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Male vs. female cannabis: How to determine the sex of your plant

February 11, 2020
In the world of plants, reproduction can happen in a variety of ways. Monoecious plants produce two different types of flowers on the same plant, and hermaphrodite plants grow single flowers that have both male and female reproductive organs.

Cannabis is a dioecious plant, meaning male or female reproductive organs appear on different plants.

With cannabis, females are usually isolated away from males—introducing males into a garden will result in pollination, causing females to create seeds.

This is important for a breeder to achieve new genetics, but most growers remove the males to allow females to produce seedless buds, also called sinsemilla. These are the resinous buds that appear on the store shelf; they all come from female plants.

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Seeded buds are generally regarded as low-quality cannabis. When seeds are present, the smoke is harsh and unpleasant.

Female genetics can be guaranteed by obtaining clones and feminized seeds. If, however, you’re working with regular seeds and are unsure of your seed’s sex, knowing how to determine the sex of your plant is vital to developing new genetics, gathering seeds, or growing sinsemilla.

Sexing cannabis plants is easy. Let’s see how to tell.

Check out these additional resources for more info on cannabis seeds:

How to determine the sex of a cannabis plant

Female cannabis pre-flowers grow as tiny bracts with hair-like stigma peeking out. Male plants produce small, round balls at the nodes. (Amy Phung/Leafly)

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.

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Pre-flowers can initially be extremely small and hard to identify with the naked eye, but you can use a magnifying glass to get a better look. 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.

Though there are other methods to determine what sex the plant is, examining pre-flower formation is the most reliable.

Removing males early on is important for two reasons: it frees up space in your garden so females can grow bigger and stronger, and it prevents males from pollinating females.

What are hermaphrodite cannabis plants?

Hermaphrodite cannabis can express both sex organs and self-pollinate. (Amy Phung/Leafly)

When a female plant develops both male and female sex organs, it is considered a hermaphrodite. This means your cannabis plant is now capable of producing pollen that can pollinate your entire garden. “Herming out,” as some call it, is something that generally happens when a plant becomes excessively stressed. Some plant stressors include:

  • Plant damage
  • Bad weather
  • Disease
  • Nutrient deficiencies
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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 hermaphrodites produce sacs that need to rupture, while 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.

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The other primary cause of hermaphrodite plants lies in the plant’s genetics. A plant with poor genetics or a history of hermaphrodite 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.

If you’re interested in pollinating portions of your crop, remember that pollen is extremely potent and very good at traveling. Keep your males intended for pollination far from your garden space and work carefully with that pollen.

This post was originally published on September 19, 2017. It was most recently updated on February 11, 2020.

Trevor Hennings's Bio Image

Trevor Hennings

Trevor is a freelance writer and photographer. He has spent years in California working in the cannabis industry.

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