How to Grow Marijuana: a Beginner’s Guide to Cannabis Cultivation – Anatomy and Gender

Male and female cannabis plants share common basic anatomy of roots, stems, and leaves. Both plant sexes produce trichomes, the glandular appendages on the surface of the flower that produce and hold the plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes, however, the female plant produces far more trichomes than the male plant. Beyond these basics, cannabis anatomy varies significantly between male and female plants.

Over the course of our shared history with cannabis, authors, scientists, growers, and industry insiders have used competing terms to describe the same reproductive plant anatomy. Due to an extensive period of prohibition, botanical terms have been frequently misused or replaced entirely. What’s more, popular colloquial terms have become interchangeable despite having different meanings.

So, let’s alleviate some of the confusion and map out the anatomy of both plant sexes by first identifying botanical terms, then clearing up some of the common colloquialisms we’ve inherited.  

The Male Plant and its Anatomy

The male cannabis plant is staminate, meaning it has stamen or pollen-producing reproductive organs. Male plants are sometimes cultivated for fiber and are more commonly used for breeding new varieties of intoxicating cannabis. During their flowering phase, male cannabis plants release pollen, which will prompt a female plant to start producing seeds. This practice diverts energy from flower production and reduces the overall yield. To maximize your flower yield and prevent seed production, keep male and female plants separated.

The male cannabis plant is capable of producing cannabinoids, but its trichomes are sparsely dispersed across its surface. Males do not produce nearly as many trichomes as females.

The reproductive anatomy of the male plant includes:

  • Stamen: The organ of the male plant that produces pollen and releases it into the wind, where it may be carried to the stigma of a female plant for pollination.
  • Anther: The sacks that produce and hold pollen within the stamen. Anthers hang by a small filament. Together, the anther and the filament make up a stamen.
  • Pollen: Microscopic grains produced and contained in the anther that fertilize the female plant when released.

The Female Plant and its Anatomy

The female cannabis plant is pistillate, meaning it has pistils and stigmas. You may have heard female cannabis plants referred to as “sinsemilla,” translated from Spanish as “without seeds.” Sensimilla refers to all non-pollinated female plants. Sensimilla plants are ideal for marijuana growers because they offer the highest potential yield of cannabinoids. Pollinated female flowers, or female flowers with seeds, produce a less desirable product than flowers from seedless marijuana.

The reproductive anatomy of the female plant includes:

  • Colas: The flowers produced by the female plant. Colas are covered with cannabinoid- and terpene-rich trichomes and are commonly called buds or nugs. A cannabis bud is not to be confused with the botanical definition of the word bud: a newly emerging plant.
  • Bracts: Small, scale-like leaf structures that encapsulate and protect the seeds. Bracts are often referred to as calyxes, though this term is botanically incorrect. The female cannabis plant does, however, have calyx cells within the delicate layer of tissue between the seed and the bracts that encapsulate it.
  • Stigmas: The reproductive parts of the cannabis plant, which catch pollen from the male plant. Stigmas are commonly and incorrectly referred to as pistils. Two stigmas protrude from one pistil.
  • Pistil: The reproductive parts of the female cannabis flower that are activated if pollen is captured by the stigmas.
  • Sugar leaves: The small leaves that hold cannabis buds together. They are called sugar leaves due to the high concentration of trichomes that have a sugar-like appearance.

The Hermaphrodite Plant and its Anatomy

A hermaphrodite is a rare monecious plant, meaning it develops both male and female sex organs. The term monecious stems from the root “mono,” meaning “one.” While there are multiple reasons that a plant may exhibit both signs, hermaphrodites are primarily formed if a female plant is exposed to extreme conditions during key stages of growth, such as insufficient light or harsh environmental conditions. Signs of a hermaphrodite typically show late into flowering.   

In a final attempt to continue their seed line, a sinsemilla crop will occasionally produce a few hermaphrodites. While the pollen of these hermaphrodites is frequently unviable, marijuana growers should remove hermaphrodites when they occur to eliminate the risk of pollination. Hermaphrodites will also produce a lower overall flower yield as the plant is forced to divert energy into the production of seeds that would have otherwise been used for the production of trichome-rich flowers.    

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