These tips and tricks will make the identification process a breeze…
As with most plants, animals, and other life forms within the plant and animal kingdom, marijuana is capable of having distinct genders. They can have either male or female reproductive parts (as opposed to monoecious plants which have both), and in some rare circumstances, can even become a hermaphrodite plant – that is, when female plants take on the sexual characteristics of a male marijuana plant.
The sex of a crop does not always matter with many plants, but with cannabis grows, knowing the gender and the sex of your plant is immensely important to both growers and breeders, as the types of flowers will be crucial to the quality and value of the end product (good, seedless buds are always going to be worth more than lower-quality cannabis).
Of course, this is because only the female marijuana crop is capable of producing potent buds, which is the main reason why most people grow the plant in the first place, or do cross-breeding to develop a potent new strain with good female genetics.
Additionally, it is useless to sell product from male plants, as they usually contain seeds and will not get you high. In fact, you might consider a male cannabis plant to be the veritable black sheep of a grow operation – outcast from the “family” and wanted by no one.
Unplanted, regular seeds will typically possess a 50% male and 50% female probability, but most seed banks and companies offer genetically altered feminized seeds, which diminishes some of the risk of pollination if a male phenotype lacking resinous buds happens to get mixed in.
Knowing how to sex your cannabis crop and being able to quickly recognize if your plants are male vs female is vital as well, because if a male plant happens to sneak into your batch of crops, it can contaminate the healthy females and fertilize them – not good when you’ve dedicated so much time, money and effort to having your plants grow potent, valuable nugs.
In fact, when a female plant becomes pollinated, it will start producing seeds rather than focusing its energy on growing robust flower. As a grower, this is the last thing you want to happen.
By eliminating the issue early on and quickly removing a male from the garden, however, you can ensure that your end result will be healthy female plants, leading to high yields of consumable herb. While both males and females possess the basic therapeutic benefits of cannabis, the benefits of growing females will always appeal much more to both growers and consumers alike.
This informative guide on “sexing cannabis plants” is here to help make sure that, if you do not have much experience with cultivating weed, your “girls” will not be ruined because of a few sneaky male cannabis plants that just want to, ahem, ‘spread their seed.’
Keep reading to discover how to see if your cannabis plant is male or female…
What Does it Mean If a Cannabis Plant is Female?
At the easiest explanation, a female cannabis plant means you will have better nugs! If you are intending on cultivating marijuana, the most likely goal is to produce useable, smokeable, or sellable product in the end, so a female crop is the only one that you will want.
This is why the production of feminized seeds has become such a big thing, because instead of leaving it up to luck, you can be sure that the seeds you plant will end up being female.
Regular seeds, on the other hand, typically have a 50% female to 50% male probability, so if you plant 10 seeds, you will likely have 5 females and 5 males. This can ultimately mean that you will be spending a lot of time, money and energy growing plants you do not even want, only to scrap half of them once they are at a point where their sex can be identified.
If you are deciding to go the regular seed route and do not want to spend the hefty amounts of cash required for feminized seeds, then this guide is specifically for you. Being able to identify between male and female plants is a useful skill regardless, because although feminized seeds do have a high accuracy rate, situations can happen where a male crop can sneak into the mix, and if you happen to be growing cannabis outdoors within close proximity to other operations, there is a chance that male pollen could float over and all but ruin your female crops.
Sex Determination of a Cannabis Plant is One of the Most Important Things in Growing
Like we said, this article is mainly aimed at those who will be growing cannabis plants from seeds that they pulled from their own nugs, or otherwise random seeds (possibly even from hermaphrodite cannabis plants) that they know are not feminized.
Before you continue with this plan, though, be advised that both medical and recreational dispensaries typically sell excellent quality feminized seeds at very reasonable prices. If you’re 100% dead set on putting in the time and effort to go through with a grow, you may very well want to consider investing a small amount in some good seeds, or even some female clones as they entirely wipe out the need for sexing marijuana plants, and/or getting rid of a male pot plant right in the middle of a grow.
The old saying goes that “there is no stigma on a female clone for plants that look like marijuana,” and this rings true even to this day.
In fact, when growing indoors you really can’t go wrong with clones if you want to avoid the male weed plant altogether. They’re a little more fragile and less hardy than seedlings (mainly because they don’t produce a strong taproot), but for efficiency and “ease-of-use,” they’re typically your best bet. In other words, as long as they’re rooted properly, clones pretty hard to screw up — and they make sexing cannabis – and knowing how to tell if your plant is male or female before flowering – totally irrelevant.
Of course, clones can get a little pricey. While there’s typically a big difference in cost for recreational or medical patients (med customers usually get about a 50% price reduction), you can expect to pay around $20-$30 for a single plant.
Is it worth it? In our opinion, definitely.
With a clone, so much of the guessing work is taken out of the growing game; as long as your operation (i.e. your light setup, grow space, ventilation system etc) is up to snuff, you theoretically should know the exact type of yields you’ll be getting. And moreover, for one individual (unless you’re Snoop Dogg), a single plant will generally provide more than enough bud for a long, long time.
That being said, we’re fully aware that the majority of weed lovers in the U.S. don’t have access to a dispensary where they can walk right in, fork over some cash, and walk out with a premium OG Kush clone that eliminates the need for sexing marijuana. For all of you folks, don’t despair – even some of the best grows in the world start from seedlings, and the growers have to know how to key in on an unwanted male plant.
The fact of the matter is that developing an eye for this kind of stuff (i.e. singling out the sex organ pollen sac on a male marijuana plant) is not something you’ll acquire over the course of a single grow. It takes years and years of experience, and in fact (as you’ll see below), knowing what to look for in the pre-flower formation can prove to be just as important in terms of yield quality than simply removing males early from a “mostly-female” crop.
Various Growing Stages of the Marijuana Crop
Marijuana has two primary growing stages that are important to take note of. These are sometimes referred to as the stages of life, and they include the vegetative stage and the flowering stage.
The vegetative stage begins when the cannabis seed starts to sprout and grow, and lasts until about 6 weeks, at which point the plant will display signs of pre-flowering and will enter into the second (flowering) life stage.
Some individuals call the vegetative stage the “childhood” of the plant, because the primary purpose of the crop during this time is to grow taller and stronger; it is not yet important for the crop to focus on yielding or flowering.
During the vegetative stage – the first 6 weeks – it is actually extremely challenging (if not impossible) to determine the gender of each plant, so a grower needs to wait until the signs of pre-flowering are visible, which is sort of a sweet spot between the vegetative and flowering stages. Catching the males during this sweet spot and separating them from the female crops could minimize many future problems.
Once the plant has gone through its childhood, it will then enter “adulthood,” otherwise known as the flowering stage. This is the time in which the crop is no longer concentrated on getting any taller or thicker. Rather, its sole focus is to produce pistils and calyxes, otherwise known as buds.
For the male plants, they will produce something called pollen sacs, which look like little peas and are not that challenging to identify if you know what to look for.
How Can You Determine a Cannabis Plant’s Gender?
Being able to distinguish between a few specific elements that set the male and female cannabis plants apart can help to save your entire crop from potential pollination.
After the first 6 weeks, you will begin noticing little pre-flowers near the growth tips, and they will either appear slightly pointed at the ends, or more rounded. With some strains it is more challenging to notice a difference right away, but essentially, a female plant will have a calyx – which is the slightly more pointed option – while a male will have the aforementioned mini pollen sacs that are round or roughly oval in shape.
If you cannot seem to tell the difference yet, wait a few more days. If the green pre-flower grows a white hair, known as a pistil, it is definitely female. Pistils will never be green in color, so look for something light colored and fuzzy.
Females typically take a bit longer to express their gender than the male cannabis plant does, so be patient with your crops and check regularly so you can manage any males in the bunch accordingly and in a timely manner.
The male plant’s “little green balls,” so to speak, will continue to grow larger and larger, filling up with more and more pollen, until they eventually burst and leak pollen everywhere. You’ll want to catch the male before this happens, as the spread of pollen will fertilize the females, at which point their buds will quit developing.
Here’s a general rundown on how to tell the difference between male and female marijuana plants:
- Female crops have pointed green calyxes that sprout a white and wispy pistil – a hair-like part of the plant that grows from the calyx.
- Male crops have round, green pollen sacs that will enlarge and definitely will not sprout a white, wispy pistil. Catch these sacs before they overfill with pollen, burst, and contaminate your crop!
In bad situations (i.e. if the plants are stressed or undernourished), portions of a crop can become hermaphroditic, meaning they will develop both male and female characteristics in order to self-pollinate and reproduce. This is not the end of the world for those that are growing for personal use because buds can still be produced, just with a much lower concentration of resin, meaning they will not get you nearly as high.
It is a potentially catastrophic situation for commercial growers, however, as hermaphrodites (or “herms,” as some people call them), are full of seeds and not sellable or desired. Just keep in mind that the male cannabis crop is not completely useless, which we will discuss more in the next section.
What Can You do With a Male Cannabis Plant?
Male plants are given a pretty bad reputation by cannabis growers, but the male crop is not actually as hopeless as many may think. Sure, these crops are not as potent as female crops in terms of their THC production, but they do still contain their fair share of cannabinoids and other medicinal elements that make them suitable for consumption — and actually, they can get you a little high as well, because some of the sugar leaves are slightly resinous (i.e. they develop trichomes).
If you are dead-set on the result of an all female crop with healthy buds and a high resin production, then your best decision would be to promptly remove the male crops from the females once they have been accurately identified, and separate them to lessen the risk of contamination.
While some growers do not want to bother with utilizing the male plant for another purpose (i.e. they simply trash them), there actually are some non-bud related uses for the male cannabis plant.
The stems and water leaves, for example, can be utilized for juicing and teas, and are said to be quite healthy for the body as they contain some important nutritional qualities. It is also possible to process down the male plant parts into material that can be used for therapeutic creams and lotions, since it does still contain a fair quantity of cannabinoids.
If you do not feel inclined to produce anything with the male plants, the easiest option is to compost the remains. This reduces waste production, is more environmentally friendly, and can even be used to provide nutrition for your future crops.
What are Hermaphrodite Cannabis Plants – And How Can You Detect Them?
Until now, we have not talked much about hermaphrodite cannabis plants in our little “plant sex” discussion. (Heck, maybe we can come up with an online course called the “History of Hermaphrodite Marijuana Plants.”)
Basically, a hermaphrodite is a plant that has both male and female reproductive parts – that is, a female marijuana plant that can produce both flowering buds and male pollen sacs. The ability for plants to be able to do this may not come as a surprise to some people, particularly to those folks who want to ask us the inevitable question – “do plants have genders?”
Anyway, hermaphrodites are just as “dangerous,” so to speak, as an out-and-out male plant considering the fact that they can pollinate an entire female crop, causing them to produce seeds.
What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is that hermaphrodites only become hermaphroditic if they’re exposed to unusual stress, or if they become damaged in some way. And to be sure, there are loads of different ways that an otherwise healthy female weed plant can become stressed or damaged.
Excess heat, for example (i.e. prolonged temperatures above about 88 degrees Fahrenheit) can certainly cause a plant to become stressed, as can excess cold (i.e. prolonged temperatures below about 55 degrees) and “light leaks” that cause either a vegetative plant or a flowering plant to be exposed to unnatural amounts (either too much or too little) of light energy.
Physical damage can also cause a good female plant to develop male characteristics, such as being exposed to high winds and breaking a limb off. And of course, “unwanted intruders” such as dogs, deer, and other animals can cause serious physical damage as well.
Even excess amounts of rain can cause marijuana plants to become hermaphroditic, and in fact, over saturation is one of the leading causes of female and male crop failure among all levels of growers.
Cannabis plants are altogether extremely resilient and hardy, but one of their weaknesses is that they’re prone to root disease if the roots are saturated for too long a time under water – regardless of plant sex.
As such, it is imperative that you keep a close eye on your crop, and only water when necessary (some people even wait until the fan leaves start drooping just a little bit to add a water). If you notice that even a single plant has become stressed or damaged, remove the plant immediately.
Also, you’ll want to make sure that your pot or growing container has holes that allow it to drain really well, otherwise over-saturation is all but guaranteed.
In terms of how to tell if one (or several) of your plants have become hermaphroditic, it’s actually pretty easy.
Basically, there are 2 types of hermaphrodite plants: those that develop both flowering buds and male pollen sacs, and those that develop anthers, otherwise known as “bananas”.
While both of these varieties can release pollen and potentially fertilize an entire female crop, they differ in the way that they form and store the pollen. True hermaphrodites will grow actual pollen sacs (just like mature male marijuana plants), while anther-producing “herms” will grow what is essentially a pollen-producing stamen.
Lastly, it’s important to point out that some low-quality marijuana strains – regardless of whether they’re male vs female cannabis varieties – will “herm out” no matter how much care and love you put into them. This is usually simply down to poor genetics, so don’t kick yourself too hard if you go to the ends of the earth to grow a world-class crop and prevent pollination of female plants, only to have a couple of hermaphrodites show up in there.
And be advised that male pollination is no joke – a single pollen sac can be incredibly potent, and can potentially pollenate dozens of females from hundreds of feet away. In other words, hermaphrodite plants won’t be pollinating portions of your garden, they’ll be pollinating the whole darn thing.
What Happens When You DON’T Know How to Tell if a Marijuana Plant is Male or Female
Before we close out, we have to include a quick story of a good friend of ours that recently carried out his very first grow of all time.
He of course was a total rookie, and so he came to us with all the basic “first-timer” growing questions: “How long does it take to get the buds?” he asked. “How much weed will I get?” “Can I smoke it straight off the plant?”
And so on and so forth.
Anyway, after spending literally almost a month setting up his operation – picking out the right lights, sealing off and setting up a place in his house, etc – he was finally ready to plant his seeds in some premium “Super Soil” organic mix and get started.
To be fair, he had chosen an absolutely lovely spot for an indoor grow; a nice walk-in closet (probably about 8 ft x 4 ft) that was easily sealed off from all external light sources. He even went to the trouble of “foiling out” the inside walls and installing an external ventilation fan to keep the temperature and humidity at optimal levels.
The first few weeks went absolutely perfectly, and he kept the seedlings in vegetative state for almost an entire month (he was growing four plants total). Finally, after several painstaking weeks of relentless love and care, he invited us for the “pleasurable chore” of helping him trim the buds. Although, he said, he was kind of disappointed that one plant “didn’t produce any flowers at all.”
‘Oh no,’ we thought.
Sure enough, as soon as we got there we saw that one of the plants in the closet – a tall, skinny sativa variety – had fully “hermed out.” In other words, it had become hermaphroditic and had pollinated the other three plants, causing the buds to be chock-full of seeds.
While he was pretty devastated (it was, after all, over three months of effort and hard-earned money all but down the drain), he chalked it up to a learning experience, and vowed not to make the same mistake the next time around.
And to be clear, you CAN smoke buds that have seeds in them, it’s just that they are a royal pain in the ass to work with, and they don’t have nearly the flavor or quality that sensimilla (non-seeded) buds do.
Female Plants vs Male Cannabis Plants: Final Thoughts
If you are new to cannabis cultivation and were not previously familiar with the unique male or female gender system of the marijuana crop – or perhaps if you didn’t even know what a hermaphrodite plant was – then hopefully this guide has provided some insight in terms of how to tell if your marijuana plants are male vs female.
A dream yield of healthy, robust female buds is the objective for nearly all growers, and learning the basics is the very first step in becoming a master cannabis cultivator — and one that can spot a pesky male marijuana plant from a mile away!
Simply put (if you skipped all the way down here to the bottom without reading the whole article), a male cannabis plant has very little value if your primary goal is producing potent nugs with a high THC content. Male cannabis is of course crucial if you’re doing something like cross-breeding to develop a new strain, but in general, it’s 100% females that you want.
We hope you not only found this article to be entertaining, but also educational and informative. It is important to remember that the consumption of marijuana is the sole responsibility of the user, and discretion should always be taken.