Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 12, 2023

If you’re on your way to becoming a marijuana grower, you’ll first need to learn a thing or two about the growing process, such as how much time you’ll need to grow cannabis, how to defoliate your weed plants, how to dry and cure weed after your harvest, and most importantly, how to differentiate between male and female cannabis seeds.

When purchasing cannabis seeds from the seed bank for the first time, it’s very likely that you’ll end up cultivating a mix of both male and female cannabis plants. As you might already know, you need to separate the two before the germination process to make sure that you’re growing female plants which are abundant in cannabinoids and terpenes. So what’s the easiest way to differentiate between male and female seeds? This article will give you the answer to that specific question.

The Anatomy of the Cannabis Plant

Before we explain how to tell male and female cannabis seeds apart, let’s go over the basic parts of the marijuana plant first:

  • The root system (made up of one main root and other subsidiary roots which absorb water and nutrients from the soil); 
  • The main stem (gives support to the plant and is the place from where the side branches grow);
  • The nodes (the specific points where branches meet the main stalk or another branch, which is where the pre-flowers grow from);
  • Fan leaves (grow mostly during the vegetative stage and are the large leaves that are responsible for the process of photosynthesis);
  • Sugar leaves (tiny, resinous leaves that grow all around the cannabis flower);
  • The flowers (found on female plants and contain terpenes and cannabinoids);
  • The cola, or main cola (large cluster of flowers found on the top of the cannabis plant);
  • Calyxes, or pre-flowers (they protect the reproductive organs of the female flowers and peel off as the bud reaches maturity, and are also used to determine the sex of the plant);
  • Pistils (the reproductive organs of female flowers made up of stigmas which catch the pollen produced by male plants).
  • Pollen sacs (small green flowers that produce pollen in male plants which are used to pollinate female plants);
  • Trichomes (resinous and sticky parts of the cannabis plant which contain the most terpenes and cannabinoids which ward off pests, but also indicate the potency of the plant).

Now that you know what the main parts of the cannabis plant are, let’s see if there’s any difference between male and female seeds.

Have You Purchased Male or Female Cannabis Seeds?

Unfortunately, there is no way to tell male and female seeds apart if you buy regular cannabis seeds which are a mix of both. The only way you can tell whether the seed is male or female for sure, is to wait for the plant to reach sexual maturity regardless of the photoperiod, or wait until the pre-flower stage. An option to ensure you don’t end up with male seeds is buying feminized seeds from the seed bank.

What Are Feminized Cannabis Seeds?

Feminized seeds are the product of two female plants breeding together. This is achieved through a chemical process during which one female plant is induced to grow pollen sacs, and this pollen is used to pollinate the other female plant. Since the pollen sacs only contain female chromosomes (because they’re produced in a female plant), the resulting seeds are female. If you want to learn more about how cannabis seeds are feminized, read our article on the subject.

Now that you’ve learned that seeds can’t be differentiated prior to the pre-flower stage unless you’re buying feminized seeds, or cloning your weed plants by using a mother plant, let’s focus on the difference and purpose of the male and female cannabis plants.

The Difference Between Male and Female Cannabis Plants

The marijuana plant is a dioecious plant, which means it can be either female or male, so let’s see the telltale signs of male and female cannabis plants so you can differentiate between the two if you have planted regular seeds at the start of the growing season.

Male Plants

Male plants look very different from female ones because they’re the ones responsible for the pollination process. You can recognize a male plant by looking at the male pollen sacs found on the nodes of the plant. These cannabis plants have small round balls growing from the sides of the plants and once they enter the vegetative stage, they reveal their stamen and anthers which release the pollen in the air which pollinates the female plants. This is perfectly suitable for growers who want to grow their own seeds or cross-pollinate with other cannabis strains. However, if you aim to grow flowering female plants, it’s best to separate the male plants from the grow room to prevent pollination.

Female Plants

The female plants are the most sought-after plants since they produce the resinous flowers that are turned into sought-after cannabis products, like dabs, tinctures, cannabutter, and weed brownies, which are used for recreational and medical purposes. Their reproductive system is made up of bracts, calyxes (which are used to make seeds if the male plant pollinates the female), and the white hairs, known as the pistils, which are used to tell whether the flower is ripe enough to harvest. When the female weed plant enters the flowering stage, it starts to produce buds made up of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other ingredients that users know and love. If the female plant is pollinated by a male plant, you can expect it to produce seeds.

Identifying the Sex of the Cannabis Plants

If you want to grow cannabis plants for the cannabinoid-rich flowers, you’ll need to cultivate seedless female plants, or sinsemilla, which haven’t been in contact with (pollinated by) male plants.

The male plants, as we already mentioned, are the ones that produce pollen sacs and pollinate the female plants which initiate seed production rather than flower production. The identification can be done in one of the two growing stages when cannabis plants develop their reproductive organs: 

  • The pre-flower stage, or the vegetative stage. Between 4-6 weeks after germination, you’ll notice pre-flowers appearing on your plant, and if you notice wispy white pistils, that’s the first sign that you’re cultivating a female cannabis plant. Otherwise, the male plant will produce male flowers and pollen sacs on the nodes of the plant which appear round with splits on the sides;
  • The flowering stage. During the flowering stage, which comes between 8-10 weeks after germination, the plants will have fully developed male or female reproductive organs, so you’ll easily be able to tell which plants are male and which are female. 

Read our How to identify marijuana plants article for more details.

What if You Get Hermaphrodite Cannabis Plants?

Even though, in general, marijuana plants only grow one set of reproductive organs, some plants can develop both when they’re stressed as a result of nutrient deficiencies, environmental stressors, or damage done to the plant. These plants are called hermaphrodite plants, or hermies, and you can spot them during the vegetative stage. Hermies develop as a result of the cannabis plant’s self-preservation instinct that guarantees the survival of the species, therefore the plants self-pollinate the female organs with the pollen from the male organs on the same plant. 

It’s best to separate these plants from your grow rooms since they can end up pollinating all your female plants, or you can try to remove the male reproductive organs by gently pulling the pollen sacs. After removing them, wash your hands thoroughly to prevent additional accidental pollination of your other female plants. To prevent hermies from happening, make sure your plants aren’t stressed, which you can do if you maintain optimal growing conditions in your grow room in terms of humidity, temperature, hydration, light, and nutrients.

The Takeaway

As we’ve mentioned earlier in this article, there’s no way of differentiating between the male and female cannabis seeds if you’ve bought a mix from the seed bank. It’s best to germinate the plants and wait until the vegetative stage when the plants start growing their individual reproductive organs, which will tell you the anatomy of the weed plant. After close inspection during the vegetative stage and the flowering stage, you can begin to separate the male from the female plants.

Apart from knowing the sex of the cannabis plant, it’s important to know the differences between the strains of cannabis, and especially the two main strains, Sativa and Indica. The former strain is tall and lean, and produces elongated leaves in a light green shade, while the latter strain is bushy, grows close to each other, and produces chunky flowers. It’s important to know how to grow both of them since they require slightly different growing conditions (to prevent stressing them which can result in hermies). Happy growing!

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


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