The cannabis plant is comprised of several structures, many of which we can find on any ordinary flowering species. Cannabis grows on long skinny stems that are herbaceous, meaning non-woody tissue, with its large, iconic fan leaves extending out from areas called nodes. Cannabis is typically dioecious, meaning the male and female reproductive organs in separate individual plants, unless the product is very poor and you get a hermaphrodite plant.
Consumers only ever deal with the female cannabis plant, but it is still important to be able to distinguish between the male and female plant.
For growers, identifying the male plants, separating, and killing them before they pollinate the female plants is important.
The desired product for consumers is when cannabis is sinsemilla. Sinsemilla is finer quality, because it had never produced seeds. Plants with seeds have “hermed” or become a hermaphroditic plant, meaning they received pollen from a male cannabis plant and redirected energy to seed production instead of THC production. A plant without seeds never undergoes that THC loss, meaning the final crop is typically more potent.
Growers who do use male plants usually do so when they want to pollinate females to produce new and unique strains. Growers who work from clones taken from female “mothers” ensure the sex of their plants by growing genetically identical clippings from a parent strain and avoid unwelcome pollen appearing in their gardens. Feminized seeds are also made available through a special breeding process.
Cola, also known as the terminal bud or apical bud, refers to the plant’s “bud site” where tight female flowers bloom. The main cola is the mass of clustered flowers at the top of the cannabis plant, these will typically be the biggest, most potent collection of flowering buds available on the plant. Smaller colas occur along the budding sites throughout the rest of the plant. The number and size of cannabis colas can be increased through a variety of growing techniques like topping, low stress training (LST), and screen of green (ScrOG).
These tear-shaped nodules are the calyxes, they come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. The calyx is the first part of a flower that forms when a young plant enters its flowering stage, and just like in others flowers, this is a portion of the flower that encloses and protects the ovule and pistils. The calyx is what holds all of the parts of the bud together. Calyxes typically contain the highest concentrations of trichomes, the resin glands that provide cannabinoids, including psychoactive THC, so this is the area of the plant that is harvested and sold as cannabis bud.
The pistils are the best tool a grower to spot the difference between the male and the female plants. Pistils are the pollen-catching “hairs” that poke out from the inside of each calyx. They first appear as white and then turn to orange, red, and eventually brown. Although bright orange pistils are usually associated with better quality cannabis, they actually have very few trichomes, offering the plant no aroma (terpenes) or potency (THC) or taste.
Trichomes are the tiny resin glands on the flower’s leaves and calyces. With the naked eye, they simply look like crystals; under a macroscopic lens, they can look like crystallized mushrooms. These clear round globes ooze aromatic oils called terpenes as well as therapeutic cannabinoids like THC and CBD. Trichomes and the medically rich resin they produce are used to create a variety of cannabis extractions and concentrates, including kief (loose powder trichomes), hash (old-school pressed trichomes or ice water extraction via “bubble bags”), BHO (Butane Hash Oil), and modern interpretations on the theme like wax, shatter, and glass used in dabbing.
The fan leaf of a cannabis plant is without a doubt that most recognizable trait. Fan leaves are the large, protruding leaves that appear along the length of the stem and photosynthesizes energy for the rest of the plant. While most commonly consisting of five individual leaves, fan leaves may sometimes have seven or even nine leaves (more common in sativa strains). Fan leaves are used for cannabis extracts, edibles, and infused products, but are also by those who juice them as part of a health regime or disease therapy.
The sugar leaf is a smaller leaf that grows within the flower and it is usually covered in trichomes because of its location. Sugar leaves are usually sheared when flowers are harvested, but because of their trichome-coating they are an excellent ingredient when making cannabis edibles.
The stalk is the central stem of a plant. Stems provide structural support in every flower, while also storing and transporting nutrients for them. The stems in a cannabis plant aren’t recognized for containing high levels THC, like the flower of this plant, but they can be repurposed for their fiber. The stalk also has many nodes, where a leaf branches off, throughout the plant.
The cannabis seed is hidden within the calyx of a pollinated female plant. Once the seeds are mature, the female plant begins to die, and seed drop to the ground where they can germinate and grow into new cannabis plants the next spring. Seeds carry the genetic information from two parent plants that can be expressed in numerous different combinations, some like the mother, some like the father, and many presenting various traits from both. In addition to planting a seed to grow a new cannabis plant, oil can also be extracted. In a sativa plant, this will generate THC cannabis oil, while an indica is more commonly referred to as hemp oil, which has high CBD and low THC content.