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The Expression of Sex in Cannabis Plants

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

The thought of plants being either male or female (or sometimes both) can be a bit odd to many. However, plants can have sexes, and cannabis is one of these species. There’s also a very good reason for knowing the difference if you plan on growing some bud in the future.

By Cannabis News ZA - 20/01/2020

Cannabis plants can grow as either a male or a female, with the respective organs, and are known as dioecious plants. Many cannabis consumers aim for female plants only as they provide the smokeable buds, but the males have their purpose too. Having both males and females in close proximity will likely result in cross pollination – resulting in the growth of seeds.

Seeds are necessary when a grower or a breeder is looking for resources for their next crop or looking to obtain new genetics. However, buds with seeds in them are often regarded as lower quality and aren’t as enjoyable to smoke. Seeds often result in a much harsher smoke, and end up making up the bulk of your bud. I’m sure many of you reading this have past experiences buying dagga off a car attendant, for him to place a ball of newspaper in your hand. These were always cheap and filled with seeds and stems. It was technically weed but not always the cleanest and smoothest of smokes.

It’s then easy to see why those who are looking for bud to smoke, would then prefer female plants. By keeping male plants far away, the females will start growing large, seedless buds known as sensimilla. These buds become the resinous and trichome covered nugs we end up smoking on. Many growers will then do their best to ensure female genetics. This can be done by cloning other female plants, or obtaining feminised seeds.

However, finding clones or feminised seeds can sometimes be a tricky and expensive affair. So if you end up growing from a standard seed, it is important that you know (a) how to tell the difference between a male and female plant and monitor the sex in cannabis plants and (b) how to identify hermaphrodites, if you want some decent smokable buds.

How to Tell the Difference

The most important place that you will need to keep an eye on when it comes to sex in cannabis plants are the nodes of the plant – this is the area where the branches and leaves extend outwards from the stalk. These are the points of the plants where they will start expressing their gender. The females will start showing bracts with hair-like fibres reaching outwards. While males will start showing small balls at the nodes. These can be seen in the figure below provided by Leafly.

You can spot these differences quite early on, and especially before they start spreading or collecting pollen. So these factors are important to monitor with a keen eye! This period is known as ‘pre flowers’, and will start developing roughly four weeks into their growth cycle. By week six, the sex should be pretty obvious and you can go from there.

There are a couple of good reasons for getting rid of the females sooner rather than later – it prevents the males from pollinating the females and influencing your yield; while leaving more space for the females to flourish.

Look Out for Hermaphrodites

Plants can be male or female, but they can also occasionally develop both sex organs. This is then known as a hermaphrodite plant, and can happen when the plant is stressed out and can then self pollinate. If only it could smoke some dope to chill out?! Another reason for this change can be attributed to extensive damage to the plant, poor weather, disease or a nutrient deficiency.

As seen above, this can happen in a couple of ways. The plant can either develop both buds and pollen sacs. Or they can develop anthers, sometimes referred to as ‘bananas’, because of their appearance.

A plant that pollinates itself and those around it are not something that you want to keep around. Which is why it’s important to ensure your plants aren’t feeling stressed out. If you see any of the tell-tale signs of a plant “herming out”, get that plant as far away as possible.

If you only want juicy buds in your crop, then be sure to keep males as far away as possible and observe the sex in cannabis plants you’re growing. Be sure to read up on any number of grow articles we have on Cannabis News.

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