Five plants that look like Marijuana: a helpful visual guide for law enforcement and the curious
Back when I lived in Tennessee, I attempted to grow cassava plants indoors over the winter with the help of some grow lights. They were sitting on a nice window seat by one of the front windows of my house. I kept the curtains drawn to help keep in some of the heat.
One night after setting them up I went for a walk and looked at my house from the road.
I suddenly noticed the window: the grow light behind the cassava silhouetted the leaves against the curtain and I was shocked. It totally looked like I was growing pot.
I went inside and rapidly moved them to another location. The last thing I wanted was for my neighbors or the local police to think I was doing something illegal!
Seriously - it was a hilariously incriminating tableau, if harmless. Cassava don't look much like marijuana up close, but they do have a similar leaf shape. With a light shining through them and out into the dark front yard, it looked like Cheech and Chong's house.
Here's my take on the laws regarding marijuana and how I treat them.
Romans 13:1-7 reads:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
As much as we may not like the rules sometimes, those of us who hold the Bible as true will submit to it - and to those in authority, providing they're not commanding us to do evil.
I've always avoided breaking the law. Heck, I rarely even exceed the speed limit, let alone grow drugs. I'm also not a fan of the drug culture and all the evil that attends it. I grew up in the church and saw a lot of folks with broken lives who left behind all manner of substance abuse... or fell back into it later on in their lives.
That said, there are plenty of plants - like cassava - that can sometimes be confused with marijuana by folks that aren't that good at taxonomy. I thought it might be helpful for me to do a post containing some of the various plants that grow in Florida that you might see in landscapes, food forests and butterfly gardens which have a cursory resemblance to Cannabis sativa.
Here's what Marijuana looks like:
|Photo from Wikimedia commons.|
Actually, the only time I've ever seen marijuana growing was when we rented a house down in South Florida. Apparently someone had dropped seeds in the side yard because there was a sickly little plant there. The landlord pointed it out to us when we were inspecting the house for the first time, laughed, cracked a joke, then removed it.
So... let's take a look at the look-alikes
Plants With Leaves That Look Like Pot
1. Coral Plant
Latin name: Jatropha mutifida
This attractive flowering plant in the spurge family has leaves that look like marijuana; however, the milky latex, bright blooms and fleshy stems rapidly rule it out. Before flowering it could perhaps be mistaken for pot; afterwards, there's no way.
2. Cranberry Hibiscus
This tasty-leafed member of the hibiscus family is often planted as an ornamental in Florida. It's a perennial shrub with pink blooms that have burgundy throats.
If you were colorblind you might get worried about this one; otherwise, the red leaves should convince you that your potential criminal is just a plant enthusiast, not a drug dealer.
If the suspect has a tattoo of Bob Marley beneath a glowing mushroom, however, all bets are off.
3. Rose Mallow/Scarlet Hibiscus
Latin Name: Hibiscus coccineus
I have a police officer friend who informed me that this particular native Florida plant has gotten more than one officer a bit... excited... over someone's garden.
The leaves on it do indeed resemble marijuana. When it's not blooming, I can see how it could be confused with Cannabis, though my police officer friend told me that marijuana plants have a particular smell that stands out when the leaves are crushed. Hibiscus don't really smell like anything.
Latin name: Manihot escuelenta
I don't really think cassava looks like marijuana, though people do joke about it when they visit my place. Cassava is a tropical root crop with tall stems that just look... well... tropical! The only real resemblance it has to marijuana is the palmate leaves. The giveaway, other than the growth habit, is the fact that marijuana leaves have toothed edges and cassava does not.
Latin name: Hibiscus cannabinus
Now this plant looks like marijuana before it blooms.
I once got some kenaf seeds from the USDA and planted them in my garden. I was hoping they'd be a good source of fast-growing biomass for my food forest chop-and-drop; however, when they came up they really, really, really looked like pot. As they grew, they just got worse.
I was starting to worry that I'd get raided or that a Predator drone would come firebomb my garden so I pulled them up and threw them in the compost pile. The police have mistaken these plants before - and not had to pay for the damage they caused with their mistaken raid - so I figure they're just too close-looking to be worth growing. I like my peace and quiet - they can go after that guy with the tattoo instead.
To tell kenaf apart from marijuana is easy when the plant blooms. Otherwise, you'll need to smell it or do a lab test for THC. It's too bad it looks like something illegal, since kenaf is a great biomass crop.
Can you think of a plant I missed? Let me know in the comments.
(If you're in law enforcement, I'd particularly love to hear your stories and any more ways to identify marijuana and its lookalikes - thanks for stopping by.)