Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on December 20, 2022

Marijuana enthusiasts who don’t grow their own weed and are mostly used to buying it from a dispensary, are often surprised when they see a garden of cannabis plants in all their glory. As weed is dried and cured before it’s consumed, its appearance is a little different than while it’s fresh, and even more different before it flowers.

What non-growers may also not know is that the marijuana plants have two sexes and the sticky buds found on the shelves in dispensaries are the flowers of female cannabis plants. In fact, it’s the female plants that are the most abundant in cannabinoids. Of course, cannabis growers know about the transformations that their crops go through all too well. 

If you’ve recently decided to give growing marijuana a try and are still learning your way into the process, you’re probably interested in learning to identify what sex your plants are. You might also want to know how to tell apart Indicas from Sativas, which is exactly what we cover in today’s article. Acquiring all the knowledge you can get before you actually start growing is the best way to succeed, so let’s get into it.

A Recap of the Anatomy of a Cannabis Plant

First, let’s start with a brief recap of the basic parts of the cannabis plant, starting with the roots.

  • The root system consists of the main root, also called the taproot, and other subsidiary roots. Its role is to absorb water and nutrients from the soil so the plant can remain healthy.
  • The main stem, or main stalk, grows upwards from the main root and the branches grow sideways from it. The main stem gives the plant stability and support, while the branches support the foliage and flowers.
  • The nodes are points at which the branches grow from the main stalk or from another branch. The pre-flowers, which help you determine the sex of the plant, grow at these points.
  • Fan leaves are the well-known large cannabis leaves. They grow fast during the vegetative stage as their main job is to absorb sunlight for photosynthesis, so the plant can transform light into energy.
  • Sugar leaves are the tiny and sticky leaves found around the cannabis flowers. 
  • The flowers are found only on female plants and it’s where most of the terpenes and cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, are present. A cola is a large cluster of flowers that is typically found on the top, also known as main cola.
  • Calyxes, or pre-flowers, are nestled in the nodes at the base of the bud. The role of calyxes is to protect the reproductive organs of the female flowers. As the bud matures, they slowly peel off, allowing it to emerge. They are protected by bracts, small green tear-shaped structures. 
  • Pistils are the reproductive organs of the female flowers that consist of one reproductive cell from which two hair-like structures emerge. These are called stigmas and their job is to catch pollen produced by the male plants.
  • In male plants, small and green male flowers will develop. These are actually pollen sacs that contain very small amounts of cannabinoids. During the flowering season, pollen sacs open up and pollen is dispersed in the air to fertilize the female plants.
  • Trichomes are glandular hairs mostly found on the calyxes, but also on the stems and leaves. They’re very tiny and they secrete sticky resin which contains precious terpenes and cannabinoids. The primary function of trichomes was to ward off pests, but they also indicate a plant’s potency. Male flowers don’t contain any trichomes.

The Sex of Your Marijuana Plants

Now that we covered the basics, we can talk about the specifics. Most regular seed packs that you buy will be half male and half female. This means that half of the flowers won’t produce resinous buds because only female cannabis plants do that.

What Happens Next?

What happens is, once the hours of light start decreasing and the hours of darkness start increasing, the flowering season starts. During this season, in nature, the male plants would start pollinating the female plants. When pollination occurs, the female cannabis flowers start using all of their energy to produce seeds for the next season and are generally low in cannabinoids.

However, it’s a common practice for growers to remove the male plants once they identify them. They do this because if the female flowers are not pollinated, they will focus all of their energy on producing cannabinoids and terpenes instead of seeds, which is what we want. Therefore, the female flowers will be seedless, or in other words, sinsemilla. The THC content of sinsemilla flowers is naturally higher, especially when bred well.

To avoid this sorting, you can buy feminized seeds which will produce female plants exclusively. However, knowing how to identify between male and female plants is important as a grower.

Let’s see which times in a marijuana’s life cycle can you look for signs on your plants’ sex and how you can identify it.

How to Identify the Sex of Your Marijuana Plants

To identify the sex of your crops, you need to look at the pre-flowers for around 3-4 weeks after the germination phase for male plants and 4-6 weeks for female plants. It’s vital to start inspecting your plants for pre-flowers as early as three weeks after germination so as to not miss anything. Pre-flowers are like mini versions of the full-blown cannabis buds that develop later but are the main indicator of the sex of the plants.

You should be looking at the nodes of the plants for the reproductive organs. If you notice two small round (colored green) sacs between the nodes of some plants, then they’re most likely male plants. If, on some plants, there are wispy white hairs protruding from the calyxes, then they’re most likely female. 

You may also spot plants that have both structures, and these are called hermaphrodite plants with both male and female reproductive organs. This occurs mostly due to environmental stressors, nutrient deficiencies, or plant damage. Therefore, it’s important to minimize any stressors. Sometimes, though, genetics play a part, so it’s best to avoid these plants because they can also pollinate your other plants.

Distinguishing Between Different Cannabis Strains by Appearance

Despite knowing how to differentiate between the different sexes, it’s also important to know the key differences between the two main cannabis strainsIndica and Sativa. They are very easy to distinguish as their appearance is as different as the effects they produce.

Indicas, or Cannabis Indica plants, are short and stout, and a little bushy. Their leaves are broad and a darker shade of green, and their flowers are chunky and grow very close to each other. Indicas flower more rapidly and due to their short stature are great for indoor cultivation as they don’t require a lot of space.

Sativas, or Cannabis Sativa plants, are the complete opposite. They are tall and lean, and they branch out. Their leaves are thinner and more elongated, and they’re a lighter shade of green. The flowers are more spread out on the branches and the cola, and they’re also more elongated, akin to a spear. Their flowering period is long and they need more space to grow, making them more suited for outdoor growing.

The Takeaway – Inspect Your Plants Closely As Early As Three Weeks After Germination

As a grower, knowing the anatomy of the marijuana plant can help you immensely with identifying the sex of your plants. This is an important part of the flowering process, because then you will know which ones you need to remove from your garden so as to avoid pollinating the female plants and get seedless buds. 

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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