Published on: 21/04/2023
What does the marijuana plant look like? Here’s how to recognise a male, a female, and a hermaphrodite plant
One of the biggest problems facing marijuana growers is how to recognise and distinguish male, female, and hermaphrodite plants.
Failure to identify the sex of your plants can result in poor harvests and compromised cultivation.
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Fortunately, there are some simple ways to tell the difference. In this article, we’ll show you how to recognise the key characteristics of male, female, and hermaphrodite plants, and give you some practical tips on how to maximise your yield.
Distinguishing whether a marijuana plant is male, female, or hermaphrodite
Today, there are many varieties of marijuana, but to understand what this plant is like, one must assume that all varieties can be classified into three broad groups: Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis.
- Cannabis Sativa: characterised by a large stature, long branches with wide internodal distances, a very spread root system and has large, thin, 9-fingered leaves
- Cannabis Indica: appears small in stature, compact and massive, with strong stems, a condensed root system and large, 7-fingered leaves
- Cannabis Ruderalis: appears to be wild and is characterised by its conical shape, a reduced size, fewer branches than the Sativa and Indica, while the leaves are small and 5-fingered
In botanical terms, cannabis can be either dioecious, i.e. it has both male and female specimens, or monoecious. Sometimes, however, hermaphrodite specimens can be found, i.e. with both female and male organs.
To recognise and distinguish whether a marijuana plant is male, female, or hermaphrodite, you have to wait for the plants to develop. During the vegetative phase, all marijuana plants appear identical, however, just before flowering, the plants begin to reveal their sex and the most obvious signs appear after the sixth week of life.
In the case of female plants, these are the pistils; in the case of male plants, these are the pollen sacs. Obviously, in the case of hermaphrodite specimens, both pistils and pollen sacs will be present, although there is a particular specimen known as the ‘banana’ hermaphrodite, but we will discuss this later.
The male cannabis plant, unlike the female, has pre-flowers that look like ‘balls’ and are, in essence, pollen sacs. In the late flowering phase, the pollen sacs will begin to form larger and larger clusters, making them easily visible and recognisable.
After their full development, they disperse their contents within 2-3 weeks and are able to pollinate the females. A female marijuana plant that is pollinated stops flower development and begins seed production, so, in order to avoid the risk of compromising cultivation, growers often weed out the male specimens early.
The female cannabis plant has pre-flowers emerging from the nodes.
To identify them, you only need to know that they are characterised by teardrop-shaped calyxes with very thin filaments emerging from the tip, i.e. the pistils, the sexual organs of female cannabis flowers. The pistils are responsible for capturing pollen for fertilisation.
Over the course of a few weeks, these pre-flowers become dense, compact buds, beginning to produce a resin rich in terpenes and cannabinoids. By keeping the male specimens away from the female cannabis, pollination is prevented, and the flowers can continue to develop resin until the end of their life cycle.
This is crucial if, say, someone plans to process and produce CBD oil.
As mentioned earlier, the hermaphroditic cannabis plant has both flowers and pollen sacs.
In practice, the hermaphroditic specimen does not require a male plant to be fertilised, resulting in self-fertilisation and the future appearance of seeds.
As previously mentioned, there are also very special specimens, called banana hermaphrodites because of their physical characteristics. In this case the plants, instead of having the two separate production organs, have stamens exposed inside the flowers. These spread pollen directly onto the tops, ensuring self-fertilisation.
The shape and colour of the stamens are very similar to the banana, which is why these particular specimens have been so named.
But let’s dig deeper: let’s see how to recognise male, female, and hermaphrodite cannabis plants.
Identifying Male Plants
The male plant has fewer leaves and stronger stems. If you compare two specimens of the same variety but of the opposite gender, you will observe that the male generally has thicker stems.
This is because it reaches greater heights and has to support its own weight. It also has fewer leaves than a female plant.
To distinguish the sex, you should check your plants regularly between June and September. If you allow males to pollinate the females, they will reduce the active ingredient potential of the crop. This is because, once fertilised, female plants focus their energy on seed production instead of THC production, resulting in a rather poor harvest.
If you grow marijuana indoors, you have the opportunity to monitor the plants often, so it will not be difficult for you to provide the checks described here. You have to observe the plants every week to ascertain their sex, as even one unidentified male can jeopardise the harvest.
Generally, the specific characteristics of males become apparent between the seventh and tenth week of life (for indoor crops) or three weeks earlier than those of females (for outdoor-grown plants).
The next step is checking the stem joints for male flowers.
You may notice small balls developing directly on the stems at the point where they branch off the main stem; these are the main sign that you are dealing with a male plant. They will become flowers that will release pollen, so the buds must be removed to ensure a good harvest.
If you are trying to reproduce the plants or want to create crosses, then you can leave these flowers undisturbed.
Female plants also produce these buds, but they are covered with a long translucent down. If there are only one or two flowers on the plant, wait for them to develop further before deciding to cut them off.
Be aware that there are hermaphrodite specimens which must be treated as if they were male. Marijuana plants can develop both sex organs; if you notice male buds, you must cut them off as you would normally do with a plant of this sex. Even if they come from a hermaphrodite specimen, they are still able to release pollen and spoil the harvest.
In general, plants that are both male and female are undesirable because they can ruin a small crop if you are not vigilant enough.
Remove or discard male plants, unless you want to obtain seeds. Once you have ascertained that your plant is male, you must get rid of it, otherwise it will compromise your plans.
Do not remove the buds by hand because if you miss any, you risk not getting a satisfactory harvest. Although most growers discard male plants, some prefer to keep them for seed production. If you are also of the latter opinion, then take the male specimens to a separate room and be careful not to transfer pollen onto the female plants by clothing or by hand.
Read also: How to know if my weed is good quality? Here’s everything you need to know
Recognising Female Plants
As we said before, you should let the plants grow for at least six weeks before trying to figure out their sex.
Since both male and female marijuana plants are virtually identical in the first six weeks of life, they will only develop sexual organs later and at this point you will be able to recognise the differences.
You can buy ‘female’ seed packets, which generally guarantee 100% development of female plants; however, a few mistakes are always possible, so you need to monitor your cultivation regularly to make sure that there are no ‘infiltrating’ males.
But there’s more.
An adult female plant has thicker foliage than the male. If you are trying to distinguish mature plants, the easiest characteristic to observe is the amount of foliage. Males have thicker, sturdier stems but fewer leaves; females, of the same variety, are shorter but thicker, with many leaves, especially in the apical zone.
Then, check the areas where the stems are branching for balls of translucent hair. When the plants have grown sufficiently, the females begin to flower.
In areas where the secondary stems branch off from the main one, drop-shaped pods covered in translucent down develop and are called pistils. These formations are embedded in the bifurcation between the stems. Often you can also see buds indicating the development of new branches and leaf clusters.
Finally, male plants have small buds (pollen sacs) without hairs. Some plants may show both pollen sacs and pistils; in this case you are dealing with a hermaphrodite specimen that must be treated as a male.
Therefore, as we said in the previous paragraph, you should separate females from all males, because only females generate buds. Females are also the only ones that can produce enough THC for medicinal use, but will not be able to do so if they are pollinated.
The pistils are structured to attract pollen and, if this happens, the female plant will direct all its energy and nutrients to the development of seeds and not the active-rich buds. Only female plants can guarantee you the harvest you desire, but only if they remain well separated from the male plants.
Hermaphroditism: avoid any kind of stress to female cannabis plant
Female cannabis plants can become hermaphroditic if subjected to any kind of stress. This phenomenon is very risky as it usually occurs once flowering has begun pollinating your flowers, ruining your harvest.
Should this phenomenon occur, the only way to reduce the damage is to manually extirpate all male ‘bell flowers’ before they hatch releasing pollen. Careful inspection of all plant parts will be necessary, as the male cannabis flower often hides near the inflorescence.
What are the most common stresses that can cause the female marijuana plant to become hermaphroditic?
Generally we refer to:
- Photoperiod swings
- Excessive fertilisation
- Low and high temperatures
- Light sources switched on during the hours of darkness
- Incorrect hydration
But that’s not all.
Hermaphroditism can also occur due to poor and inaccurate stability of the genetics themselves. This often happens when seed producers exploit their reproductive specimens in an excessive and prolonged manner.
Furthermore, there is a strange but ingenious phenomenon that occurs in large cultivations with numerous female hemp plant specimens. Under these conditions, some specimens of the large cultivation may become hermaphrodites out of necessity.
How come? 🧐
Realising that there are no male marijuana plant specimens nearby and fearing for the outcome of their reproduction, the females develop hermaphroditism. By this expedient, they ensure the production of pollen that will pollinate themselves producing seeds useful for the continuation of the species.
Many people ask us, what to do with seeds produced from a feminised cannabis plant that becomes hermaphroditic? Seeds produced from hermaphroditic cannabis are always feminised seeds, so they will produce female plants, but with a higher probability of the above phenomenon recurring.
This article provided information on how to distinguish male, female, and hermaphrodite marijuana plants.
To summarise, the plants can be classified into three groups: Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis. The sex of the plants can be identified just before flowering, with female plants having pistils, male plants having pollen sacs, and hermaphrodite plants having both.
Male plants should be removed to prevent pollination of the female plants, which can result in poor harvests. Female plants should be kept away from male plants to prevent pollination and ensure maximum THC production. Finally, hermaphroditism can occur due to stress factors or poor genetics.
💡Takeaways on how to recognise a male marijuana plant
- There are three different varieties of marijuana plants: Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis, each with its own characteristics.
- During the vegetative phase, all marijuana plants appear identical. However, shortly before flowering, the plants begin to reveal their sex and the most obvious signs appear after the sixth week of life.
- Female plants have pistils, male plants have pollen sacks and hermaphrodite plants have both.
- Male plants should be removed to avoid pollination of the female plants, which can compromise the harvest. Female plants should be kept away from male plants to prevent pollination and ensure maximum THC production.
- Hermaphroditism can occur due to stress factors or poor genetics, and must be carefully managed to avoid compromising the harvest.
FAQ on how to recognise a male marijuana plant
What are the key characteristics of male cannabis plants?
Male cannabis plants have pre-flowers that look like ‘balls’ and are pollen sacs. In the late flowering phase, the pollen sacs will begin to form larger and larger clusters, making them easily visible and recognizable. After their full development, they disperse their contents within 2-3 weeks and are able to pollinate the females. A female marijuana plant that is pollinated stops flower development and begins seed production, so, in order to avoid the risk of compromising cultivation, growers often weed out the male specimens early.
What are the key characteristics of female cannabis plants?
Female cannabis plants have pre-flowers emerging from the nodes that are characterized by teardrop-shaped calyxes with very thin filaments emerging from the tip, i.e. the pistils, the sexual organs of female cannabis flowers. The pistils are responsible for capturing pollen for fertilization. Over the course of a few weeks, these pre-flowers become dense, compact buds, beginning to produce a resin rich in terpenes and cannabinoids. By keeping the male specimens away from the female cannabis, pollination is prevented, and the flowers can continue to develop resin until the end of their life cycle.
What are the key characteristics of hermaphroditic cannabis plants?
Hermaphroditic cannabis plants have both female and male organs. In practice, the hermaphroditic specimen does not require a male plant to be fertilized, resulting in self-fertilization and the future appearance of seeds. Some hermaphroditic specimens may have stamens exposed inside the flowers and spread pollen directly onto the tops, ensuring self-fertilization. These specimens are called ‘banana’ hermaphrodites because of their physical characteristics. It is crucial to keep the male and female plants separate to avoid pollination and ensure maximum THC production.