My favorite scientific name of all time is Humulus lupulus. During an intensive native plant course, heavy in memorization, I first heard this name. Out of the 300 some species we were supposed to know by the end of eight weeks, Humulus lupulus was the only plant I never studied. It rolled off the instructor’s tongue with an eloquence that stuck into my memory immediately.
You don’t have to be in Arizona to find this plant in the wild. According to the USDA site, common native hops are found in all but three of the contiguous United States, and occur in all of the southern Canadian provinces. There are three different native varieties making this species so widespread and diverse: lupuloides, pubescens, and neomexicanus. There are also two varieties not native to the United Staes. Of european descent, lupulus occurs in many of the eastern States. The final variety, cordifolia, has not yet surpassed national security, and is still hanging out in Asia. I found a photo of it on a Japanese website, curious to see these heart-shaped leaves. I let google translate the site, giving me a hilarious common name, “hemp leaf snake heart”.
I refrained from mentioning that hops are a member of the Cannabaceae family, and are therefore closely related to Cannabis or hemp. Cuidado! Beware! Caution! Another close relative of hops, Humulus japonicus, is an invasive weed of the eastern half of North America, and should not be bought from a nursery, or planted in your backyard. You will not be able to use it in brewing, or smoke it.
Now that we have a background of hops and it’s close relatives, let’s take a break, and learn more about its use in beer making next time.