Few symbols are as iconic as the cannabis leaf. However, because cannabis has been illegal and so restricted (until now), many cannabis enthusiasts have never even seen an adult plant. This guide is intended to familiarize cannabis consumers both old and new with all parts of our beloved cannabis plant from the roots up.
Battle of the Sexes
It is important to understand that most cannabis plants are dioecious. This means that there is a big difference between male and female plants. The ones that produce cannabinoid-rich flowers are female, and the ones that produce pollen sacs are male. It is possible for a plant to become hermaphroditic and be monoecious. This means that it will have both female flowers and male pollen sacs. Hermaphrodite plants tend to happen less frequently but can be affected by things like stress and the growing environment. Female plants are generally always in the spotlight in the cannabis world, this is because they produce much higher levels of cannabinoids, including THC.
Most cannabis we consume today contains little to no seeds, this is only possible if all surrounding male plants are removed before they can release their pollen. Pollen can travel very far distances to pollinate females. This is why your homegrown bud can contain seeds even though you removed all the male plants you may have had in your garden.
Follow along as we break down some of the most important components that make up a cannabis plant.
Roots draw water and other essential nutrients into the plant from the soil. As a seed grows, the main taproot will emerge and branch out into a fibrous network within the soil. Cannabis plants have small, whitish roots that like to fill their potting mediums. This creates a sponge-like root network needed to meet the plants’ high water demands.
Branches and Stems
The cannabis plant will emerge from a single main stem that branches off on either side into leaf nodes. This main stem not only provides structural support but also contains the vascular system of tubes that supply the rest of the plant with water and nutrients. If the plant were a city, think of this as the main highway. Within the stem system is “xylem”, this moves the water and nutrients through the tubes.
The fan leaf has been such an iconic part of the cannabis plant and so this has led many people to incorrectly assume fan leaves are the part that THC comes from. In reality, the fan leaves contain very little THC. Cannabis leaves act like most leaves on plants and collect sunlight for energy. Leaves also act to shade the delicate buds from getting sunburnt.
Pre-flowering, the modified leaf structures (called bracts) that house the potential pollen sacs or potential buds look very similar to each other. They are small, pear-shaped bundles nestled where branches divert from the stem. If white, small whip like hairs begin to surface from the bract than the plant is female. If the bract becomes fuller and bulbous the plant is male and will produce pollen sacs.
Sexing the plants before they produce pollen is key to maintaining a grow, as the pollen will spread easily to other female plants and produce seeds. In addition to seeds, fertilized plants cease to produce resin, meaning they will not be as good to smoke or consume. To avoid cross-contamination, breeders must pollinate under extremely controlled conditions.
Flowers produce compounds for the plant, attract pollinators, and once fertilized, produce seeds. Each female cannabis plant will end in a main flowering top referred to as a cola. Modern growers have developed methods for creating multiple main colas. These include pinching, topping or low-stress training (LST) to increase yields in a limited growing space. In addition to the main cola, smaller buds will grow at each branch node.
Supported by small sugar leaves, these three important structures make up the cannabis flower itself.
Pistils are the “hairs” on the flower. They are the plants’ female sex organs, which collect pollen for fertilization after blooming. Early on, ass flowering begins, the hairs will be white, but when mature they turn reddish brown or orange hues.
Contrary to popular belief, the hairs play no role in THC production. They have no direct correlation to bud quality or your resulting high, but they sure do make the buds look very attractive and pretty!
Calyxes make up most of the bud and appear as compact teardrop folds. Distinct from the sugar leaves that grow amongst them, calyxes turn into the seed incubator on the female plant if it was fertilized. Unfertilized, they are the main factory that produces trichomes on the cannabis plant.
Finally, though they are some of the smallest parts of the cannabis plant, trichomes are the star attraction. Trichomes are small, mushroom-shaped structures that are the resin of the cannabis plant. These small structures are responsible for creating the psychoactive and medicinal effects that make the cannabis plant so famous. For the plant, these compounds act to defend the plant from any diseases or infections as well as deter predators and safely protect the plant from too much UV exposure.
There are actually three types of trichomes, varying in size, found on the whole plant. However, the largest of these trichomes are produced primarily on the calyxes and surrounding sugar leaves. These large capitate-stalked trichomes contain the highest concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes. They start off being clear in appearance but will begin to turn cloudy and then amber as they develop in maturity.
We hope that this guide has been helpful to you in understanding and appreciating the miraculous cannabis plant. Remember, almost every part of the cannabis plant is useful in one way or another so be sure to take full advantage of its versatility.
Written by MCSB Team, Oct 2018
~ Medical Cannabis Seed Bank