When examining a cannabis bud, you’ll notice a complex knotting of different parts: the fiery orange hairs, the sugary crystals, chunky knobs enveloped by tiny leaves. But what exactly are these formations and what functions do they serve?
This brief guide to cannabis anatomy is meant to familiarize you with the plant in its full form. Unfortunately, the sight of real, living cannabis is made rare for many by restrictive laws, but we hope we can bring you just a little closer to your favorite strain’s source.
Male & female plants
Cannabis plants can be male, female, or both (hermaphrodite), but what’s in your stash jar now are the flowers of a female.
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. The male plants pollinate the females to initiate seed production, but the potent flowers we consume come from the seedless female plants, called sinsemilla, which grow large cannabinoid-rich buds while without seed.
The rare hermaphroditic plants contain both female and male sex organs that allow the plant to pollinate itself during flowering. This self-pollination is typically deemed a nuisance among growers as it spoils the seedless sinsemilla plants and passes on hermaphroditic genes.
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.
Cannabis plant anatomy
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.
This post was originally published on June 9, 2014. It was most recently updated on April 23, 2017.