It is imperative that medicinal users, growers, stoners, producers, and advocates of cannabis know the anatomy of the plant. Because, as in everything else, it is important to familiarize ourselves with the basics.
Knowing about the cannabis plant in its full form will also help us understand why there are various cannabis products and various methods of consuming them. It will help us know the particular benefits for each part of the plant and whether it will deliver the desired effect.
Male vs. Female Plants
Cannabis plants are not gender neutral. A plant can either be male or female. It can also be a hermaphrodite, which means it is both male and female.
Those who wish to grow their own plants need to know how to determine the gender difference. While it is easy to spot a male or female plant, cannabis can come with a curveball as there are hermaphrodites.
The male plant produces small pollen sacs that are found near the base of its leaves. The male pollinates the female plants to initiate the production of seeds.
The female cannabis plant produces the large flowers that secrete resin. These flowers are usually trimmed down to pointed or round buds.
The buds we see in dispensaries are the flowers of the female plant. However, these potent flowers we have come to love come from seedless female plants, which are called sinsemilla. Sinsemilla grows large buds rich in cannabinoids in the absence of seeds.
This means that if you are growing cannabis for commercial purposes, male plants are basically useless.
When a plant becomes hermaphrodite
A female plant has the ability to develop the characteristics of a male plant. This means that a female cannabis plant can also switch to the hermaphrodite state in certain circumstances, such as dramatic changes in temperature, physical damage, drought, and other forms of environmental stress. This happens in situations when a female plant is highly stressed about its survival. As a last resort to self-pollinate and to continue to produce seeds, it becomes both genders.
There are also other environmental factors that can bring stress to a plant and cause it to become a hermaphrodite. These include insects or disease. The use of certain fungicides and pesticides can also cause sex conversion.
Many growers also consider a plant’s tendency to become a hermaphrodite as a sign of its inferiority. A good mother plant does not show signs of hermaphroditism even when it is subjected to a highly stressful condition. Because while all plants can turn, superior genetics will enable them to resist the urge.
Hermaphrodites are dreaded by breeders. These plants, as well as the male ones, are removed from the females as they could accidentally pollinate the buds. If a pollen sac from a male or a hermaphrodite plant comes in contact with the buds of the female plants, these buds will stop developing and will instead produce more seeds and flowers.
How to tell gender from seeds
All seeds look the same, especially to the untrained eyes. That is why when you decide to grow an all-female crop, you need to buy from a reputable dealer or seed bank.
It is also impossible to tell the gender when the plants are still seedlings or are in the early stages of growing.
When does a plant show its gender?
The first sign of a cannabis plant’s gender shows at the V-shape on the area where the stem meets the stalk. The plant will develop pre-flowers or little green shoots when they are in the growing or vegetative stage.
Female cannabis plants take a little longer than male plants to show signs of their gender after flowering. Females will start to form a few wispy white hairs where their buds will soon develop between the stem and stalk. Female pistils are always white.
Male plants develop grape-sized balls or sacs of pollen, which will start to show up a week or two after the plants enter the flowering stage. The plants will also produce a growth that is distinctly yellow and looks like bananas. The pollen sacs will eventually burst open and the spill can contaminate the female plants.
Male and female flower. Image source.
Anatomy of the cannabis plant
The cannabis plant has several structures, most of which are also present in any ordinary flowering plant species. However, cannabis plants stand out in their flowers, where intricate and unique formations take place.
The roots are found beneath the surface of the growing plant. They anchor and draw nutrients into the plant. The cannabis plant’s root zone consists of a single tap root, which will develop numerous secondary roots that will form into one fibrous mass.
Roots are part of the plant’s vascular system. Internally, the xylem pumps water and nutrients from the roots to other parts.
Main stem and branches
The plant’s main stem emerges from the root. It supports the plant as it grows vertically. The stem is the primary vascular highway and carries water and minerals from the roots to the rest of the plant. The stem is also integrated with the phloem.
From the main stem, secondary growth emerges through the leaf node. Branching takes place in pairs from the leaf node on either side of the main stem. The distance between the sets of branches is called internode spacing.
Indica strains have shorter internode spacing than sativa varieties.
The plant’s fan leaves also adhere to the rule of symmetry. They grow in pairs from the main stem and the branches.
The leaves act as the plant’s solar panels, soaking up all available light. Internally, the phloem transports the energy from the sun to the rest of the plant. Fan leaves are essential to photosynthesis and, therefore, should not be pruned excessively. You can remove shade leaves late in bloom if they block lower bud sites.
Moreover, the leaves will help you distinguish between sativa and indica varieties of the plant.
Sativa. The sativa strains have lean slender fingers that are light green in color.
Indica. The indica strains have wide, dark-colored leaves.
Hybrids. The leaves of hybrids are a combination of both characteristics.
Parts of the female flower
A cola is a cluster of buds that develop tightly together at the flowering top of the female plant. Smaller colas grow along the budding sites of the lower branches. The main cola, which is also called the apical bud, forms at the topmost portion of the female plant.
Pistil and stigma
Pistil. Image source.
The pistil contains a flower’s reproductive parts. The stigmas are the vibrant, hairlike strands of the pistil. Stigmas are responsible for collecting the pollen from the male plants. The stigmas of the pistil start off as a white coloration and progress to darken to yellow, then orange, red, and brown as the plant matures. Stigmas contribute very little to the potency and taste of the bud.
Bract and calyx
A bract is what encapsulates the reproductive parts of a female plant. It appears as a green “leaf” with a teardrop shape and is heavily covered in resin glands that produce the highest concentration of cannabinoids among all other parts of the plant. The bract encloses the calyx, which cannot be seen by the naked eye. The calyx is the translucent layer over the ovule that is found at the base of the flower.
If the pistil gets pollinated, the calyx below becomes the ovary and seed incubator.
Trichomes are the blanket of crystal resin found on the cannabis bud. This resin is secreted through translucent, mushroom-shaped glands on the stems, leaves, and calyxes of the plant. Trichomes, which are called kief when they are dry, were originally formed to protect the cannabis plant against the elements and predators. These clear bulbous globes emit aromatic oils known as terpenes. They also ooze cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Sugar leaves or trim leaves
Trim leaves are also called sugar leaves because of the high volumes of trichomes coating them that resemble sugar. These are small leaves that are found throughout the cannabis colas and they are typically trimmed off the buds after harvest. The sugar leaf trimmings are often used to make concentrates of hash.
Sugar leaf. Image source.
Uses and potency levels of the different parts
The entire cannabis plant contains many cannabinoids, including psychoactive ingredients. These cannabinoids give each cannabis plant its own unique profile of effects and properties. The thing is, different parts contain these cannabinoids in different concentrations.
Flowers or buds. The cannabis plant’s flowers or buds have the highest concentrations of resin, which contain the highest concentration of active compounds. Recreational users use the unpollinated buds of a female flower because they produce large amounts of the potent plan resin. This is in order to try to catch pollen from the male plant.
Trichomes. These sugar-like resins are very potent as they contain plenty of cannabinoids, including CBD and THC.
Leaves. Cannabis leaves are generally not used for recreational purposes. They will also give users a headache rather than a high. However, there are ways to extract the cannabinoids from the leaves. It is also worth noting that different kinds of leaves possess different potency levels.
Large shade leaves. These leaves are the least potent. There are extraction methods, though, that you can use in order to get something useful out them.
Sugar leaves. The sugar coating of trichomes can make the sugar leaves quite potent. In fact, they can be as potent as a low-quality flower.
Grow tips. These clusters of small tender leaves found at the point of the plant where a new growth forms during vegetation are actually more potent than shade leaves. However, they are less potent than sugar leaves.
Stems. The stems are not really useful for psychoactive purposes. However, they are still very valuable for industrial purposes as they are a great source of plant fiber. These are the parts of the plant that are used in making paper, rope, and fabric. The stems also make high-CBD concentrates when ground.
Seeds. Generally, seeds contain only trace amounts of psychoactive compounds. However, they are an amazingly rich source of nutrients and amino acids.
Roots. Roots does not contain a significant amount of psychoactive ingredients. They are also not typically smoked or eaten. Needless to say, their purpose is served when the plant is harvested.