The Anatomy of the Marijuana Plant

The Anatomy of the Marijuana Plant

Published on 11/26/21

The iconic marijuana leaf, green with seven points and a short skinny stem, has come to symbolize a lot over the last few decades. It stands for counterculture, rebellion, environmental friendliness, and of course, it stands for marijuana and the cannabis community. Chances are good you know the symbol we're talking about, but do you know that the leaf isn't the most important part of cannabis? There's a lot more going on with the marijuana plant than just that universally-known symbol.

Male vs. Female Marijuana Plants

Not only is the anatomy of a marijuana plant much more complex than its seven-point symbol suggests, but there are also male and female plants. The difference between the two is critical for proper cultivation. Cannabis is a dioecious plant, meaning only one sex produces flowers. Female cannabis plants are the only ones able to produce the cannabinoid and terpene-rich buds that are best for smoking. When you smoke weed, you are smoking the product of a female weed plant. Male plants are initially needed for their pollen, which is necessary for fertilizing the female plants to create new strains. However, a female plant that has been pollinated by a male pot plant uses more energy to produce seeds than to produce smokable bud. The new industry standard is to remove male plants from the garden so that the female plants are not pollinated. In turn, a richer crop of smokable bud can be cultivated. Sinsemilla cannabis, meaning without seeds, is used for this sans-male growing process, wherein seedless cannabis is produced from unfertilized female plants. 

Parts of a Marijuana Plant

Because male plants do not flower, female plants are what we talk about when we talk about the parts of a marijuana plant. If you're wondering "what does a marijuana plant look like and how does it work," we've got you covered. Let's breakdown the major aspects that make up the cannabis plan:


The stem is the backbone of the marijuana plant. It provides support, distributes nutrients and fluids, and is what everything else grows from. In lower-qualify marijuana, stems are ground up into the final product - something uncommon in the cannabis industry since the 1970s brought about craft cannabis. Stems can be used, however, to create hemp products like twine or yarn, and can also be ground up to be used in hash or cannabutter. 


Seeds are a product of female plants - they carry the genetic information of both male and female plants and are used to grow new plants and develop new strains. Seeds are not found in all cannabis plants, because new growing methods that include sinsemilla and feminized plants take away the need for seeds.

Fan Leaves

These are the larger protruding leaves that play the biggest role in photosynthesis for a cannabis plant. Even though these are the leaves are what you know from the ubiquitous marijuana symbol, they are removed from the final product and not smoked. They offer very little residual psychoactive properties, but can still be used in a variety of ways similar to the stem. 

Sugar Leaves

Differing from fan leaves in many ways, sugar leaves are the small colorful variety found throughout the flower. They are usually trimmed before harvest, but are often covered in trichomes and can be easily used to make edibles and concentrates. 


Cannabis nodes are the points where the stem and leaves intersect. These points are also where flower grows, making them a very important part of the plant. The nodes are how to tell if your plant is male or female before flowering since this is where males will begin to grow sacks instead of flowers with pistils. 


This is a term for a cluster of marijuana buds that grow closely together. Many colas can be found throughout a single weed plant, but the primary cola (the apical bud) is always found at the top of the plant. Cola is also referred to as the "bud site."


The Calyx is the technical term for the name of the bud itself. Featuring a tight concentration of sugar leaves, this is where the most potent dose of trichomes in the whole plant can be found. 


The flower is the main part of the plant that we are concerned with. Within the flower, you find trichomes, cannabinoids and terpenes, and all the reproductive aspects of a female plant. The flower, also called "bud" is what is smoked, and all the individual aspects of the flower come together to provide the effects associated with marijuana. 


The main reproductive component of a female cannabis plant, pistils are found in the flower and are formed of one ovule with two protruding stigmas.


Part of a female plant's reproductive system, stigmas are the small thin hairs found on a plant's pistils. They collect the pollen from a male marijuana plant and are key for how to identify hemp plants and marijuana plants as female. Like pistils (and often mistaken for pistils), stigmas offer little to no effect on the overall potency or flavor of a plant's flower, although they are inevitably consumed due to their location.


Even smaller than sugar leaves, bracts are leaves that protect a pollinated female plant's reproductive components. They sprout out around the pistil and are covered in resin glands that contain high concentrations of cannabinoids - the bract is smoked and has a big impact on potency.  


A healthy marijuana plant is covered with trichomes, which cover the flower and serve the purpose of protecting the plant against the elements and various tiny predators. Trichomes ooze with resin and contain a large majority of a plant's cannabinoids (i.e., CBD and THC) and terpenes, meaning they are where a majority of the plant's psychoactive properties lie. These are smoked and provide a lot of a plant's flavor and potency. 

Are you in the cannabis industry or a home grower? Let us know any tips or tricks you have for identifying male plants and other aspects of growing. Comment below!

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