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Understanding Male, Female and Hermaphrodite Marijuana Plants:
Did you know marijuana plants have a gender? It is part of how they reproduce, and an important way of ensuring the cannabis plant stays around for generations.
Cannabis can actually reproduce in two different ways, either sexually or asexually. Asexual reproduction occurs when new plants are produced from cuttings. You simply cut a piece of a ‘mother’ plant, and a replica is created. Since many strains are not available as seeds, this is how growers are able to continue growing them.
Another method of reproduction, sexual reproduction, is a bit more involved. It uses male and female cells to create a seed that forms in the flowers of female plants. From this seed, a new plant is born.
This article will explain the process of sexual reproduction in cannabis plants and how it impacts your role as a marijuana grower.
The roles of the sexes
In the process of reproduction, each marijuana gender has an important role. Most personal growers will want female plants since males produce very little THC. However, male plants are essential for breeding your own marijuana seeds.
- Has clusters of flowers designed for pollination
- Includes calyces and pistils
- Can produce seeds
- Produces trichomes
- Has flowers that open to distribute pollen
- Grows taller to enable pollination
The anatomy of the female flower
On a female marijuana plant, a large cluster of buds will appear on your plants during the flowering period. This cluster is called the cola, and it consists of many sub-units of buds. Within the cola, there are also many pistils, which moderate the female processes of reproduction. Each pistil contains the stigmas that interact with male pollen.
Throughout the flowering process, a cola is preparing for reproduction. During this time the plant stretches and develops its bud sites. These sites are the homes of groups of female marijuana flowers seeking to be fertilized. New flowers form on the top side of these subunits, and small stigmas emerge from the pistils. These thin structures are often recognizable by their white hair.
Stigmas can sometimes die – especially after heavy rains or wind. This will cause them to become dry and change in color from brown to red. This does not mean that pollination cannot happen. Even if a stigma is this color (instead of white), it can still receive pollen.
The female flower also has other hairs – glandular trichomes. These “hairs” are responsible for producing resin on the flowers and nearby leaves. Up close the resin looks like a ball attached to a tiny neck, and it’s a good analogy of how delicate they are. If you handle the buds roughly, some of these trichomes can break off. Underneath the pistol, you will find a smaller leaf called the stipule. It is more noticeable before flowers are formed.
When a male marijuana plant has matured, it releases pollen and seeks out the female stigmas. The pollen then travels to the egg cell located inside of the pistil, producing a seed. If this process does not happen, the female flower begins to change.
The pollen from a male plant can survive for a few days as it attempts to reach a female, increasing the cannabis plant’s chance of survival. Pollen can survive on fabrics, in air ducts and be stored for intentional fertilization.
Pistils grow larger when they are not fertilized. This is so they have an easier chance of locating pollen. When the pistils are completely mature, the stigmas will die, and they cannot be fertilized. At this point, resin production will slow down or stop, and the trichomes will begin to break down. This period marks the beginning of the plant’s death, but it is not immediate death. Pistil maturation occurs gradually, instead of all at one time, leaving growers plenty of time to harvest.
Is pollination a good thing?
Many growers prefer sensimilla, cannabis that is not pollinated and does not have seeds. Because they did not produce seeds, these flowers tend to have more trichome production and more potency. As a result, most growers try to prevent pollination.
While seeds aren’t always wanted, accidental pollination frequently occurs and is recognizable by swollen calyx rings (beneath the stigmas). If unintentional pollination occurs, remember that a few seeds won’t ruin a harvest. It may only be one flower, and your plant has hundreds of them. You can either pick those seeds off or leave it alone.
Hermaphrodite plants are plants with the qualities of both male and female cannabis. Their role in the reproduction process is ensuring the survival of the plant’s genetics. Plants can have varying levels of hermaphroditism.
Mostly Female Flowers: The plant can still function as a female by removing male flowers
Equal Number of Males and Females: The plant will most like self-pollinate.
Mostly Male Flowers: The plant will function as a male.
There are two forms of hermaphrodites, (often called ‘hermies’), but the term is used to refer to any plant that is not distinctly male or female. A true hermaphrodite plant is known as bisexual and has both features of a male and female growing but on different parts of the plant. This tends to happen from genetics, as the plant was given the ability from birth due to being born from a hermaphrodite parent.
True hermaphrodites don’t always become hermies even though they have the genetics for it. With expert growing they can grow into females, however, under even the slightest stress they may transform into their natural state – a self-pollinating hermie. If cloned, these plants will always become hermaphrodites. Hermaphrodites are not as potent as female plants, even if they flower.
Another type of hermie is a female plant that forms small growths during the flowering stage. Because these growths look like bananas, these types of hermies are often called ‘bananas.’ Until this time, these plants appeared female, but after a while (usually due to stress) they become hermaphrodite.
While surprising, the process of female marijuana plants becoming male is not that rare. In fact, it frequently happens with a female plant that goes too long without being pollinated or harvested. As a last-ditch effort to continue the species, she becomes hermie and produces seeds herself. Some breeders use this process of stressing a plant (known as rhodelization) to produce seeds. However, when it happens before a plant is mature it can devastate an entire garden, as the pollen created can fertilize multiple female plants in mere minutes.
Scenarios that can lead to pollen sacs
- Problems in the light/dark schedule
- Lighting that is too bright
- Temperatures that are too hot
- Nutrient deficiencies
- pH problems
- Lack of water
- Poor genetics
- Feminized seeds using rhodelization
While rhodelization is a useful way to create feminized seeds, it also increases the risk of developing pollen sacs, since those seeds are technically hermies as well. This is why it is not a good idea to clone feminized seeds since the stress of cloning (combined with its genetics) will likely cause it to become hermaphrodite as well. For breeding purposes, it is best to choose a mother plant that shows no signs of hermaphroditism even when under stress.
Removing hermaphrodites from your garden
If pollen from a pollen sac comes in contact with your buds, those buds will stop making more buds and instead focus on producing seeds. A few seeds are not a problem, but an entire harvest of seeded females is not ideal. Keep in mind, those seeds will probably be hermies as well.
To prevent this from happening you should remove hermaphrodite plants as soon as possible before they pollinate everything. On a true hermaphrodite, you can simply remove the pollen sacs before they burst. This is enough if you identify all of the hermies and remove all of the sacs in time. However, this can be challenging since the pollen sacs can reappear after they have been removed.
With banana hermies the process is a little different. Their pollen sacs are not round like true hermies because they are not pollen sacs. Instead, they are the elongated stamen inside of a pollen sac that look like bananas. They even grow in bunches like miniature bananas. Sometimes they are lime green instead of yellow.
The most significant difference between bananas and other hermies is that these pollen sacs do not need to open before they pollinate. Because they are the exposed male part of the pollen sac, they start pollinating as soon as they appear, meaning it may already be too late. Like seeds though, a few bananas aren’t a big problem, just remove them.
The problem is, it is actually rare for a plant to only have a “few bananas.” That is why it is best to immediately remove the entire plant before it has a chance to produce more and watch for bananas on other plants. Bananas grow quick and do their damage even quicker. If you start to see a bunch of them, harvest whichever plants haven’t been fertilized and consider yourself lucky.
Identifying the sex of your plants
You want to be able to identify the sex of your plants before they start to flower if you would like to avoid pollination. Plus, since the gender of a marijuana plant is determined when it is a seed, it helps to know what kind of plant you have if you are planning to grow female marijuana.
Fortunately, it is quite easy to spot a male plant from a female plant, but as explained above, hermaphrodites can be more of a challenge.
Since all seeds look alike, especially to non-experts, it is hard to determine which ones to plant. In most cases, at least half of marijuana seeds are males. As such, it is almost impossible to end up with only female cannabis plants. One way to ensure that we grow only female plants is to buy from reputable seed banks and choose feminized seeds, but keep in mind that how they have been feminized (combined with how they are grown) can impact whether they become hermies.
Additionally, not all cannabis strains are available in feminized seeds, so it is likely that a batch of seeds would have both male and female plants. Of course, that also means it is possible to have hermaphrodites as well. Here’s how you recognize male verses female plants:
Male Cannabis Plant
Male marijuana plants do not produce buds, but they will have flowers. These mainly contain pollen.
How to Identify Male Cannabis
During the pre-flowering stage, male plants start showing grape-like balls along its stalks. These clusters, called pollen sacs, contain powdery pollens. Typically, after a week or two into the flowering stage, the cannabis plant reaches maturity. As a result, the pollen sacs will burst open and spread pollens everywhere.
While male marijuana plants are hard to distinguish from females during growth, it is still a good idea to be vigilant and watch out for them. Just remember to watch out for small grape-like balls as early as the when they are seedlings.
Female Cannabis Plant
Female marijuana plants take a tad bit longer than males to reach sexual maturity. But once they do, it is quite easy to spot them.
How to Identify Female Cannabis
During the pre-flowering stage, the female plant will grow one or two wispy white hairs at the location where buds will form. It means that the plant is ready to bud anytime soon. The hairs will be visible on the main stem that connects to the nodes or branches. Once the hairs are spotted, that is a great sign that the plant is a female.
Female plants tend to start showing hairs even before the flowering stage, or changes in grow light schedules.
Hermaphrodite Cannabis Plant
How to Identify Hermaphrodite Cannabis
Mostly, a true hermaphrodite plant will look like a male plant. As such, it will form grape-like balls that contain pollens.
The most important thing to remember as a grower is that females produce THC and males distract them from it. However, a thorough understanding of how marijuana plants reproduce can help you produce more potent, high-quality buds and prevent accidental fertilization.