The difference between male and female cannabis plants
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Cannabis plants are primarily male or female, although hermaphrodite plants are a possibility. Cannabis is known as a dioecious plant, meaning both male and female plants produce flowers.
Each sex has different characteristics which enable growers to tell them apart. It is important to know exactly how to identify each gender depending on the desired outcome of the grow, whether that be large resinous buds or seeds and breeding potential.
Marijuana plants begin to reflect signs of their specific sex within the first two weeks of the flowering period. Plants begin to reach their sexual maturity at around six to eight weeks after germination has occurred. At this point signals to which sex they are will become visible around branch internodes.
Typically pure indica and sativa strains will begin to flower when night periods start to become longer, or the photoperiod is shortened. If a plant contains autoflowering genes, time will be the determining factor instead of light.
DISTINGUISHING FEMALE CANNABIS PLANTS
Female weed plants are the absolute preference to most growers who want big juicy buds to smoke, make medicine with or sell. This is because female flowers are coated in a thick layer of cannabinoid rich resin which determines its recreational and medicinal potential. This resin is produced by mushroom shaped glands on the plant called trichomes, effectively minute cannabinoid factories.
As well as having an obviously profound use among humans, this resinous substance is extremely important for the reproduction and evolution of the cannabis plant. It enables female plants to seize male pollen which results in the fertilisation of the plant. After fertilisation has taken place, the female plant will go into seed, ensuring the survival of the species and providing growers with breeding and cultivation potential.
However one important reason to detect the sex of plants early on is to single out the males and remove them from the growing space. This action will be taken by growers looking to optimise the quality and quantity of yields. If the female plants are kept away from the pollen produced by their male counterparts, they will start to produce far more valuable resin in a desperate attempt to capture pollen and become fertilised. If no pollen is to be found, the end result will be flowers covered in a dense layers of trichomes. This is due to the available resources being harnessed for resin production, instead of seed production.
A grower interviewed in the documentary Botany of Desire, based on the book of author Michael Pollan, described this scenario perfectly: "In essence, what you're seeing is extreme sexual frustration. This is a room full of women who are looking for some guy to come by and give them some pollen so they can create seeds. And they try harder and harder as time passes, and the more unsuccessful they are, the more production of the resins that are intended to attract pollen increases, and that increases the psychoactive elements of the plant."
These potent, unfertilised female flowers have been given the name sinsemilla, which is Spanish for "without seed". Sinsemilla is also defined as a "cannabis variety which has a particularly high concentration of narcotic agents". Meaning it will get you really, really high.
One definite way to detect if a plant is female will be the appearance of its sex organs, named pistils. These tiny white or orange hairs are the sex organs of female plants. Pistils will start to emerge at internodes, sections where branches intersect with main stem, at around 1.5 weeks into the flowering stage. Female flowers produce small tear-like calyxes with two pistils at this stage which will eventually grow and form together into what are commonly referred to as buds.
DISTINGUISHING MALE CANNABIS PLANTS
Mature male cannabis plants aren’t too difficult to tell apart from their female kin. During the seedling and vegetative phases of the growing cycle, however, it’s practically impossible to tell whether you are dealing with a male or female plant. At these early stages, plants are simply pumping out fan leaves to photosynthesize as much as possible in order to gain significant size and girth.
Male plants will begin to make themselves apparent during the initial period of the flowering phase. Some varieties will display what are called “preflowers” during this stage—mini versions of the mature structures that will occur later down the line.
Males will produce small, ball-like preflowers as opposed to the thread-like pistils produced by the ladies. If your plants aren’t showing any preflowers then you’ll have to wait another couple of weeks after the photoperiod has changed, keeping a close eye on any developments. These differences become much more obvious later on, to the point where it is pretty much impossible not to tell them apart.
One of the first signs you’ll notice is that the male plants in your crop have significantly thicker stalks than the females, and that these girthier structures possess fewer fan leaves than female specimens. This increased diameter serves the evolutionary purpose of supporting the taller heights of male plants.
Once the flowering phase has begun, you’ll want to constantly observe the nodes of your plants—the point at which the branches fuse with the main stem. This is the site where the reproductive organs of each sex emerge. In the case of males, you’ll notice clusters of small balls occur around 2 weeks after flowering has begun. These structures are in fact pollen sacs that produce and hold this reproductive material until the plant has reached a certain level of maturity.
WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH MALE PLANTS?
Male plants do contain low levels of cannabinoids and also produce the aromatic molecules known as terpenes, which are responsible for the signature smell of the cannabis plant. However, most growers are entirely opposed to the male plants that appear in their cultivation rooms, and take immediate action to banish them from the domain. This is because once this pollen touches a female flower, they will pretty much immediately stop developing resin, lose their sinsemilla status, and start producing seeds. Most growers start with feminized seeds for this reason, as these are guaranteed to produce almost exclusively female plants.
So, if you notice that a male plant has made its way into the grow space, what should you do next?
1. CRAFT EXTRACTS AND EDIBLES
Many growers elect to destroy male plants upon first sighting. This is perfectly justifiable as it eliminates the risk of females being pollinated and the yield compromised. However, it does seem like a shame to destroy a plant that you've invested time and energy into rearing up to this point. There are other ways to utilize male plants and make the most out of the specimen you’ve supported.
As mentioned, cannabinoids and terpenes are not exclusive to the female sex. Male plants also produce these valuable molecules, just in lower numbers. Cannabinoid-containing resin can be found around the pollen sacks and on the leaves of male plants, and this can be used to craft extracts and edibles. The kief can also be processed in a pollen press to create small psychoactive discs of joy.
2. MAKE YOUR OWN STRAIN
Males are essential in the breeding process, both to continue the lineage of a particular strain and to create novel ones. If you happen to come across a male strain you’re really fond of, it’s the perfect excuse to start a new side project. By placing this specimen into a separate grow space with a female variety, you can create your own strain that meets your personal preferences.
3. USE AS FRESH LEAFY GREENS
Wherever there are cannabinoids, there are/were cannabinoid acids. The raw leaves and sacs of male plants contain low levels of THCA, the acid form of THC that is present before the plant material is exposed to heat. Early research suggests that this cannabinoid may have an array of health benefits including anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. So why not throw them into salads or include them in freshly made juices?
IS IT POSSIBLE TO TELL THE SEX OF CANNABIS SEEDS?
All of this information on cannabis sexing is great, but imagine how easy it would be if you could identify the sex of a plant when it was merely a seed? Sure, this would save a lot of time and effort, but is it possible?
If you want to avoid male seeds completely, the best chance you have is to buy feminized seeds. Standard cannabis seeds are a massive roll of the dice, and chances are you’ll end up with several males. By investing in feminized seeds, you’re gifting yourself with rearing only females.