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The Anatomy of a Cannabis Plant

Anatomy of a Cannabis Plant

The green seven-point marijuana leaf is a familiar site on everything from t-shirts to packaging. Over the years, it has stood for everything from counterculture to healing and from spirituality to environmental awareness. However, how much do you really know about the cannabis plant?

Discover the parts and the anatomy of the cannabis plant.

Male vs. female cannabis plants

In order to cultivate cannabis, you need both male and female plants. The pollen of the male plant is needed to fertilize the female plants to develop new strains.

However, cannabis is a dioecious plant, which means only one gender produces flowers. That means that when you smoke cannabis, you are smoking the product of the female plant.

The Parts of the Cannabis Plant: Cannabis Anatomy

Seeds are produced in female plants and carry the genetic information of both males and females. When seeds germinate, they begin to grow a taproot that anchors the plant. Seeds are used to produce new cannabis plants and to develop new strains. New growing methods, including feminized plants and “sinsemilla” (seedless), can eliminate the need for seeds.

Stem. The stem — or stalk — of a cannabis plant grows straight up from the root system, providing stability and distributing nutrients and fluids. Growers sometimes cut off (top) the stem after five nodes or so to force the plant to grow laterally, creating more buds.

Roots. The roots of the cannabis plant grow down from the stalk into the soil, pulling water and oxygen into the plant. When a plant is grown from seed, the main root is known as the taproot. Clones do not have a taproot.

The branches of a cannabis plant extend out of the stem to support its leaves and buds. Growers sometimes top branches to create more sites for buds.

A node is a point where a branch grows off of the main stem or where one branch grows off another branch. Pre-flowers — the beginnings of the plant’s male or female sex organs — appear at the nodes.

Pistil. The pistil contains the reproductive components of a flower. Pistils have one ovule with two protruding stigmas.

Stigma. Stigmas are tiny, thin hairs found on a plant’s pistils. Part of a female plant’s reproductive system, stigmas collect pollen from a male plant.

Flowers. Also called “buds,” the flowers contain trichomes, cannabinoids, and terpenes that we associate with the effects of cannabis. Flowers only grow on female plants.

Cola. Also called a “bud site,” a cola is a cluster of buds on a cannabis plant. Many colas can develop on one plant, but the main cola (the apical bud) is found at the top of the plant.

Leaves. Here is a breakdown of the different leaves on a cannabis plant.
Cotyledon leaves. These are the first leaves to grow after the seed germinates. They typically appear in pairs and are a good sign that the plant is healthy.

  • Fan leaves. These are the large leaves that we see in the iconic marihuana symbol. However, they are not part of the final product.
  • Sugar leaves. The buds form around these tiny leaves. Although they usually are trimmed before harvest, sugar leaves are used in edibles and concentrates.

Bract. A bract surrounds and covers the female’s reproductive parts. Heavily coated in resin glands, the bract produces the highest concentration of cannabinoids of all the other plant parts.

Calyx. The calyx is the translucent layer that covers the ovule at the base of a flower (bud).

Trichomes. Trichomes cover and protect the flower from the weather and pests. They contain the resin that provides the majority of a plant’s flavor and potency. The resin is secreted through translucent glands on the stems, leaves, and calyxes.

Download the Free Anatomy of a Cannabis Plant Poster

How to tell a male from a female cannabis plant?

You can usually determine the gender of a cannabis plant when it is about six weeks old. You need to examine the plant’s nodes, the point where the leaves and branches connect with the main stem.

Male plants produce pollen sacs that first look like tiny balls and then grow into clusters of elongated sacs. On the other hand, a female cannabis plant has pistils. In the early stages, pistils look like thin hairs, but they soon start growing into structured ovules and stigmas.

Hermaphrodite cannabis plants are monecious, meaning they develop both male and female sex organs. Although they are rare, hermaphrodites can form when a cannabis plant is exposed to highly stressful conditions during its fundamental growth stages.

Flowers from hermaphrodites are full of seeds, which makes them unfit for human consumption. To avoid this problem, growers must separate hermaphrodite and male plants from the females.

Knowing the different parts of the cannabis plant is necessary for successful propagation. Propagation is the process of using one plant to create new plants. Cannabis growers make new plants in one of two ways or use both ways.

  • Growing cannabis by seed. To raise a cannabis plant from seed, place the seed in a starting medium like rockwool or peat pellets and keep it moist until the seed sprouts. As the sprout begins to develop roots and leaves, it will start needing more light. When a small root ball has formed, you can transplant the seedling to a larger container (or the ground). Water, feed, and ventilate the plant until it reaches maturity.
  • Growing cannabis by cloning. To clone a cannabis plant, cut a branch away from the stem right at the node. Then, immediately place the cutting into a growing medium. Keep the soil moist. When the cutting develops tiny roots, you can transplant it into a larger container.

Growing cannabis can be a rewarding and lucrative hobby. Knowing more about this unique plant and its anatomy can help you produce a better product.

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