Botany expert: Hibiscus and marijuana leaves are similar but flowers are not |
Valley News Dispatch

Botany expert: Hibiscus and marijuana leaves are similar but flowers are not

Getty Images
Marijuana plants
Getty Images
Marijuana plants
Dane Larsen | Flickr
Hibiscus leaves
Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
File photo of hibiscus blooming last summer in a Pittsburgh garden.

Judging by the leaves alone, confusing hibiscus for marijuana would be an easy mistake for someone to make.

That’s according to Bonnie Isaac, manager of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Botany Collection, who said the leaf structure of the two plants is very similar.

The question about the differences and similarities between hibiscus and marijuana plants became particularly important to a Buffalo Township couple in October, when police mistook the flowering hibiscus in their yard for marijuana.

Edward and Audrey Cramer, both in their late 60s, were placed under arrest Oct. 7 after police were notified by an Nationwide insurance agent of a suspected marijuana grow operation on their property.

The Cramers were later released without being charged, as police found no marijuana on their property.

As a result of their encounter with police, the Cramers have filed a civil suit in Butler County Court against Buffalo Township and three of its police officers, as well as Nationwide Insurance and one of its agents.

That insurance agent, identified in a civil suit filed by the Cramers as Jonathan Yeamans, allegedly took pictures of the Cramers’ hibiscus plants so “as not to reveal that they had flowers on them so that they would appear to resemble marijuana plants,” according to the suit.

Isaac said that with the flowers in bloom, there would be no way for a reasonable person to mistake hibiscus for marijuana.

“The hibiscus flowers are large, and brightly colored, compared to the small nothings that grown on marijuana plants,” she said.

Still, Isaac said a quick glance at just the leaves could lead to a mistake.

“The leaves are really similar; with a quick glance it would be hard to tell them apart,” she said.

Sgt. Scott Hess, who the suit alleges is a self-proclaimed marijuana expert, at first told Audrey Cramer that her husband had been lying to her about the hibiscus, and that it was marijuana.

The plants in question were confiscated from the Cramers and labeled as “tall, green, leafy, suspected marijuana plants,” but not until after, the suit says, Hess had admitted that the plants probably were not marijuana.

Buffalo Township Solicitor Larry Lutz said that neither he nor any member of the townships government could comment on the case ahead of pending litigation.

David Gilligan, a spokesman for Nationwide, said in an email, “We can’t respond to the situation because it is now in litigation. We would refer you to local law enforcement regarding its response to the situation.”

According to Cpl. Adam Reed, a state police spokesman, some police officers are trained as drug recognition experts, but that training centers on being able to tell when suspects are under the influence of drugs, not the identification of drugs “on the front end.”

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675, [email protected], via Twitter @matthew_medsger.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.