Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 18, 2023

The marijuana plant is special indeed, and not just because it can make you feel good. It’s also special because it has a unique appearance and characteristics. Many users, especially beginners, haven’t witnessed the splendor of a fresh weed plant and are used to seeing the buds only in baggies and dispensary shelves. 

Cannabis cultivation is a very rewarding thing, but not everyone is a grower. Still, knowing what sets the marijuana plant apart from other plants appearance-wise may help you understand it a bit better. That’s why in this article we’ll talk about how a typical marijuana plant looks like, including its different types and sexes.  

A Brief Rundown of the Cannabis Plant – What You Need to Know

The marijuana plant is a dioecious plant, meaning that it has two sexes. The male marijuana plants and female marijuana plants have the respective reproductive organs pertaining to their sex. If you’re growing weed the traditional way, you’ll need both sexes to produce cannabis seeds in order to keep the cycle going.

The female marijuana plants are the focal point of cannabis cultivation because they produce the flowers we smoke. Compared to the male plants, the female plants are higher in cannabinoids, especially when they’re unpollinated. 

Seedless cannabis buds, popularly known as sinsemilla, are the cream of the crop in the weed world. Growers remove the male plants from their garden to avoid pollination because that way the female plant will keep producing cannabinoids instead of seeds.

What Does the Weed Plant Look Like?

The overall appearance of the weed plant is like a Christmas tree – there is one big cannabis flower at the top and the rest of the plant just keeps branching out in a triangle shape. Anatomy-wise, it has all the parts that other flowering plants have, like the root system, the main stalk, branches, leaves, and flowers. However, what sets the marijuana plant apart is the unique appearance of its leaves and buds, so let’s discuss them.

Cannabis Fan Leaves

The fan leaves are what you usually see as the symbol of marijuana in pop culture. They are large and long and fan out from the branches, hence the name. The fan leaves grow together in groups of so-called “fingers,” and depending on the type of cannabis plant, there can be seven to nine or even up to thirteen “fingers” in one group. Besides their grouping and their size, one unique characteristic of the marijuana leaves is their serrated edges which give them a distinctive look.

The fan leaves are responsible for photosynthesis which is an essential process for the plant’s growth during the vegetative stage when the marijuana plant grows the most. They’re actually quite nutritious, but their cannabinoid content is significantly lower compared to cannabis flowers.

Still, fan leaves can be used in many other ways, such as to make cannabutter, cannabis tea, brownies, or a variety of other things.

Cannabis Flowers

The cannabis flowers are the stars of the show. Exclusively found on the female cannabis plants, the flowers are not what you’d expect from a typical flowering plant. They’re not delicate flowers with large and colorful petals, but they’re small and dense like buds, and they grow in large clusters. They’re not really colorful. Their appearance is greenish overall, but depending on the strain, other parts of the flowers may have some colorful hues that blend in with each other.

The cannabis flowers have the highest CBD and THC content of all parts of the plant, which is why they’re the main part of the plant that’s used for consumption. They are covered in trichomes, which are hair-like resinous glands that secrete cannabinoids and terpenes. The terpenes are the aromatic compounds that give the cannabis flowers their distinctive (and pungent) smell. The resin is sticky and has a frosty appearance making the cannabis buds look sugary and frosted.

Each bud is surrounded by small cannabis leaves, also called sugar leaves. They’re also covered by trichomes and look like they were dusted with sugar, but their THC and CBD content isn’t as high as the buds’, though it’s higher than the fan leaves. The role of the sugar leaves is to support and protect the buds, but they’re usually trimmed off before smoking.

The Cola

The cola is the largest cannabis flower found on the plant. It grows at the top of the main stem and typically contains more THC and CBD than the rest of the cannabis flowers. The cola is what contributes to the Christmas tree shape of the marijuana plant, but growers tend to use different methods to break up this pattern. The methods are designed to help the plant redistribute its energy to all parts instead of focusing only on the top so that all cannabis flowers can be more or less equally potent.

Female Marijuana Plants vs Male Marijuana Plants 

So, we established that the cannabis plant has two sexes, but how do you differentiate between them? Typically, the plants reveal their reproductive organs 4-6 weeks after germination, which can be found at the nodes where the branches connect to the main stem.

The female cannabis plants develop calyxes which are protected by bracts. The pistils are the main reproductive organs of the plant and they feature two thin white hairs which emerge from the pistils, also known as stigmas. They protrude from the calyx and their role is to catch pollen. If the plant gets pollinated, the pistils will get filled with cannabis seeds, and if not, they’ll remain empty.

The emergence of the reproductive organs is also called pre-flowering, but when they start to mature during the flowering stage, the pre-flowers transform and turn into full-blown cannabis buds rich in cannabinoids and terpenes.

The reproductive organs of the male cannabis plant look completely different. The male plants will start to develop small and green ball-like structures. These are often called “male flowers,” but they’re actually pollen sacs. Once they mature, they open up and disperse pollen in the air which the female flowers collect.


Besides male and female flowers, the marijuana plant can also produce hermaphrodites, which are plants that contain both male and female reproductive organs. Hermaphrodites usually emerge as a result of environmental stress or poor conditions in the grow room, but sometimes it can be genetic. Either way, they’re removed because just like male plants, they can cause pollination. 

Cannabis Plant Types

Finally, the appearance of a marijuana plant may vary depending on which type of cannabis it belongs to. There are two main types of cannabis that are consumed – Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa. There is also a third type (Cannabis Ruderalis) which is not usually consumed due to its low cannabinoid content but is, however, used in crossbreeding. Finally, hybrid strains are created by crossing different strains that belong to the two main types of cannabis.

Cannabis Indica

The Cannabis Indica plants have a short and bushy appearance. They don’t grow particularly tall and their buds grow very dense and close to each other. Their fan leaves have a darker shade of green and they’re typically thick and not very long, with 7-9 “fingers.”

Cannabis Sativa

The Cannabis Sativa plants look completely the opposite. They are very tall and slender, and their buds grow sparsely on the branches. The fan leaves are a lighter shade of green and they look elongated and slim. Sativa fan leaves can have up to 13 “fingers.”

Cannabis Ruderalis

Cannabis Ruderalis plants are typically very short with dark green fan leaves that can have up to 5 “fingers,” and the leaves are usually long and thin. This strain is used for its autoflowering properties rather than for consumption because its THC and CBD content are too low to produce any effects.

Hybrid Strains

Hybrid strains look like a mixture of an Indica and a Sativa because that’s how they’re bred. They won’t have the typical look of either, but they will have some characteristics of both. If it’s not obvious what strain they belong to right away, then it’s most likely a hybrid.

The Takeaway

As a flowering plant, the marijuana plant has a distinctive look which is defined by its large fan leaves and unusual flowers. The fan leaves are large and have serrated edges, while the cannabis flowers are dense and made up of numerous smaller parts. 

The weed plant has two sexes of which the female plant is the focus because it produces the flowers that humans consume. 

There are two main types of cannabis – Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa that are consumed for their high cannabinoid content, and there are hybrid strains created by crossbreeding. Cannabis Ruderalis is generally not used for consumption because it has low THC and CBD content.

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.


The information presented on this page is provided as a public service to aid in education and is derived from sources believed to be reliable. Readers are responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed here. In no event shall Leaf Nation be held reliable for any injury, loss or damage that could happen if using or abusing drugs.