What Are The Taxonomic Ranks?

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Q: Hey SSC, I’ve been thinking a lot about plants that are related to cannabis and that got me thinking about plant families in general. I’m long overdue for a refresher. What’s even is taxonomy?

A: This is such an excellent question! Taxonomy as a science is a massive undertaking. If we were to get into the nitty gritty we might be here all day! We know you want it short and sweet so here’s a 500 yard overview.

A plant is defined as a multi-cellular organism that typically produces their own food and has more or less rigid cell walls containing cellulose. There are many different types of plants including vascular plants, mosses, liverworts, and hornworts. All plants belong to the plant kingdom, however, there are also different classification schemes that may include fungi, algae, bacteria, blue-green algae, and certain single-celled eukaryotes (cells with membrane-bound nuclei) that have plant-like qualities in the plant kingdom as well. Cannabis is a plant. It belongs to the plant kingdom because it undergoes the process of photosynthesis and has rigid cell walls containing cellulose. 

The first major differentiation among plants is vascular vs nonvascular. Vascular plants have vascular tissue. Vascular tissue is like a highway system that allows the transport of nutrients throughout the plant. Examples of vascular tissue are xylem and phloem. Xylem transports water and minerals from the roots to the top of the plant, so that photosynthesis can occur. Phloem is a bi-directional highway that transports water and nutrients (by-products of photosynthesis) throughout the plant. Plants with vascular tissue are able to grow tall because of this highway system that transports nutrients. Non- vascular plants, or plants without vascular tissue, cannot grow tall because they do not have this highway transport system. Examples of non-vascular plants are mosses and liverworts.

Vascular plants can be further differentiated into ‘Plants with Seeds’ and ‘Seedless Plants’. This one is fairly self- explanatory. Plants with seeds make seeds for reproduction purposes. Plants without seeds do not make seeds for reproduction purposes. Examples of seedless plants are ferns. Plants with seeds can be differentiated into Angiosperms and Gymnosperms. Angiosperms are flowering plants that enclose their seeds in a fruit or flower. Gymnosperms do not enclose their seeds in fruits or flowers and instead, their seeds are naked or in a cone formation. Examples of gymnosperms are pine trees/ fir trees or evergreens. 

Angiosperms can be differentiated further into Monocots and Dicots. There are many morphological differences between monocots and dicots. However, the main difference is reflected in their names.  The monocot embryo (seed) has one cotyledon or one baby leaf. The dicot embryo has two cotyledons. A good way to identify if a plant is a monocot or a dicot is to look at their leaf venation. Monocot leaves have parallel veins whereas dicot leaves have branched veins.   

Another point of plant differentiation is how/ where plants house their sex organs. Dioecious individuals have male and female sex organs on separate organisms. There is a male plant and a female plant. A hermaphrodite with bisexual flowers have both male and female sex organs on the same plant. And monoecious hermaphrodite organisms have separate male flowers and female flowers but on the same plant. Cannabis is a dioecious organism because it has male and female plants. The male flower is called a staminate flower. And the female flower is called a pistillate flower.  

Monocots also have vascular bundles throughout the stem. Whereas dicots have vascular bundles that exist in a ring around the stems outward edges.

I hope that helps sort out some of the major factors that play into taxonomic classification! Still have questions? Shout em out in the comments!

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