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The Ultimate Guide To Marijuana Plant Anatomy

Understanding the anatomy of a cannabis plant is something you learn quite early as a grower. It’s also one of the most essential as well. 

Knowing the different parts that make up the entirety of the anatomy of a cannabis plant can go a long way toward improving your skills – especially when it comes to applying training techniques such as high-stress training (HST) or low-stress training (LST).

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Cannabis is dioecious, which means that it produces distinct male and female plants. In this blog, we’ll not only detail the anatomy of a cannabis plant, but also the difference between male and female cannabis so that you, as a grower, can avoid potentially losing an entire batch to pollination. 

In addition, we will also discuss hermaphroditism in cannabis plants, including what causes it as well as how to prevent it.

The parts of the Cannabis Plant

Marijuana Seeds
Marijuana Seeds

Seeds: The starting point

Seeds, including cannabis seeds, are the starting point for any plant. Once a female cannabis plant has been pollinated, the seeds will form in its flowers and continue to develop inside a casing until they’re ready to be disseminated.

However, even after being dispersed, the seeds won’t germinate unless the environmental conditions are ideal for it. 

This is because of the hard shell, which protects the embryo and its cotyledons. It also prevents any water from getting into the embryo which would kickstart the growing process.

Seeds need the correct temperature and moisture to germinate. Other factors such as soil composition and pH level can also highly impact your cannabis seeds’ chances of germinating. 

If you want to know the finer details as well as learn a few tricks to make germination easier, read our blog on how to germinate marijuana seeds.

Once your seeds germinate, the first thing you’ll see is its cotyledons, which are more commonly known as seed leaves. Their main purpose is to help break open the hard casing so that the embryo can sprout. 

Seed leaves are also vital to your seedling’s growth and development since they not only contain the necessary nutrients and food reserves for it to continue growing, but they also help in kickstarting the entire process of photosynthesis until the true leaves of the seedling have developed enough to take over the process themselves.

Marijuana Roots
Marijuana Roots

Roots: Absorber of water and nutrients

The main function of roots is to absorb both water and nutrients for the plant. Strangely though, the roots can’t effectively absorb the nutrients in the soil alone, they require the help of beneficial soil microorganisms. 

During the process, the roots secrete sweet chemicals in the soil, which then attract those beneficial microorganisms that help the roots with nutrient absorption. 

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Outside of greatly influencing the microorganisms in the soil, the roots also have a vital role in keeping the cannabis plant anchored to the ground and standing upright.

When it comes to keeping the roots of your cannabis healthy, you only need to water them at least every 2-3 days. 

It’s also crucial that the soil mix you’re using is well aerated to keep the roots of your cannabis plant from suffocating. In the same vein, you should avoid overwatering your plants as it leads to either your plant drowning or developing root rot.

Of course, underwatering your cannabis can also result in some serious issues down the line. Your plants may suffer from nutrient deficiency because there’s not enough water to help with transporting the nutrients throughout the entire plant. 

Additionally, when applying fertilizer to feed your plants nutrients, limit it to once a week. With each feeding, check the pH balance in your soil (the ideal range is around 6.0 to 6.8).

Lastly, it’s important to know that each strain of cannabis requires different watering and nutrient requirements. Some require more while others don’t.

Marijuana Stem
Marijuana Stem

Stem: The nutrient highway

A marijuana plant’s main stem is responsible for a myriad of plant growth and development factors. One of the main stem’s many functions is to act as the site where lateral growths will occur. These sites then become the branches of the cannabis plant.

In addition to being the site for new lateral growths and the support of lateral branches, the main stem is also the highway for water, nutrients, and sugars. 

It transports water and nutrients absorbed by the roots upwards through the plant and transports sugars from its leaves to its roots. 

The stem utilizes two specialized tissues, the xylem, and the phloem. These plant transport tissues are like one-way roads. 

The xylem can only transport the necessary water and nutrients that the plant needs for both photosynthesis and growth, while the phloem can only transport sugars.

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As your cannabis plant develops, you will gradually see that the main stem will grow thicker and thicker. A healthy main stem will look large and rigid. 

In some sativa strains, you’ll find that the main stems look more like wood than soft plant tissues.

In order to carry out its functions, the main stem’s apical bud produces auxin – a type of plant hormone that regulates the growth of lateral branches to keep the main stem dominant. 

This is where the term apical dominance comes from, a phrase that you would have either read or heard from other growers when discussing methods for increasing the potential yield of your plants.

If you were to snip the apical bud on the main stem of your growing cannabis plant, it would lose its apical dominance because it could no longer produce auxin that hinders the lateral branches. 

This opens the opportunity for the branches to become dominant which will then turn them into main stems that will produce their own lateral growths and produce their own colas.

Marijuana Nodes
Marijuana Nodes

Nodes: Where lateral growths emerge

Nodes are sites for lateral growths such as branches, leaves, and buds. They’re found around the main stem of your cannabis plant and are often used to tell the age of your plant. 

Determining the age of a cannabis plant by its nodes is handy when it comes to applying advanced growing techniques since different strains of cannabis grow at different rates. 

The various growing times of cannabis make using a rigid timetable a lot less reliable since it could only apply to some strains and not to others.

You can also use nodes to determine whether your cannabis plant is male or female. However, it’s only possible once it’s in its pre-flowering stage, where it has begun to develop buds on the nodes. 

Additionally, nodes can tell you if the cannabis plant you’re growing is a sativa strain or indica strain. You tell by measuring the distance between each node. Indica strains have shorter internodal spacing whilst sativa strains have greater internal spacing.

However, measuring the length of the internode to identify whether the strain is sativa or indica isn’t that reliable because of the popularity of hybrid strains

However, you can still use it to determine whether the strain you’re growing will produce short or tall plants.

Nodes will begin to form as early as 2-3 weeks after germination when your plants are still just seedlings. The nodes will become more pronounced as your cannabis plant enters its vegetative stage, where it will begin to grow rapidly in size. 

This also means that more nodes will begin to form which will be sites for new branches and leaves. This is the ideal time to begin applying any advanced growing techniques to increase yield.  

Marijuana Branches
Marijuana Branches

Branches: The lateral growths of the plant

Branches, and by extension leaves, are the lateral growths that sprout from nodes. The branches of a cannabis plant serve to support the large fan leaves that conduct the process of photosynthesis

This critical process will produce food and energy to grow both the main stem and the lateral branches.

Outside of supporting the fan leaves, the branches of your cannabis plant will also hold the weight of any buds that will grow from it. 

There’s no guarantee that all of your lateral branches will produce buds, which is why growers often prune branches that don’t have buds on them – they are unproductive foliage.

By pruning the unproductive foliage, you allow your cannabis plants to focus a lot of their energy on producing thicker buds on the branches that do have them. 

It also has the additional benefit of preventing overcrowding in your garden which can potentially threaten the development of your buds. If there’s not enough space, the plants will compete for light.

To guarantee that your cannabis plants have evenly distributed branches that get equal exposure to light, you can try applying super cropping

It’s a safer alternative to mainlining –  you only need to bend and break the branches of your plant. By doing this, you essentially control the way your plants will grow, and if done correctly you’ll end up with evenly distributed branches.

Super cropping is ideally performed a week before your cannabis plants start flowering. What if your plants are already in their flowering stage? 

Try lollipopping instead. It involves pruning the unproductive foliage of your plant, leaving only the branches that have buds growing on them.

Marijuana Leaves
Marijuana Leaves

Leaves: Where photosynthesis and transpiration occurs

The process of photosynthesis mostly happens in the leaves of your cannabis plants. This means that the leaves are vital for producing the food and energy that your plants need. 

The leaves of your cannabis plants are vital for producing food and energy because of photosynthesis, but the leaves are also where transpiration happens. 

Transpiration is a process of water evaporation that helps your plant as it takes up carbon dioxide to use in the process of photosynthesis. 

A cannabis plant has two types of leaves, fan leaves, and sugar leaves.

Fan leaves

The fan leaves of cannabis plants are the large ones that grow from the nodes and branches. They’re the primary leaves of the cannabis plant and are often used to tell the condition of your plant. 

Since fan leaves contain only small amounts of cannabinoids, they’re often left unused, but they can be made into teas and hash.

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Sugar leaves

Unlike the fan leaves, sugar leaves contain more cannabinoids. This is why they’re used to make concentrates and kiefs

Their name comes from the fact that they’re coated with the resinous trichomes that give the leaves the image of being powdered with white sugar. Typically, you’ll find sugar leaves growing in-between the buds of your cannabis plant.

Outside of being able to tell the condition of your cannabis plants’ health, the leaves (in particular their shape) are often a dead giveaway of the particular cannabis species.  

Sativa strains often have skinny leaves with up to 13 ‘fingers’. Indica strains have wide leaves that only have up to 9 ‘fingers’.

Bract and calyx

Bracts are modified leaves of your cannabis plants that protect the developing buds inside of them. Like the sugar leaves, they grow from nodes. 

Bracts have high concentrations of trichomes but will lose a lot of them once pollinated, which is why growers take measures to avoid pollination.

Bracts are also often confused for calyxes and vice-versa. A calyx is the outermost layer (whorl) around the bract itself. It has the same function of serving as a layer of protection for your buds. In the case of cannabis, the bract itself is also the flower.

Marijuana Plant Flowering
Marijuana Plant Flowering

Flowers: The fruits of your hard work

Often labeled as buds, the flowers of a cannabis plant are the result of your hard work as a grower. They form on nodes located on the top of the stem of your cannabis plant. The main function of a cannabis flower is to produce seeds once fertilized or become smokable buds for both growers and cannabis connoisseurs. 

The flowers have multiple functions and different parts, including the cola, stigma and pistil, and trichomes.


Colas refers to the top of the stem of your cannabis plant where the buds grow. Typically you’d only have a single main cola per cannabis plant, but growers have gotten around that by using training techniques that allow them to produce more colas on a single plant.

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Stigma and pistil

The stigma and pistil of cannabis flowers are the reproductive parts found only in females. Stigmas are the white strands that grow out from the bracts (buds) of your plant. 

Their main purpose is catching pollen grains produced by male plants. The pistils on the other hand are the primary reproductive system where the stigmas grow out from.

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On the note of tiny white hairs, trichomes are the glandular hairs that grow on the surface of your cannabis plants. They serve as the first line of defense against pests as well as a way to shield your plants from intense light. 

To growers, trichomes are very important since they contain high concentrations of cannabinoids. This is why a lot of harvests often revolve around keeping as much of the trichomes on the buds. 

Male vs Female Cannabis Plants

Male and female marijuana plant
Male and Female Marijuana Plant

Female Cannabis Plant

Female plants are what produce seeds that will grow into new cannabis plants. They do this by catching the pollen grain released by male plants since marijuana has not evolved a way to pollinate by attracting bees or other pollinating insects.

Although it’s difficult to identify male and female marijuana plants until they enter their pre-flowering stage, it is possible. The first indication that your plants are either male or female is through their height. 

Female marijuana plants are shorter than males. In addition to that, female marijuana plants don’t have as thick of a stalk as their male counterparts. Lastly, you can check their leaves. 

Female plants grow much bushier compared to males. However, this method isn’t always as reliable. That’s why identifying the sex of your marijuana plants is generally considered hard to do.

If you are trying to determine the sex of your marijuana plants, it’s better to wait until you know for sure. Female buds will have strands of white hair growing out of them which are the stigmas that grow out from the pistils in the flowers. 

Only female marijuana plants produce flowers that can be harvested and made into usable cannabis products, which is why a lot of growers take extra steps to ensure the colas of their female plants don’t get pollinated by male or hermied plants. 

The flowers, and the trichomes that grow on them, contain high amounts of cannabinoids which is what growers use to make smokable buds and other things such as tincture, cannabutter, and edibles

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Male Cannabis Plant

In nature, male cannabis plants fertilize female plants by releasing pollen grains from their sacs. They entirely rely on the breeze to carry their pollen grains to a female since female marijuana plants have not evolved a way to attract pollinators.

You can identify a male marijuana plant by looking at its stalk and leaves. If a marijuana plant of yours has a thicker stalk that’s almost like wood and sparse amounts of leaves then there’s a good chance that what you’re looking at is a male plant. 

There’s no guarantee though since these descriptions also distinguish sativa strains from indica strains. The only guaranteed method of identifying the sex of your marijuana plant is to wait for 6 weeks when your plants start developing their buds.

Growers want to spot male marijuana plants as early as possible to avoid having an entire batch of plants from becoming pollinated. If they do, the female flowers will lose a lot of their potency and often become harsher to smoke because of the seeds.

However, male marijuana plants aren’t solely just a detriment to your garden. You can still make good use of them. You can use male plants for breeding – especially if they have a trait that you want to pass down to their offspring. You can also use male marijuana plants to produce hash and hemp fibers and as a pest deterrent.  

Hermaphrodite Cannabis Plant
Hermaphrodite Cannabis Plant

What are Hermaphrodite Cannabis Plants?

Hermaphrodite plants possess both male and female reproductive organs. In cannabis, female plants can become hermaphrodites because of environmental stress such as intense exposure to light, the absence of needed nutrients in the soil, and the excess and lack of water.

Hermaphroditism in cannabis can occur at any stage of development. This poses a serious problem that could potentially ruin the rest of your crops if even one hermaphrodite plant is left. 

Identifying a hermaphrodite is as difficult (if not more) as spotting a male plant in your garden. Just like with how you would check for male plants, you will need to observe the development of your buds and see whether or not a plant is growing both male and female flowers. 

If you were able to spot a hermied plant through this method, then all that’s left is removing it from your garden.

However, consider yourself fortunate that you were able to spot it before the hermied plant began to grow anthers – which are elongated stamens that grow out from hermied buds. 

They’re more commonly known as bananas since they’re curved in shape and yellow in color. If you happen to find anthers already growing on the buds of your hermied plants, it could already be too late –  anthers don’t need to burst to pollinate female buds. Remove any plants that have these bananas on their buds to save the rest of your crops.

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