002.

Many people think that Wild Okra also looks similar to the plant that produces CBD. Their leaves have a similar personality, shape, and size. Okra, like cannabis, is also linked to protection from cancer and is a protocol for patients with some forms of cancer after it is detected in the body. Once you see the green rocket-shaped fruit shooting out of the plant’s center, however, it is clear that you are working with something very different. 

The Texas Star Plant is also in the hibiscus family, so not unlike the Cranberry Hibiscus once it starts flowering it is hard to mistake for a Cannabis plant, however, before it blooms it can be a dead ringer for our green friend. This plant loves to be watered and bask in the sunlight, in order to produce it’s five-pointed star leaves, hence its name. 

The Cleome plant, also known as Spider Flower, is one of the other gems that resemble a Cannabis plant. Cleome leaves look like Cannabis leaves, where it grows native to South Africa. Another similarity with Cannabis is how many uses it has, and subsequently how many endearing nicknames it has, like grandfather’s whiskers and spider legs. Interestingly, it’s genius is the same as the caper family. 

Cannabinoids or Bust!

Okay, so I am probably not going to flower bomb every vacant lot in my neighborhood with hibiscus and maple varieties, but it is nice to know more about all of the wonderful ways that flora are connected. It is also pretty crazy how nature comes up with so many options to express healing options for the earth and everyone in it. Sometimes in the form of medicine, like with Cannabis, or simply by adding to the visual landscape like with the flowers of so many other plants. Police raids aside, I am glad to know I live in such a lush world full of mystery and beauty. I am high on the idea that so many things grow from the ground and effectively participate in making it mysterious and beautiful.