Parts of the Cannabis Plant: Unique Attributes and Uses Abound
When people talk about cannabis they are generally referring to the flowers (buds) of Cannabis spp. These special buds get a lot of the publicity, and rightfully so. But what about other parts of the plant? The leaves, stalks, seeds, roots of cannabis have their own unique properties and offer the potential of botanical synergy. Let’s break them down here, piece by piece. For a nice overview of the parts of the plant and their unique uses, check out the chart at the bottom of the article.
Nugs. Buds. This is where the fame of cannabis resides. When people smoke cannabis or make plant medicine, they use the flowers. The growing number of studies on the medicinal attributes of the plant have revolved around cannabinoids, which are housed in the trichomes of cannabis buds. That’s also where terpenes are found in the highest concentration. Resin, the sticky collection of trichomes, has historically been used to make hash, kief, and other cannabis concentrates for centuries.
When found in its natural state growing on the plant, “raw” cannabinoids are in their acidic form (ex THC-A, CBDA). When heat is applied, that’s when cannabinoids are transformed into their neutral form. That’s how we imbibe CBD, THC and other cannabinoids. [ 1] Since we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the potential of cannabinoid medicine, terpenes, and other components, more investigation is needed not only on cannabis flowers, but on other parts of the plant as well.
Surrounding the buds of the plant grow the iconic “pot” leaves. The leaves protect the plant from the elements, pests, and other factors. [ 1] The sugar leaves (those growing closest to the flowers) contain more trichomes (“crystals”) than the fan leaves, but nowhere near as much as cannabis flowers themselves. [ 2] The excess sugar leaves trimmed away during the manicuring of the buds (known as “trim”) can be used in cooking or tincture making.
Cannabis leaves have a long history of use in Jamaica, where women historically were responsible for providing cannabis leaf tea to the whole family. Cannabis tonics are consumed in Jamaica by people of all ages, genders, and economic status to maintain good health. [ 3] Cannabis leaves contain a compound known as canniprene, a potentially interesting anti-inflammatory agent. [ 4]
Juicing cannabis leaves has become more popular in recent years. Many people attribute the benefits of juicing to the presence of acidic cannabinoids (like THCA, CBDA) in the plant. However, while cannabis leaves are rich in chlorophyll, they actually have a very low acidic cannabinoid content. For those seeking acidic cannabinoids, the best bet is to go with using cannabis buds (flowers). However, some acidic cannabinoids like CBDA may be quite potent at low doses. [ 1] Chlorophyll is one of the components of green juice. Fan leaves are packed with that and p hytonutrients . Fan leaves can be made into juice, infusions, or in topical preparations. [ 5,6] More research needs to be done on cannabis leaves to differentiate their unique composition and learn more about their therapeutic potential.
When speaking of superfoods, cannabis seeds fit the bill. They may be one of the most nutritionally complete foods available, and have been consumed in China for at least 3,000 years. [ 7] They contain 35% protein and all essential amino acids. They also have potent antiinflammatory properties. They are rich in essential fatty acids in a 3:1 ratio which is considered to be an ideal nutritional target. [ 1]
Cannabis or hemp seeds have an outer hull and inner “heart”. Both whole and peeled options are available on the market. The hull itself has been investigated for its antioxidant activity and potential anti-cancer properties. [ 1] In order to reap the full medicinal potential of cannabis seeds, keep it on the crunchy side! Cannabis seeds also make nutrient-rich animal feed, a concept that has been backed up both in feeding trials and observational data collected over thousands of years. [ 7]
Despite an extensive history of medicinal use, cannabis roots haven’t received much attention in present day medical practice and research. Roots of cannabis have been used for centuries to treat conditions such as fever, inflammation, burns, tumors, infection, and gastrointestinal issues. Traditional methods included pounding the fresh root to extract their juice. Topical applications and water extraction were popular methods of preparation. Cannabis roots were also mixed with fats like oil or butter and even infused in wine. [ 8]
Cannabis roots contain no cannabinoids, but are rich in compounds like friedelin and epifriedelanol. Friedelin is the most prominent triterpenoid in cannabis. Epifriedelanol is a related triterpenoid that may possess anti aging properties. [ 1] Modern research has examined the compounds found in cannabis roots for pain, inﬂammation, and fever. It has also been studied for its antimicrobial activity. The source of cannabis roots must be carefully considered if they are being used for medicine, as the cannabis plant accumulates heavy metals from the soil. Future studies on cannabis roots will help to determine the best preparation methods and which conditions they may best serve. [ 8]
Stalk and Stems
Generally discarded by growers cultivating cannabis for flower production, the stalks of cannabis provide their own unique contribution to humankind. Cannabis stalks provide us seemingly limitless possibilities for fabrics, clothing, paper, housing, and much more. The strong stalk is where building materials are made that can act as a substitute for cement, fiberglass, insulation, and others . [ 9]
Cannabis stalk (fiber) is known for its incredible strength and durability, being twice as strong as wood. The stalks are also incredibly rot resistant and its fiber is biodegradable, unlike plastics and many other materials we depend on daily. [ 10] Another solid use for Cannabis/hemp stalks is as garden mulch. Stalks are naturally insect resistant, so having it surrounding the soil in the garden can help keep pests at bay. [ 11] Stalks can also be used for animal bedding, providing a less dusty alternative to straw which benefits the lung health of the animals. And cannabis stalks have a higher absorbency than straw, which leaves barns in need of less frequent cleanings. [ 12,13]
Some people use discarded stems separated from flower buds for steeping tea or extracting cannabinoids. The stems are very low in cannabinoids and will likely not yield much to note a change in effect. [ 1] Until more research is conducted, it might be best to keep stems and stalks for what they do best, creating top notch fibrous materials.
If the grand landscape of cannabis discovery has taught us anything, it is that the plant cannot be distilled down to one mere part (the buds) or target compound (CBD, THC, etc). Every part of this plant can be used for nutrition, healing to the body, and/or benefit the environment. How amazing is that? And much more research needs to be done on the plant in its entirety in order to uncover more of its vast healing potential.
Some of the plethora of uses of the plant are outlined below:
Clarke, R. C., & Merlin, M. D. (2016). Cannabis domestication, breeding history, present-day genetic diversity, and future prospects. Critical reviews in plant sciences , 35 (5-6), 293-327. (reused with permission by the authors)
- Russo, E. B., & Marcu, J. (2017). Cannabis pharmacology: the usual suspects and a few promising leads. In Advances in pharmacology (Vol. 80, pp. 67-134). Academic Press.
- Parsons, J. L., Martin, S. L., James, T., Golenia, G., Boudko, E. A., & Hepworth, S. R. (2019). Polyploidization for the genetic improvement of Cannabis sativa. Frontiers in plant science , 10 , 476.
- Dreher, M. C., Nugent, K., & Hudgins, R. (1994). Prenatal marijuana exposure and neonatal outcomes in Jamaica: an ethnographic study. Pediatrics , 93 (2), 254-260.
- Allegrone, G., Pollastro, F., Magagnini, G., Taglialatela-Scafati, O., Seegers, J., Koeberle, A., . & Appendino, G. (2017). The bibenzyl canniprene inhibits the production of pro-inflammatory eicosanoids and selectively accumulates in some Cannabis sativa strains. Journal of Natural Products , 80 (3), 731-734.
- Zambeza. (2019). Cannabis Fan Leaves & 5 Great Ways To Use Them . Accessed on October 1, 2020.
- Campbell, L. G., Naraine, S. G., & Dusfresne, J. (2019). Phenotypic plasticity influences the success of clonal propagation in industrial pharmaceutical Cannabis sativa. PloS one , 14 (3), e0213434.
- Padua, L. S., & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (1999). Plant Resources of South-East Asia (Medicinal and Poisonous Plants 1): Simaroubaceae. Netherlands: Buckhuys publishers. hlm , 272-275.
- Callaway, J. C. (2004). Hempseed as a nutritional resource: An overview. Euphytica , 140 (1-2), 65-72.
- Ryz, N. R., Remillard, D. J., & Russo, E. B. (2017). Cannabis roots: a traditional therapy with future potential for treating inflammation and pain. Cannabis and cannabinoid research , 2 (1), 210-216.
- Johnson, R. (2018). Hemp as an agricultural commodity. Library of Congress Washington DC Congressional Research Service.
- Garton, Kathy. (2017). “ Why Hemp Mulch is Better for Vegetable Gardens ”. The Marijuana Times. Accessed on 9/21/2020.
- Kane, Mari. ” Four Basic Uses ”. Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council. Accessed on 9/21/2020.
- Threlkeld, Leslie. (2018). “ Let’s Talk About Hemp. And No, It’s Not What You Think ” Noelle Floyd. Accessed on 9/21/2020.
Genester Wilson-King, MD FACOG is a Board-Certified Obstetrician and gynecologist with over 25 years of clinical experience providing compassionate and research-driven care to patients. After years of working as a full-service OB/GYN, she founded Victory Rejuvenation Center (VRC), a private holistic and preventive medicine practice that provides life-transforming management modalities and customized medicines to patients. She is the Medical Advisor to Treadwell Farms.
As the Medical Director of VRC, Dr. Wilson-King provides services that help her patients age gracefully and achieve holistic well-being. She focuses on plant-based medicine, integrated health, nutrition, supplements, cannabis education, and hormone balance.
Dr. Wilson-King is Co-Vice President of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians (SCC). The SCC is an educational and scientific society of physicians and other professionals dedicated to the promotion, protection and support of cannabis for medical use. Dr. Wilson-King co-authored the Best Practices Guidelines for Cannabis Use in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding, and Cannabis Use in Women – Special Considerations (in progress). She is also on the Board of the Doctors For Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), the first and only national physicians’ association dedicated to the legalization and regulation of cannabis for adults. Advancing the DFCR’s commitment to addressing the disproportionate criminalization of cannabis use among communities of color and the nation’s poor, she regularly provides expert opinions for legal cases involving cannabis.
Dr. Wilson-King is a nationally recognized advocate, clinician, and educator for cannabis and hormone and wellness therapies. She presents on cannabis use in obstetrics and gynecology, hormone therapy for PMS, various stages of menopause, and for applications in nutrition.
Sarah Russo is a longtime plant enthusiast and globetrotter. She got her degree in environmental studies and social justice, with a focus on plant medicine from the Evergreen State College. She is a freelance writer, consultant, and project manager with over 13 years of experience in the cannabis and herbal medicine space. Her main objectives are fighting for the right to use plants, implementing social justice approaches in the cannabis industry, as well as encouraging sustainable agricultural practices. She is currently based on an island in the Mediterranean. Sarah is a content creator for Treadwell Farms.
The Difference Between Male and Female Weed Plants
Cannabis plants have evolved enormously over the past couple of decades, mainly thanks to human kind. We’ve spent years combining different species from all over the planet. Every strain has its own specific characteristics, such as structure, type of buds, flavor and effects. When you combine male and female weed plants that are different strains, the new creation takes on characteristics from both, allowing us to create totally new plants.
One of the biggest achievements has been the appearance of feminized plants; after years and years of work, cannabis seeds can be created to have a 99% chance to be female. You need to know how to tell male from female plants when growing regular seeds, as you’ll only get actual psychoactive weed from the female flowers. Male plants pollinate female plants, which fills their flowers up with seeds so if you’re looking to make the most of your plants you’ll want to keep them away from each other. Hopefully we can help you to tell the difference between male and female weed plants by the end of this article; it’s not that hard, but if it’s not explained correctly it can be a bit confusing.
What’s the difference between male and female weed plants?
Male plants essentially produce pollen which is needed for cannabis plants to naturally reproduce; seeds occur when there are male plants in the mix. If you want to make your own seeds you will need a male plant However, if you’re growing regular plants and want to harvest flowers, we recommend getting rid of any males as soon as possible. You won’t be able to tell them apart until they begin to flower, which is when plants begin to show their sex. Male weed plants grow “balls” that open up to let their pollen out, ending up looking like a small bunch of flowers. You’ll need to get rid of them way before this happens. If they manage to release their pollen it’ll be too late. They can take up to three weeks to burst. If you’re still not sure how to tell them apart, male flowers do not have any pistils on them at all.
Female plants are basically what everyone is after when growing cannabis, as these are the ones that make buds, which is the part of the plant that contains the most THC. With just one male plant and a minuscule amount of pollen, your plants might end up filling their flowers with seeds. If you have male and female plants in the same growing area, the buds grown there will only produce seeds so you won’t be able to smoke any of it. You can tell females apart due to the fact that their flowers don’t fully close, they’re actually quite open and they produce little hairs called pistils. They’re incredibly easy to recognize, as the first thing they produce are their pistils, which male plants do not have at all.
Hermaphrodites are a type of plant that contains both male and female flowers, so they will produce buds but they will also pollinate those buds and the rest of your plants. Plants may naturally become hermaphrodites or be turned into one due to stress. Both female and male plants can turn. Thai strains are more genetically inclined to become hermaphrodites, although any strain can turn when stressed enough. There are many factors that can stress out your plants and end up turning them, such as extra light when they’re supposed to be in the night cycle, too much or not enough water, certain insects or pathogens, watering with cold water, or even a badly done transplant. Hermaphrodites aren’t the best type of plants to keep around, as they can produce buds but it’s definitely a risk because they might pollinate the rest of your plants. We recommend getting rid of them; it’s not worth it just for a little bit more weed.
It may seem confusing, but it really isn’t hard to tell male and female weed plants apart; they are quite different. Planting regular seeds has its benefits, as well as feminized has its inconveniences; you can get much larger yields with feminized plants as you’re guaranteed no male plants. Although, keep in mind that feminized seeds haven’t been through a 100% natural process to become female, which may affect the quality of your weed. This is why many cannabis connoisseurs haven’t made the leap from regular to feminized yet; they prefer to harvest slightly less yield that’s more potent and delicious.
However, feminized strains are a great option for rookie growers. Some seed banks, such as Nirvana seeds, Seedsman, Barney’s Farm, Ministry of Cannabis, Exotic Seeds or GB Strains offer amazing and affordable seeds that will provide fantastic results. If you are on a budget, check out our Cheap Seeds section. CBD Seeds are a great alternative for users interested on cannabis therapeutic uses.
Hemp Seeds, on the other hand, are perfect to produce sustainable fibers and make CBD products.
Marijuana plant anatomy
The cannabis plant has several structures, many of which we can find on any ordinary flowering plant species. Cannabis grows on long skinny stems with its large, iconic fan leaves extending out from areas called nodes.
Cannabis really stands out in its flowers—or buds—where unique and intricate formations occur: fiery orange hairs, sugary crystals, and chunky buds enveloped by tiny leaves.
Parts of the cannabis plant
Seeds are produced in female cannabis plants and carry the genetics of a male and female. Seeds need to germinate to sprout and will grow a taproot, which will become the main root that anchors the plant.
These are the first leaves to grow from the seed after germination. They usually come in pairs, and seeing them is a sign of successful germination and that your plant is on its way to growing healthy and strong.
The roots grow down from the main stalk of the plant into the soil. When growing from a seed, the main root is called the “taproot.” Roots are the lifelines of a cannabis plant, pulling water and oxygen into the plant so it can grow healthy and strong.
Mycorrhizae, a beneficial fungus, can be added to soil to improve root systems.
The main stem, or stalk, of a cannabis plant grows straight up from the root system and supports all lateral branches. The stem gives a plant structure and stability.
Often, growers will top, or cut off, the stem after about five nodes, which forces the plant to grow out laterally more, creating more bud sites.
Branches grow out of the main stem and support fan leaves and buds. Growers often train a cannabis plant by topping branches to create more bud sites.
A node is a point at which a branch grows off of the main stem, or one branch from another branch. Fan leaves and buds can grow on some nodes, but not necessarily all.
When determining the sex of a cannabis plant, pre-flowers, or the beginnings of male and female sex organs, will appear at the nodes.
The space between nodes is called “internodal spacing” and will give you a sense of whether a plant will grow tall or short.
Check out Johanna’s full video series on how to grow weed on Leafly’s YouTube .
Fan leaves are the large, iconic leaves of the cannabis plant. They capture light for the plant and typically have little-to-no resin and are usually discarded when trimming.
Sugar leaves are the small, resin-coated leaves that buds form around. Sugar leaves are usually saved as “trim” during harvest and can be used for pre-rolls, extracts, and other cannabis products.
Also known as “buds,” the flowers of a cannabis plant are the fruits of your labor. They contain the cannabinoids and terpenes that get you high or offer health benefits. Flowers only grow on female cannabis plants and must be dried before consumption.
A cola, also called a “bud site,” 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 top of the plant.
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.
Stigma and pistil
The pistil contains the reproductive parts of a flower, and the vibrant, hair-like 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, or 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.
Despite their minute size, it’s hard to miss the blanket of crystal resin on a cannabis bud. This resin is secreted through translucent, mushroom-shaped glands on the leaves, stems, and calyxes.
Plants originally developed trichomes to protect 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.
Male vs. female marijuana plants
Cannabis is a dioecious plant, meaning it can be male or female, and the male and female reproductive organs appear on different plants. What’s in your stash jar now are the flowers of a female marijuana plant.
Female plants produce the resin-secreting flower that is trimmed down into the buds you smoke, and males produce pollen sacs near the base of the leaves. Male plants pollinate females to initiate seed production, but the buds we consume come from seedless female plants—these are called “sinsemilla,” meaning “seedless.”
Growers can ensure the sex of their plants by growing clones or the genetically identical clippings from a parent strain. Feminized seeds are also made available through a special breeding process.
How to determine the sex of a marijuana plant
Cannabis plants show their sex by what grows in between their nodes, where leaves and branches extend from the stalk. Pollen sacs will develop on a male plant to spread seeds and stigma will develop on a female to catch pollen. You can see these differences weeks before they actually start serving their purposes in the reproduction cycle. These are known as “pre-flowers.”
Pre-flowers begin to develop four weeks into growth, but they may take a little longer depending on how quickly the sprouting phase occurs. By the sixth week, you should be able to find the pre-flowers and confidently determine the sex of your plant.
Examine the nodes of the plant and look for either the early growth of small sacs on a male, or two bracts on a female, which will eventually produce the hair-like stigma.
Female marijuana plants
Females are the prizes of cannabis plants—they are the ones that grow the buds that we all know and love. Anytime you see a picture of a cannabis plant with buds, you are looking at a female plant.
Female cannabis plants receive pollen from males to produce seeds, which will carry on the genetics of both plants to the next generation.
However, cannabis is primarily cultivated for buds, not seeds, so the practice of growing sinsemilla, or “seedless” cannabis, is prevalent today: Females and males are grown separately, or males are even discarded, to prevent pollination. This allows female plants to focus their energies on bud production instead of seed production.
Males and females are usually only pollinated when crossbreeding plants or creating new strains.
Male marijuana plants
Male cannabis plants grow pollen sacs instead of buds. Male plants are usually discarded because you don’t want them to pollinate the females, which will produce seeds—no one wants to smoke buds with seeds in it.
Males are important in the breeding process, but that is generally best left to expert breeders. When pollinating females, males provide half of the genetic makeup inherited by seeds.
Because of this, it’s important to look into the genetics of the male plants. Their shape, rate of growth, pest and mold resistance, and climate resilience can all be passed on to increase the quality of future generations.
Male plants can also be used for:
- Hemp fiber—males produce a softer material, while females produce a coarser, stronger fiber. The soft fiber from males is more desirable for products like clothing, tablecloths, and other household items.
- Concentrate production—males do have some THC and can be psychoactive, but much less so than females. Small amounts of cannabinoids can be found in the leaves, stems, and sacs, which can be extracted to produce hash and other oils.
What are hermaphrodite cannabis plants?
The rare hermaphroditic plant contains both female and male sex organs. These plants can sometimes self-pollinate, but this is typically bad as it will create buds with seeds and also pass on hermaphroditic genes.
“Herming out,” as some call it, is something that generally happens when a plant becomes excessively stressed. Some stressors include:
- Plant damage
- Bad weather
There are two types of hermaphrodite plants:
- A plant that develops both buds and pollen sacs
- A plant that produces anthers, commonly referred to as “bananas” due to their appearance
While both result in pollen production, true hermaphrodite cannabis plants produce sacs that need to rupture; anthers are exposed, pollen-producing stamen.
Because this occurs when cannabis is under stress, it’s important to monitor plants after they have been exposed to stressors: indoors, high temperatures or light leaks are often the cause; outdoors, a snapped branch might be repaired and then turn into a hermaphrodite.
The other primary cause of hermaphrodite plants lies in its genetics—a plant with poor genetics or a history of hermaphroditic development should be avoided to protect your garden. If you notice any pollen sacs or anthers at any point, remove the plant from your garden immediately to prevent pollination of female plants.