Most cannabis strains are dioecious, meaning they have distinct male and female marijuana plants. The female marijuana plants produce the much-coveted buds, while males don’t. Male marijuana plants only produce pollen through their anthers, fertilizing female pistils-a process that leads to seed production.
As a budding breeder of homegrown cannabis, you need to develop an eye for identifying male or female marijuana plants. In this article, we’ll give you the lowdown on what makes each botanical unique and how to tell them apart.
Why does it matter? Because failing to separate the male and female leads to more seeds and less potent buds. Only female plants produce the buds and typically have a higher potency and THC content. Fertilization means the plant channels its resources to seed production, which leads to more seeds and lower cannabinoid content.
What is the difference between male and female marijuana plants? Keep reading to find out.
Understanding the Reproductive Cycle of Marijuana Plants
Your goal is to identify the sex of the cannabis plants as early enough as possible to eliminate the males. The male marijuana plants are only desirable if you wish to start a breeding program. The males grow pollen sacs that fertilize the female flowers.
While fertilized females can still produce decently-sized buds, the buds are often of low quality and contain less THC and other cannabinoid compounds. An unfertilized, seedless bud-Sinsemilla-is rich in turpentines and cannabinoids and is the primary goal for most growers.
To differentiate the male from the female plants, you must thoroughly understand the reproductive cycle of cannabis strains. Marijuana plants typically have four distinct growth stages:
- Germination(3-10 days)
- Seedling( 2 to 3 Weeks)
- Vegetative (3 to 16 weeks)
- Flowering (8-12 weeks)
Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to differentiate the sexes of the marijuana plant during the germination and seedling phases. Male and female marijuana seeds and seedlings look the same. Even feminized seeds that produce up to 99% female marijuana plants run the risk of yielding male varieties.
When To Identify the Sex of Your Marijuana Plants
A few weeks into the vegetative stage( the pre-flowering stage), you can usually tell a male marijuana plant from a female. The vegetative stage is characterized by an explosive growth pattern, with the plant growing taller each day and branching out.
Around the fourth week, the marijuana plant in the vegetative stage will begin producing pre-flowers. The pre-flowers are at the junction between the plant’s stems and branches. The first pre-flowers form between the apex of the main stem and the fan leaf stem, near the top of the plant. Luckily, male pre-flowers develop and show sooner than female ones.
In males, the pre-flower develops into pollen sacs. In females, the pre-flower develops into flowers. This is the best time to differentiate the sexes. By the flowering stage, the gender of the plant is glaringly obvious. However, waiting until flowering can be disastrous as the males tend to mature faster and can fertilize your stock.
Identifying Male Marijuana Plants
A male marijuana plant typically has thicker stalks and fewer leaves. It also grows faster than the female and is usually taller. However, it’s essential to compare sexes from the same species. Leaf counts and stalk thickness vary across different stains and breeds. For example, Sativa plants tend to have thinner stalks than indica varieties.
The male pre-flower is a small, closed sac that resembles a little green ball at the end of a stick. Very early, the male pre-flower may have a more rounded bottom with a slight tip, resembling the ‘spade’ on cards. The sacs later develop long-hanging stacks of pollen sacs that release pollen that resemble white dots or powdered sugar.
To identify male marijuana plants:
- Look at your plant’s joint stems. If you note small, rounded bulbs with whitish hairs, you have a male plant.
- Taller plants with thick stems and fewer leaves also tend to be male marijuana plants. They also tend to have greater internodal space–the distance between two branches.
Identifying Female Marijuana Plants
A female marijuana plant tends to be shorter, has thinner stalks, and appears more “bushy” than the male variety. The females typically have more leaves, especially near the top. Keep in mind that the variation in strains and phenotypes means that you can’t rely on these features to identify the sex of the marijuana plant.
A more accurate assessment would be to inspect the pre-flowers with a jeweler’s loupe. Female pre-flowers tend to have a more ovate or pear-shaped, with a long slender tip. Extending from the tip, you can see whitish, hair-like protrusions that later develop into the pistil. The pistils continue to elongate as the plant matures, making them more visible.
To identify female marijuana plants:
- Inspect the plant’s joint stems. If you can identify small, oval-shaped bulbs with elongated, slender tips and tiny hairs, you have a female plant. Take note that not all marijuana strains produce a pistil when mature.
- Female marijuana plants also tend to be “fuller” and thicker than males, with more leaves near the top.
- Female marijuana also has thinner stalks.
It’s easy to point out the difference between male and female marijuana pre-flowers with your naked eye. If you are having trouble pointing out the difference, you can invest in a jeweler’s loupe for additional magnification.
What About a Hermaphrodite Marijuana Plant?
Under certain conditions such as stress, poor nutrition, too little water, disease, or nutrient deficiencies, some cannabis strains develop hermaphrodite plants. A hermaphrodite or hermie contains both sexes on the same plant, producing both male and female pre-flowers.
If you note any plant with both female and male marijuana pre-flowers, you should treat it as a male and remove the plant from your weed garden. The staminate in the hermies can release pollen that fertilizes your female plants, leading to more unwanted seeds.
Homegrown cannabis is an excellent source of your weed. As a budding grower, you may need to know how to identify the sexes of your marijuana plants and separate them. Fertilization of female plants can lead to lower-quality buds with low terpene and cannabinoid content.
The secret is in identifying the correct pre-flower during the vegetative stage. Males tend to have rounded bulbs, while females have pear-shaped buds with elongated ends and tiny hairs. For more tips on growing and harvesting marijuana, check out our blog page.