Cannabis 101: Plant Anatomy
The cannabis plant during growth and after harvest has a very intricate anatomy. Knowing all the different parts of the plant can help you as both a cultivator and consumer of marijuana. Each form of the plant has specific functions, so we've highlighted different parts of the plant and what they indicate.
When growing cannabis, identifying nodes, stems, and leaves are pretty basic. However, as your plants grow, you'll notice that at each node, or intersection of stems where new growth happens, begin to have what are called either pistils on the female plant, or pollen sacs on the male plant. Female plants produce the large resin-secreting flowers that are trimmed down to round or pointed buds while males produce smaller pollen sacs near the base of the leaves.
Intentionally, female plants are stressed during the flowering stage, and not fertilized, in the end creating the harvested cannabis flower we smoke, vape, bake/cook with, or simply admire photos of on Instagram. During what is commonly referred to as 'the pre-flower stage,' is when a plant will start to show their sex. Hermaphroditic cannabis plants exist and are sometimes due to over-stressed female plants, that are striving to survive. They end up growing pollen sacs and self pollinate to keep their genetics alive. Most growers see this as a nuisance, just like male cannabis plants in a grow-op. Most growers ensure the sex of their plants by cloning a 'mother' plant or germinating feminized seeds. Refer to the image below for a visual comparison between the female and male plants.
Aside from identifying which sex your plant is growing into, other parts of the cannabis plant play important roles during the growth, as well as the consumption of the plant itself. Leafly put together great points on specific parts of a pot plant.
The cannabis plant is comprised of several structures, many of which we can find on any ordinary flowering species. Cannabis grows on long skinny stems with its large, iconic fan leaves extending out from areas called nodes. Cannabis really starts to stand out in her flowers where unique and intricate formations occur.
A cola refers to a cluster of buds that grow tightly together. While smaller colas occur along the budding sites of lower branches, the main cola (sometimes called the apical bud) forms at the very top of the plant.
Stigma and Pistil
The pistil contains the reproductive parts of a flower, and the vibrant, hairlike strands of the pistil are called stigmas. Stigmas serve to collect pollen from males. The stigmas of the pistil begin with a white coloration and progressively darken to yellow, orange, red, and brown over the course of the plant’s maturation. They play an important role in reproduction, but stigmas bring very little to the flower’s potency and taste.
Bract and Calyx
A bract is what encapsulates the female’s reproductive parts. They appear as green tear-shaped “leaves,” and are heavily covered in resin glands which produce the highest concentration of cannabinoids of all plant parts. Enclosed by these bracts and imperceptible to the naked eye, the calyx refers to a translucent layer over the ovule at a flower’s base.
Despite their minute size, it’s hard to miss the blanket of crystal resin on a cannabis bud. This resin (or “kief” when dry) is secreted through translucent, mushroom-shaped glands on the leaves, stems, and calyxes. Trichomes were originally developed to protect the plant against predators and the elements. These clear bulbous globes ooze aromatic oils called terpenes as well as therapeutic cannabinoids like THC and CBD. The basis of hash production depends on these trichomes and their potent sugar-like resin.
'Cannabis Anatomy Infographic' credit to Deborah Ro/Leafly. Information courtesy of Leafly.