The Difference Between Male and Female Weed Plants
The Difference Between Male and Female Weed Plants
Not many people have had the opportunity to tour a dispensary greenhouse. But you may have seen pictures of rooms of cannabis plants at different stages of development. It is awe-inspiring if you ever have a chance to visit a dispensary grow location.
From the state of the art technology to optimizing light and dark periods for plants to precision moisture and environmental control, growing cannabis plants is complex. Despite the fact that cannabis has been around for millions of years, it has strict growth requirements.
Have you ever wondered why the female marijuana plant is favored? Why can you read so much about different female marijuana plants and strains, and not much is said about male cannabis plants? Or what happens to male plants since they do not create flowers and buds?
In this article, we will “separate the boys from the girls” and answer your questions about the difference between male and female weed plants.
Does Cannabis Grow Naturally in the Wild?
Can you imagine being on a vacation and hiking through a wooded area to stumble upon a patch of wild cannabis? It happens in the movies quite a lot, with a comical result. But are there places in the world where you can still find cannabis growing wild?
There are, although given the legal restrictions about cannabis plants, you are unlikely to find many patches of the plant growing wild. And even if you did, they would not be the same potency as the strains that cultivators have developed over the past hundred years.
Cannabis plants are constantly developed and hybridized to encourage more of the best cannabinoids. Medical cannabis plants are developed with high levels of cannabidiol (CBD) to help with inflammation, anti-anxiety benefits, and more.
Female marijuana plants are also cultivated for the adult-use (or recreational) market. The focus for growers of recreational use marijuana is potency and also flavonoid and terpene content. All three are traits that help make certain strains of cannabis more popular.
The OG Strains of Wild Cannabis Plants
Experts believe that cannabis plants originated in Southern and Central Asia. Understandably, once humans discovered the effects and use of marijuana, the plants migrated to virtually every place around the world.
The original strains of cannabis found in the wild are called Landrace varieties. In the family tree of the evolution of the cannabis plant (and before hybridization), Landrace species are the OG of cannabis plants.
Landrace Indica strains of cannabis include:
- Hindu Kush.
- Lashkar Gah.
- Puna Buddaz.
- Moloka’i Purpz.
The Indica Landrace strains originated from a handful of countries with varied climates. Most Landrace Indica strains come from Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Other Landrace marijuana plants originated from tropical climates, like Hawaii.
Sativa strains of Landrace cannabis include:
- Durban Poison.
- Acapulco Gold.
- Lambs Bread.
- Panama Red.
- Thai & Chocolate Thai.
Sativa Landrace strains of cannabis came from Africa (Malawi and Kilimanjaro). Some came from Mexico, and Jamaica, while others originated in places like South America and Asia.
Male Cannabis Plants
When it comes to gender, male plants begin with a limited potential. That is because only female cannabis plants mature to the flowering stage, where they produce buds. After harvesting and trimming, most cannabis products are derived from female plants and their flowers.
But not all. Male plants also have some uses, and many medical cannabis products are produced from their leaves and stem. But there are some interesting evolutionary traits about male marijuana plants that make them valuable to the species’ survival.
High Cannabinoid Content in Male Plants
It may surprise you to learn that male marijuana actually has more cannabinoid content in their leaves than female plants produce. It probably sounds strange since female plants get all the attention for their valuable flower, but it’s true.
While female cannabis plants have higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and terpenes in the flower they produce, male plants store it elsewhere. The greatest concentration is in the leaves, but also in the resin glands.
Male plants that show higher levels of resin, cannabinoids, and terpenoid content are chosen to develop new strains or hybrids. Those traits (combined with female plants that have similar qualities) will be used in a breeding program to produce higher-potency cannabis plants.
Insect and Pest Control
Male cannabis plants have evolved to be the protector of the species. They produce high quantities of terpenes that repel insects. Terpenes like limonene, borneol, and pinene are all proven insect repellents.
Like any other lush, green plant, there are many insects that like to make a meal of cannabis leaves. Some of the bugs that like to munch on cannabis leaves and pollen include:
- Spider Mites.
- White Flies.
- Leaf Hoppers.
- Mealy Bugs.
- Green Lacewings.
You may also wonder if insects get high after consuming a male or female plant. The answer is that some do, and some do not. It depends entirely on the kind of insect. And whether they have endocannabinoid receptors.
For example, bees have been found to get stoned after dipping into cannabis pollen. Cannabis does not produce nectar, so there is no reason for bees to be attracted to cannabis plants. They cannot make honey if there is no nectar.
Interestingly, bees are very fond of cannabis pollen. You can find them walking around the pollen sacs of male plants. Some studies have proven that bees like getting a buzz. Pun intended.
Cannabis Seed Production
Male cannabis plants that pollinate with female plants produce a flower that has seeds. This is the natural lifecycle of the cannabis plant. The flower will dry, drop into the soil, and propagate new cannabis plants. That is how the female cannabis plant reproduces.
When outdoor cultivators want to “stock up” on their inventory of cannabis seeds, they will plant male cannabis beside female plants. While the seeded bud is not desirable for sale in a dispensary, seeds can be used to process other marijuana products.
Cannabis plants have to be in close proximity to pollinate successfully. This is often helped by natural elements in outdoor environments, such as insects and even the breeze. Carrying the pollen from pollen sacs to the female plants.
Male Cannabis Plants Grow Faster
Scientists aren’t sure why, but it may have something to do with protecting female plants from insects and predators. The male cannabis plant develops faster. It grows more quickly and taller than female plants.
Another reason why cannabis plants grow to different heights is pollination. No nectar is produced to encourage insects to carry pollen from the male to the female plant. Therefore the male plant has to be taller to ensure that the pollen can be carried to nearby female plants by the wind.
Both male and female plants are dioecious or unisexual flowering plants. That means cannabis germinates from a seed, matures, reproduces, and dies within one year. However, clones of female plants can live on for generations with the right environmental conditions.
How to Identify a Male Cannabis Plant
In agricultural cannabis cultivation, plants are propagated in a greenhouse. When you purchase cannabis seeds, you can tell there is a small difference between male plant seeds and female seeds.
But large-scale grow operations (for dispensaries) mean planting thousands of seeds annually. Tens of thousands in some cases, because while growing cannabis for processing, cultivators are also developing or improving hybrid strains.
No one has time to check every seed to identify the potential sex of the plant before it is planted. So, cultivators must be good at identifying male and female plants during the seedling stage so that they can be separated.
Why Are Male Cannabis Seedlings Separated?
In an industrial growing operation, male and female plants will never meet. That is because allowing pollination of the female plant results in seeds, a lot of them. Seeded weed is very hard to sell because it is not considered smokable.
If you had some cannabis flower that was heavily seeded, and you decided to smoke it, you would probably be startled. The seeds pop. Loudly, similar to firecrackers. It is not a pleasant experience. And trying to remove the seeds from the flower is a painstaking and frustrating process.
Sometimes accidents happen, and not all male plants are gendered accurately. A few male plants mixed in with the female plants spell a minor disaster. Seeds and more seeds. Which means discounting it at the dispensary (because it is undesirable) or repurposing it. Cannabis seeds can be used to create other marijuana products.
Before male plants and female cannabis plants have a chance to “get busy,” they are removed to separate areas. Some dispensaries process male cannabis plants into marijuana products by extracting cannabinoids and terpenes. Many cultivators, however, allow the male plants to die and dry and then compost them to enrich the soil.
Identifying Male Cannabis Plants
One of the advantages that cultivators have when trying to separate male from female cannabis plants is the growth cycle. It is not that hard to identify male plants early in their development.
As we mentioned, male plants sprout up faster, and you can see many identifying parts of male plants between 3-10 days (indoor) or about three weeks in outdoor environments.
But there are many different ways you can identify the gender of a cannabis plant. Here are the four most common ways used by experienced cannabis cultivators:
1. Thicker Stem and Plant Structure
Just like other species, the male cannabis plant has some muscle. That means the stem structure is much thicker and stronger than female plants. And it’s noticeable in the early stages of plant development.
Not only is the stem on the male plant thicker, but it is also more “woody” in texture. The stem and leaves of the male plant are loaded with beneficial nutrients that can reduce mold and enhance soil quality. The male stems make excellent compost for cannabis plants and vegetables.
2. Male Flowers
Didn’t we say that only female cannabis plants create flower? That is not entirely true. Males create a flower-like structure as well. But the good news is that it looks entirely different than the flowering stage of the female plant.
Little pouches or pear-shaped structures grow on male plants, and they are located on the joints of the stalk. What you do with the male plants when you see these pollen sacs depends on your goal.
For example, if you want to create seeds to produce more plants? Let the male plants remain and “do their thing.” Seeded buds will develop on the female plant, which can be cultivated.
However, if your goal is to produce abundant flowers packed full of cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes? You need to remove the male plants as soon as possible. Ideally, before the pollen sacs mature.
What Do Male Cannabis Pollen Sacs Look Like?
Compared to the female plant, male plants have a less exciting “flower.” It looks like a bud or a nub that grows from a branch and stem intersection. Female cannabis plants produce budding flowers with higher THC, terpene, and cannabinoid content.
The pollen sacs on the male cannabis plant form small green and white flowers. They look like very delicate buds that sprout off the stem at areas where branches develop.
Then the male cannabis pollen sac has dispersed its pollen, and the leaves below show a dusty white substance and residue. And the pollen sacs appear open, like a bloom.
Cultivators who want to experiment with phenotypes and breeding hybrid cannabis strains may collect and use the male pollen. This is done by trimming the pollen sacs from the plants and using a screen to filter out leaves and fibers, leaving only the fine pollen dust to be stored for fertilization.
Leaves on a Male Cannabis Plant
If you were looking at two cannabis seedlings side by side, it would be easy to determine the sex or the gender of the plants. The male cannabis plant grows taller, but it has much fewer leaves.
The female cannabis plant is shorter and bushier, with abundant leaves. Cultivators distinguish male and female plants in the early stages by other methods.
But with mature plants, you can tell the difference between male and female weed plants, noting the density of leaves. In the wild, the larger male marijuana plants would also help to provide protection from the elements and a windbreak for the more fragile female weed plants.
Female Cannabis Plants
The star gender of the cannabis species is female cannabis plants. Not to show the male plants up, but the flowering stage for female cannabis plants is the main event. Because the most valuable part of medicinal (or adult-use) cannabis comes from the flower.
Over the years, expert cannabis cultivators learned that unpollinated female cannabis plants continue to produce resin through their lifecycle. That means female plants can produce flowers that are higher potency when they are not permitted to pollinate with male plants.
Female Cannabis Plant Stems and Leaves
The female cannabis plant is less sturdy than the male. Which follows the genetic pattern of most living creatures on the planet (animal and plant). Female cannabis grows slender stems and abundant leaves. And they also grow closer to the ground than their male counterparts.
Pistils and Calyx on the Female Cannabis Plant
If consumable marijuana is the goal, the pistils, and calyx are where all the magic happens. On female marijuana plants, the calyx is the embryo that will develop into the cola, which is the cluster of buds that is harvested for use.
Pistils are the reproductive organs of female marijuana plants. Resin is concentrated in both the calyx and the pistil, which becomes the cannabis flower you purchase at your local medical dispensary.
Cannabis Bud Production
The flowering of female marijuana plants is exciting. Different strains of cannabis produce flowers that vary in terms of color, shape, and density.
For example, Indica dominant or pure Indica strains will produce smaller but very dense and heavy buds. Sativa cannabis flowers are typically larger but lighter, fluffy in appearance, and less dense.
Cannabis buds can range in color from deep to light green, brilliant reds and purples, and orange and blue flowers. There is no difference in terms of cannabinoid, terpene, or flavonoid content between a green bud and one that is brightly colored. But they are prettier to look at.
Female Cannabis Trichomes
Have you ever seen a cannabis flower with fine white hairs or orange hairs coming out of the bud? Those are trichomes, and the cannabis plant has evolved to produce them for a variety of practical reasons.
During the flowering stage, female cannabis plants are susceptible to pests and predators. After all, the buds are tender and tasty. To offset that problem, female cannabis plants develop trichomes which cast an unfavorable smell.
Those scents may be appealing to humans, but they deter pests and predators from taking a bite. And the strategy was clearly effective because it has helped the cannabis species thrive for millions of years.
There are three types of trichomes:
- Bulbous Trichomes (10-15 micrometers in size) and not visible to the human eye.
- Capitate Sessile Trichomes (contain a head and a stalk structure).
- Capitate-Stalked Trichomes (50-100 micrometers in size) and visible to the human eye.
The Capitate-Stalked Trichomes are made up of epidermal and hypodermic cells, which form into a large gland head. The gland is then held together by a cuticle layer that has a waxy texture. That is where the cannabinoid and terpenes are synthesized during the flowering stage.
How Long Do Female Plants Live?
Both male and female cannabis plants have the same life cycle. They grow, reproduce, and then die in a period of about twelve months. However, when a cultivator has a female plant (or more than one) that has produced exceptional quality marijuana, they may choose to clone the plant.
Cloning female marijuana plants is much easier than propagating cannabis plants from seeds. The process involves making a cutting from a female plant. A sharp tool removes a healthy branch from a female plant after it has flowered and been harvested.
After the cutting is collected, it is placed in water and fed some nutrients to encourage root development. Female marijuana plants that are reproduced using the cloning method will be an exact genetic replica of the original or mother plant.
Commercial cannabis producers widely use cloning methods. Not only is it a faster way to create cannabis seedlings, but it is also a reliable quality assurance measure. It allows cultivators to infinitely reproduce qualify female marijuana plants with good cannabinoid, THC, and terpene content.
Female Cannabis Phenohunting
There is a little bit of art and a lot of science that goes into developing premium strains of cannabis. Often you will hear cannabis cultivation referred to as “breeding” because of how complex the process can be.
Cultivators test and sample cannabis flower during each harvest. They look for various criteria to determine whether female weed plants will be cloned to create future generations of the same genetic replicas.
Favorable qualities include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), terpene content (and types of terpenes), and flavonoids. The scent and flavor of smokable cannabis is important to medical and recreational users; the terpenes and flavonoid content determine that.
If you have ever wondered how commercial cultivators can produce the same quality flower repeatedly, it is because they clone only the best female plants. And then replicate popular strains through exact cloning methods.
Hermaphrodite Cannabis Plants
The cannabis plant species is dioecious, which means male and female plants are required for reproduction. What happens if there are only female cannabis plants in the area? Evolution came up with a solution for that.
The cannabis plant (if it suspects there are no male plants for pollination) can produce hermaphrodite plants. That is both male and female gender in one plant. It can allow cannabis plants to be self-pollinating.
It is an ingenious solution for the cannabis species; it wants to survive and thrive no matter what. But in terms of cannabis cultivation to yield marijuana for human use? Hermaphrodites, or hermies, are not good.
The cannabis hermaphrodite plant, because it is self-pollinating, will produce flowers. However, the flower will be heavily seeded. A strategy to create more seedlings, but also to (hopefully) provide more male plants in the wild.
One problem is that hermaphroditic plants carry a strong genetic code that will create new plants with the same mutation. In addition to tainting the cannabis flower with dense seeds, hermies also produce fewer cannabinoids and THC content.
In commercial cultivation, hermaphroditic plants are quickly removed and disposed of before sexual maturity. And in some cases, large numbers of plants near the hermie will also be destroyed to prevent cross-pollination and growing more hermaphrodite cannabis plants.
The Difference Between Male and Female Cannabis Seeds
The most valuable cannabis seeds are female. However, cannabis seeds can be male, female, or even hermaphrodites. A hermaphrodite seed is something that cultivators watch out for. It will produce a cannabis plant that is both male and female, and it is considered a genetic mutation.
People often wonder if there is a way to determine the sex of a cannabis plant by examining the seed. While many plants have identical seeds for the male and female gender, the cannabis plant produces seeds that have distinct differences. You can tell whether you have a male or female seed if you examine it closely.
What Do Cannabis Seeds Look Like?
Cannabis seeds can be various shades of brown in coloration. What is interesting is that different strains produce seeds that have distinct visual differences. Some will appear flat brown, while others can have specs or tiger stripes of a darker brown color.
The visual appearance of a cannabis seed (plain versus exotic markings) is not an indication of quality, however. Some of the best and most potent cannabis plants start from unremarkable (and boring) looking seeds. It is the genetic material inside the seed that matters.
Male and female seeds look identical. Usually, the only way to tell is to propagate the plants. When the seedlings begin to develop, it is easier to distinguish male from female cannabis plants.
What is the Shelf Life of Cannabis Seeds?
If cannabis seeds are not stored properly, they will dry out and become brittle. When you apply light pressure to the seed shell, it will crack and break. Cannabis seeds are susceptible to heat.
To properly store cannabis seeds, you should place them in an airtight container in a cool place, such as a refrigerator. Storing your cannabis seeds in a dark container will also prevent germination, as seeds can begin to develop if exposed to sunlight.
When cannabis seeds are stored correctly, they can germinate successfully after being dormant for up to three years.
Where Do You Buy Cannabis Seeds?
If you live in a state where medical marijuana use is legalized and you are permitted to grow your own plants, purchasing seeds is not a problem. In your own state, you can find businesses that specialize in growing supplies, including quality cannabis seeds.
If home growing is legal in your jurisdiction, you should avoid ordering cannabis seeds by mail. Few people know that ordering cannabis seedlings or seeds online is a federal offense, even when your state has legalized growing cannabis at home.
As long as cannabis remains a Schedule I drug on the Controlled Substances Act, possessing, buying, using, or selling cannabis remains a federal offense. When you order seeds online for delivery from the USPS (a federally owned and operated company), you are violating federal law. And you can face criminal charges.
Finding high-quality cannabis seeds takes a bit of research. For every seed bank that provides good cannabis seeds, other businesses do not. And that can result in a high level of male seeds or hermies (hermaphrodite plants) included in the seed you buy.
Can You Grow Male and Female Plants Together?
Most of the time, cultivators use feminized seeds or clones for propagation. That means they eliminate the male plants from the crop. For large-scale cultivation, this saves a lot of time because the grower has confidence that no male plants will be mixed in with the female cannabis plants.
Male plants have pollen sacs. When the male plant matures, the sacs release pollen to “breed” with the female cannabis plants. In some circumstances, with smaller grow operations, this can be used for seed production.
Some products are manufactured from cannabis seeds. The seeds harvested after pollination can be used to make:
- Textiles and clothing.
- Biodegradable plastics.
- Organic paint.
- Food (high source of fatty acids and fiber).
- Animal feed.
While cannabis and hemp seeds have industrial uses, they significantly reduce the value of the cannabis flower that is produced. People do not like smoking seeded buds.
Accidents happen when male plants are not removed (even with expert commercial cultivation). Some dispensaries will sell seeded cannabis at a steep discount.
If you live in a state where growing cannabis at home is legally permitted, you will probably avoid growing male plants and female cannabis plants together. That helps produce a better quality flower with higher THC content.
Cannabis Healthcare Services from DocMJ
Since 2016, DocMJ has been a leading cannabis healthcare provider. Our goal is to support patients as they explore doctor-supervised cannabis for wellness.
Physicians at DocMJ are kind and compassionate and provide education about the safe use of medical marijuana. They are a resource for patients who want to ask questions about types of medical cannabis intake routes and strains as well.
DocMJ provides cannabis health evaluations for patients in many states. In Texas, our telemedicine medical marijuana doctors appointments are now available in Austin.
Find out if you are eligible to apply for a medical cannabis prescription in Texas with DocMJ.
Dr. Glider is a board certified Internal Medicine Specialist. He received his Florida Medical Marijuana Physicians Certification in 2017 and was one of the first recommending physicians with DocMJ. In addition to medical marijuana recommendations, Dr. Glider continues to practice Internal and Geriatric Medicine in private practice. Additionally, he serves as Medical Director for a home health company, supervising and educating staff, as well as supervising an advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners for a transitional care program.
Dr. Glider graduated from the College of Osteopathic Medicine & Surgery in Des Moines, IA and completed his residency at Saddlebrook General Hospital in Saddlebrook, NJ. He has received several honors and awards throughout his professional career, including a City of Des Moines Merit Award and a Chamber of Commerce Award (Port St. Lucie, FL). Dr. Glider is an experienced and caring physician who is loved and respected by his peers and his patients.