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

Don’t want to read? Watch the video What is a Marijuana plant!

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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Mr Robert Bergman PhD


Robert Bergman is an Amsterdam-based marijuana grow expert who has years of experience from small grows to massive operations ... See profile

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58 comments on “Marijuana Plant Anatomy”

  1. Hi there,

    Thanks for your comment! We appreciate that, thank you:)

    Let us know if you have any questions as well!

    Happy growing,

  2. Hey Robert,
    Having trouble reaching customer service on a issue. Could you ask them to contact me. You have my email address.
    Victoria Lail

  3. […] For the planting method, choose a few seeds and put them in half an inch of dirt inside of a small cup. Soak them in warm water. Leave the cup in a room temperature environment for approximately one week, and see if any seedlings have appeared. If they have, these seeds will most likely be successful in producing healthy marijuana plants. […]

  4. We are here to help, but again, I strongly advise you to post your quesions in the grow forum.

    All the leaves you asked about are the same thing. Sucker, Sugar, Water, Fan leaves; All the same. Perhaps someone is calling trim leaves with heavy trichomes “sugar” leaves. I don’t know.

    Fans leaves are the heart and lungs of your plant; They help to draw fluids to the flowers, the bre4athe for the plant, and provide shade. Contrary to some opinions; It does not help the plant in any way to remove these leaves.

  5. I see post about water leaf, sugar leaf, fan leaf ect. Could you please explain what each specific function is for those leaves and where they are located. Thanks.

  6. Hi, just found you. Great info. I enjoy your articles. Its been 8 years since my last grow, I’m just a” homer”. Working on SOG with 16 girls. Wow! What a change from early 00’s with the avalibilty of information. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and information. Steph

  7. Sugar water is useless, unless you want every bug and pest on the planet on your plants.

    Growing in S. Africa is up to you. I have no idea what the climate is like in the Winter there. Can farmers grow Peppers, tomato’s, etc?

  8. You never remove fan leaves unless they are damaged past the point of recovery. If you remove all your fan leaves, then the plant Does Not!; concentrate on flowers; It attempts to heal itself, taking away from flower production.

  9. Does it help in any way to water your plants with sugary water? Also, in the Limpopo province in south Africa there is always a considerable amount of sun shine almost everyday in winter , now my question is is it safe to grow now in winter or should I wait a bit. Pliz help.

  10. I have a lot of South African sativa seeds,mainly the swazi variety i would like to swop seeds,can you let me know if anybody is interested thank you

  11. First off let me say that I was very skeptical about ordering beans online; But after downloading the Grow Bible and reading some of the other reviews I jumped right in & Am I glad I did! I placed my order on 1/28 & on 2/1 I received my order which was so perfectly masqueraded. Great Job & will def be doing future business. I will update post once my new ladies are up an going…Thanks again Robert

  12. Indoor growing/lighting….I am considering a 12″ by 12″ led panel with red, white, blue & orange lights . 4 different wave length to cover the various stages of growth. My question is, have you had any experience with this as this is my first attempt at growing anything in a 4by4 foot tent? Thank you in advance, I’ve waited 40 + years for this info to be free to the public.

  13. I have a few questions about lighting I have 1000 50 watts of CFLs and my buds are not growing bigger I am using the marijuana booster as directed I’m in my third week of flowering any suggestions

  14. Hello to all my fellow growers out there.
    First want to say that I very much enjoy this site. Great guides to growing some beautiful ladies. My question was about “Gold Leaf***”. Is there anymore information about her. SOG? SCROG? heat/cold tolerance? Does she like to be topped? Supercropping? When does she turn gold? How is her stretch? Or perhaps the best would be, WWRD? (what would Robert do?)

  15. Ref trimming ,, yeah i can go for that ,,, is there any main reason that the disease or nutrient imbalance always goes to shading (fan) leaves first is it becauese they are the main work house of the plants ??

  16. Hi Robert, your web site and the help you offer is amazing , I now really enjoy the growing process, nearly as much as the end product . You will be highly recommended .

  17. Hi rob just got a few questions for you. I want to purchase some white widow and super skunk from you but how long will it take to send to Australia? Also do you have any coupons you can offer to secure my business?

  18. I am in week 4.5 of flower. Got to learn to lay off the water.Just received 20og and 10ss total turnaround 18 days sent cash.I love this guy Thanks.

  19. Hi Robert,
    I grew my first plants last year, eight total. I reviewed many sources for information and in the end chose to follow both you and Nebula Haze. You both offer clear, logical instructions and insight into the growth and harvest of quality plants. I have purchased seeds twice from you and I am a very happy customer. I grew outside in the wonderful California sun and harvested over 28 oz. of quality buds. Thanks for your dedication to this topic. I look forward to continuing my education and expertise with your help.

  20. Thanks for all your positive reactions! Growing marijuana still is one of the best things to do! Using your hands, busy with nature while creating a beautiful product 🙂

    @Kyltyk @Nadine
    The opinions on trimming plants are still divided. Personally I think you should never trim large fan leaves because they produce more sugars than they use. If the leaf is useless, the plant will disregard it itself. For a better distribution of sugars (and a higher yield) you can trim the young, new foliage and stems. To get more insight on the sugar distribution I wrote this article: Distribution Of Sugars Within A Marijuana Plant



  21. Along the lines of pruning while growing, how do you know which leaves to prune and which to leave. I would hate to remove the wrong thing and kill my plants. I have three healthy plant at about 30 inches in height. Very healthy looking. I have pruned some new growth at the top to encourage splitting growth, but I have not pruned anything else because I do not really know what I am doing lol this is my first grow attempt. Any info about pruning while growing would be appreciated. Oh, and great article, lots of useful info, thanks!

  22. Thanks for posting all of your good advice. You have definitely helped readjust my self taught ways, and thanks for the high quality products.

  23. I have been given conflicting advice regarding the shading leaves on plants ,, some say when the plant begins to bud, produce the flowers, that its is best to remove these larger shading leaves a) to let mor light get to the plant and B) to allow more focus from the plant on the flowers ,, others say NO dont take these off as they are the main energy providers for the bud production,,, what would be your take on it Robert ??

  24. Funny how Nebula was quick to respond. Lol I get a great deal of useful information from you AND the great genetics to make it all happen. I also get good info from Serius and Nebula but all they can do is refer u to Nirvana or some other seed bank. Thanks for all of you and your teams great work! Happy growin!

  25. since discovering your website I’ve gained valuable info on growing my own buds. and will continue to read your comments and articles. Thanks…..

  26. Hi Brad,

    If the roots of your marijuana plant are not healthy, you usually see some discoloring of the leaves. Similar to underwatering sings. I will write an article about testing the pH and EC (ppm/TDS) of your soil and post the link here. Here’s an article about water and nutrient uptake


  27. Your site was one of the first i ever found and i have been reading it ever since, all because you explain things well. Alotof people who grow weed could do with reading this article and getting a basic understanding of the science involved in plant grow. It helps make you a better grower.

  28. what i would like to know is how do you check to see if your roots are healthy if your growing in soil and how do you know if yor plant is getting the right amount of nutrients and water

  29. Nice info!

    A small correction for the biology enthusiasts – a cannabis plant doesn’t actually have a “trunk” since it’s not a tree, they have a long main stem with strong apical dominance.

    Also, one last thing – more “fingers” on the leaves doesn’t necessarily mean one plant is stronger than the other – it has a lot to do with genetics, too. Some strains will never grow 13-finger leaves no matter what conditions they’re growing in, but that doesn’t mean they’re less healthy 🙂

    Great reference and article – thanks for sharing!