By Emily Ledger
Cannabis is an incredibly diverse plant, with a huge number of varieties and strains, and thousands of end uses. From industrial hemp high-THC to ‘marijuana’, the gender of the cannabis plant can cause significant variation in the plant’s properties and uses.
Plants and Reproduction
Like animals, plants need to reproduce in order to maintain the stability of the species. There are a number of ways in which plants can reproduce, which is dependent on the type of plant.
Some plants are what is known as Monoecious and produce two types of flowers on the same plant. These flowers contain either male or female reproductive organs so that the plant can pollinate itself in order to produce seeds.
Hermaphrodite plants can also pollinate themselves but do so in a different way – by producing flowers with both male and female reproductive organs. This means that the individual flowers of a plant are able to pollinate themselves to produce seeds. Cannabis plants, however, reproduce a different way.
Male and Female Cannabis Plants
Most species of cannabis are dioecious plants. This means that individual plants can be identified as either male or female. In order for cannabis plants to reproduce naturally, both genders of the plant need to be present. However, in the case of cannabis, farmers usually segregate the genders in order to preserve desirable properties in the plants – particularly female plants.
How can you tell the difference?
The sex of a cannabis plant is determined by what grows between the nodes of the plant – in other words, where the branches meet the stalk. Male plants are identified by the development of pollen sacs. In comparison, female plants will develop stigma which extend out to catch pollen.
Hermaphrodite Cannabis Plants
Under some circumstances, a plant may develop both male and female reproductive organs. These are known as hermaphrodite cannabis plants, though this is not strictly accurate. These plants are monoecious cannabis plants. It is thought that this usually occurs in plants that are exposed to environmental stresses such as plant damage and disease and nutrient deficiencies.
Female Cannabis Plants
Female plants are favoured in the cultivation of high-THC cannabis for medical and recreational purposes. Unpollinated female plants produce seedless buds that are more potent and resinous. These are known as sinsemilla.
The absence of male plants also allows unpollinated female plants to grow stronger and healthier. If male plants are left to mix with female plants, then the females will begin to produce seeds. Seeded buds are often considered to be low quality as seeds make cannabis smoke more harsh and unpleasant.
In order to farm solely female plants, many farmers use cloning and feminised seeds.
Male Cannabis Plants
It has been circulated that all hemp crops are made up of male plants. This is not true – hemp is the name of low-THC cannabis species, no matter the gender of the plants. However, some cultivators found that male plants are, in fact, better suited for use as industrial hemp as their fibre is softer and easier to process.
However, it is often the female plants that are grown to full maturity, as male plants may begin to fail after they have released their pollen.
In hemp crops, the gender of the plant is not as significant a factor as it is for the cultivation of other cannabis species for medical and recreational uses.