Marijuana plants come in two forms: male and female. But what about plants that exhibit traits from both sexes? These are known as hermaphrodites, and they can be very frustrating for marijuana growers.
In this article you will learn how to avoid this and how to identify hermaphrodite flowers. Hermaphroditic marijuana plants have grown both male and female flowers. That being said, hermaphrodites aren’t usually born that way.
They originally grow as either a male or female plant, and then develop the opposite sex’s characteristics because of certain outside influences or genetic traits.
What is a hermaphrodite?
In this picture below you can see a clear example of a hermaphrodite flower. It has both pistils (female) and little balls (male).
Hermaphroditism is a characteristic of marijuana plants that can be seen in the wild, as well as through artificial induction. Hermaphrodites are generally not useful to marijuana growers because they don’t produce a lot of consumable buds or flowers, but they can be useful in creating feminized seeds, for a future generation of successful growth.
If they occur in the garden of a grower who is not planning for the future, they can even be considered a nuisance. Their pollen will be released on the other female plants that could have been sinsemillas, essentially ruining the crop.
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Sometimes hermaphrodites don’t become such until the final days of the flowering period, but these don’t pose any threat to your sinsemilla plants because they won’t have time to release their pollen and fertilize them before you harvest the crop.
How does it happen?
There are two origins that could be to blame for your marijuana plants being hermaphrodites. The first is genetics. Some strains of marijuana simply have a higher sensitivity to hermaphroditism, such as Thai sativas.
The second cause is environmental influences, which usually materializes as stress. Essentially, as soon as the plant “knows” that the conditions for flowering are too difficult, it will gain the traits of the opposite sex to pollinate its own female flowers by growing male pollen clusters, therefore shortening the flowering period.
The main stressors that might cause a marijuana plant to become a hermaphrodite include:
- photoperiod changes or disruptions
- temperatures being too high, or other environmental issues that the plant doesn’t thrive in
- leaving the harvesting until it is too late
- broken or damaged parts of the plant
- too much or too little water
- over fertilizing
- diseases or pest infestations, or phytotoxic product use, such as fungicides or pesticides
- mother plants that have been growing for too long might begin producing hermaphroditic clones as well
Every female marijuana plant could become a hermaphrodite
When under the correct circumstances, any marijuana plant has the potential to become a hermaphrodite. It’s important to remember this when selecting a strain.
While strains with a higher tendency to become hermaphrodites increase the chances of it happening again, strains that don’t have this tendency very well might become hermaphrodites nonetheless.
This usually occurs via the use of hormones, or bad treatment. The resulting stress can cause the flowering phase to be left to its own devices for too long.
It is an evolutionary trait for females to become hermaphrodites when it’s been too long, and they haven’t been fertilized yet, as it allows for the continuation of the species, despite difficult conditions.
Male vs. female
The function of the male plant is to produce pollen that fertilizes the female plant’s flowers, spurring it to grow seeds. Female plants that are never pollinated, such as when no male marijuana plants are growing in the area, continue to use their resources to grow the buds and flowers instead of seeds.
This produces more THC than male marijuana plants or fertilized female marijuana plants.
These unfertilized females are referred to as “sinsemilla,” which literally means “without seeds.” Because females are the only ones of the marijuana plants that will grow the resinous buds that are coveted by smokers of marijuana, sinsemillas can grow for longer, forming, even more, THC.
They are the coveted type of marijuana plants that every grower would like to achieve. But, considering that as much as half of every crop will be made up of males, this is a task that is not exactly easy to accomplish. If you can do it, however, you will be rewarded with an especially sweet, gentle smoke from your sinsemilla plants. So it is certainly worth the effort.
Identifying male marijuana plants
The key to getting sinsemilla plants is to correctly and quickly distinguish which plants are males, and which are females. Generally speaking, male marijuana plants grow taller when they mature and have thick stems, not as many leaves, and sporadic branching.
When they are old enough for flower development, male plants will grow little balls of buds that don’t have any white hairs. In contrast, the female plants will develop small white hairs and no ball-shaped buds. The male plants’ sacs will eventually open, and then push back their sepals in order to release pollen.
If you are growing the plants outside, you can expect males to reveal themselves toward the end of July in temperate climates in the Northern Hemisphere. And toward the end of January in the Southern Hemisphere, although this depends somewhat on the variety of marijuana you are growing.
Once you establish which plants are males, you should harvest them immediately before they have a chance to pollinate any of the female plants. The main goal is to do it before the pollen carries over to your females. Make sure that you don’t jostle or shake them too much when you harvest them, so as to avoid accidentally fertilizing the females around them.
Males are not good for harvesting to smoke because, not only do they not have too much in terms of THC, but their pollen can actually be harmful to people. Male plants are, therefore, best discarded as soon as they are identified.
Remember, even one or two male plants can wreak havoc on your crop by fertilizing the entire garden’s worth of females, so be sure to keep an eye on each plant, to make sure it’s removed as soon as it begins exhibiting male characteristics.
Identifying female marijuana plants
You will know for sure that a marijuana plant is female by the V-shaped pistils that reveal themselves. This occurs a few weeks after the males have reached sexual maturity (or, at least, have started to become identifiable), so you should have enough time to separate the two.
If you are growing your indoor plants, however, the females will exhibit their sexual traits just 7 to 10 days after the males have done so. This reveal date can vary according to which variety you are growing, of course.
If you are looking at the female marijuana plants, you should be able to identify their flower without too much trouble. They look like small green seed pods that have two white, V-shaped hairs that poke out.
Occasionally the hairs (known as “stigmas”) will come in colors other than white. The clusters of flowers are considered the buds of the plant.
Generally speaking, female marijuana plants are also shorter, denser, and wider than their male counterparts. This is simply because, when the males are taller, they have a better chance of distributing their pollen further distances.
Female plants usually require between one and three weeks to go from their vegetation period to their flowering phase once the lighting has changed (either artificially or naturally).
Sometimes people think marijuana plants can be accurately identified as male or female before they have even reached sexual maturity. They jump at the chance because early identification can help immensely with your crop as it takes away much of the possibility that there could be the odd male that slips your notice when removing the males from your crop. However, this is sadly just a myth.
After just a couple of months of growth, marijuana plants sometimes develop some “pre flowers,” which often get beginner growers to thinking that they are lucky enough to identify their plants as male or female early.
Unfortunately, while it might be an indication of which sex that plant will turn out to be, it is not accurate or reliable. So to discard plants that appear male, for example, would risk throwing away an actual female plant that is precious to you. So do not make any rash decisions based on this odd pre-flowering.
Cuttings and hermaphrodite flowers
Using one good female plant to provide cuttings for more identical female plants, also known as cloning, is a good way to ensure that you will continue a particularly hearty or healthy plant. It is important, however, to first know that the plant is female.
This can only be done by force-flowering it. Unfortunately, this process can be very stressful for plants, which in turn produces poor cuttings. So how do you manage it?
The best way to figure out if the plant is female is by first taking some cuttings from it and then force-flowering those cuttings straight away. It is less important if those cuttings are stressed out or damaged by this quick change than if the healthy mother plant is. Once you have established that the plant is female, you can take more cuttings and really cultivate them with dedication and care.
Prevent becoming hermaphroditic
The most important thing to consider when attempting to prevent your marijuana plants from becoming hermaphroditic is to ensure that they are not stressed -- especially during the flowering period of their growth cycle. This means that there should be no pruning or staking during the flowering phase. Do it beforehand, during the vegetation stage instead.
Other aspects you should consider to keep your plants stress-free are the environmental conditions of the space they are being grown in. Keep the area clean and make sure the timers well monitored.
Regularly inspect each plant for any signs of pests or insects. Make sure the plants are watered correctly and with the right frequency. Feed them a balanced nutrient mixture. Keep an eye on the trichomes before you harvest to make sure you don’t wait too long.
You can also help prevent the development of hermaphroditism before you have even purchased the seeds. The main thing you need to do is research the seeds you are interested in buying, before actually purchasing them. Don’t only rely on the information given by the distributor or company itself.
Also check out the comments that growers who have actually used this strain have written. Read up on the seedbank’s official recommendations, and check in or even contact them about whether or not there is hermaphroditism in this strain. Generally speaking, strains that receive too many complaints of the hermaphroditism are taken off the market.
If you purchase feminized seeds, you can expect a higher tendency toward hermaphroditism than with regular seeds. No matter what kind or strain of seed you are growing, however, it is important to often check your female plants for any male flowers that may develop over time as this could lead to major problems within your crop, and, therefore, needs to be dealt with accordingly.
What to do when hermaphrodites are found
First of all, don’t panic, and hastily expect your entire crop is ruined just because you discovered one of your female plants is also exhibiting male characteristics. These male traits are easily identified, as their flowers will be yellow in color, and shaped like a banana.
This should stick out like a sore thumb. Therefore, unless you have been severely neglecting your crop, the chances are good that you have caught the plant in the early stages of developing male characteristics.
As soon as you confirm that one of your plants has both female and male flowers and it was discovered during the early stages of the flowering phase of growth, you should remove it from the area right away.
While it is indeed unfortunate to take away one of your plants from the future harvest, it is a necessary sacrifice that pays off hugely when the rest of your plants remain unpollinated females. If you hesitate and leave the hermaphrodite within the growing area for too long, it could be too late, and your entire crop could become pollinated.
If your plants are in the middle of the flowering phase, things need to be done a little differently. If the hermaphroditic plant just has a couple male flowers, they can simply be removed without removing the entire plant. Do this by using a sterilized pair of tweezers.
Another option is to simply spray water on those few male flowers, as water actually sterilizes pollen. Keep your eyes peeled for more banana-shaped flowers that might develop in the future.
If, however, the plant has developed quite a few male flowers, it is probably best to just remove the entire plant altogether. Otherwise you may not be able to stay on top of all of the male flowers, missing something and, therefore, ruining the rest of your crop. That is simply not a risk worth taking.
There is one other time in which you might discover a hermaphrodite among your female plants: at the end of the flowering phase. If this happens, you can simply harvest the plant straight away, before the male flowers even have time to drop their pollen on the surrounding females.
This is ideal because you will still have the harvest from that plant, but it might be just a bit earlier than you would prefer (which is not always a bad thing).
Seeds discovered in your harvest
If you have found seeds hidden amongst the buds that you have taken after the harvest of an all-female garden, then that shows that there were, in fact, hermaphrodites (or even just one hermaphrodite) living amongst your crop. Next time around, be more careful when checking your plants, or perhaps just inspect them more frequently.
Unless you want to grow them for very specific reasons, it is best not to grow the seeds that you have discovered because the chances are high that the resulting plants will be hermaphroditic as well.
It is generally safe to assume that plants whose parents you know exhibit certain traits, will also exhibit those same traits. Sometimes people attempt to feminize their seeds so that they have an entirely female crop before they have even begun the germination process.
This feminization can be done in numerous ways, but in this case it can be done through a female plant becoming a hermaphrodite and self-pollinating, meaning that genetically the seeds have come from “two” females rather than one male and one female. This leads to increased chances that the seeds will be female.
However, many growers have complained that this simply leads to a huge crop of future hermaphrodites, or at least that the chances are far higher that these seeds will develop with both female and male flowers. It is therefore not advised to proceed in this manner, as it could end up being a total waste of time and energy. A crop full of hermaphrodites is no good for anyone.
Remember that plants with strong genetics have less change of getting sick and are less vulnerable for diseases, deficiency’s, pest and environmental stresses. So make sure to buy marijuana seeds from a trusted seed bank.
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