The cannabis plant, like any plant, is a complex living organism. Its anatomy consists of many different parts that work together to help the plant flourish. If you are thinking of growing cannabis, understanding its anatomy is a must. However, even if you’re not a grower, there’s fascinating science behind the cannabis plant you see in its final form.
Let’s explore the different parts of the marijuana plant and explain how each component works within the plant.
Marijuana is an annual plant, meaning that you plant the seeds, they flower, and then at the end of the season, they die. The next year, new seeds must be planted. It’s also important to note that marijuana plants are dioecious. Dioecious plants have separate female and male plants. Male plants create flowers and pollen to fertilize the female plants. After flowers and seeds, the fruits of the female plant some of the most highly sought out parts of the cannabis plant.
Male cannabis flowers look kind of like miniature light yellow or green bananas before they open. Female flowers are shaped more like a teardrop before they open. The flowers of male plants are not very rich in cannabinoids like THC and CBD, meaning their flowers are not directly useful to humans.
The flowers of female cannabis plants produce what we know as cannabis buds. These are what people have known and loved about cannabis for decades. When people refer to cannabis “buds,” they’re referring to female cannabis flower, also known as the calyx.
The calyx is the part of marijuana that you smoke or the part of hemp you use to extract CBD. A fertilized calyx creates a little pocket where seeds can grow. If a female plant is not fertilized, within the calyx will be many trichomes. What are Trichomes? Let’s find out.
Trichomes are glands that secrete cannabinoids and terpenes. This is why an unfertilized female plant is the most potent in THC and CBD, as well as terpenes.
On the plant, trichomes look like tiny little globe-like resin glands that provide a crystal coating on the calyx. They contain lots of cannabinoids. THC and CBD are the most prominent cannabinoids found in cannabis, though there are hundreds more. Trichomes also produce and secrete terpenes.
Terpenes are the aromatic oils that give cannabis its unique smell and taste. Kief, hash, and Butane Hash Oil (BHO) all exist because of trichomes. Each terpene has its own properties and benefits. Terpenes work together with cannabinoids within the plant. The result of these two parts together is what’s known as the entourage effect. This effect is what creates the feeling of being “high” in cannabis in medical marijuana.
There are hundreds of cannabinoids, but the two most popular and prominent within the plant are THC and CBD. THC, or Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is what causes psychoactive effects in the marijuana you consume. CBD or Cannabidiol doesn’t create any psychoactive effects but promotes other benefits like pain relief and works as a mood stimulant.
A few other cannabinoids that are present include cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabichromene (CBC). All of the cannabinoids work together to create unique strains that affect users.
Pistils and Stamen
If you see something that looks like hairs growing out of the calyx, those are pistils. They start white but then turn orange, brown, and red as the plant matures. You might notice them bend in different directions. This is because they are searching for pollen from the male plant to fertilize them in the female plant. Pistils do not contain trichomes, meaning they don’t contain cannabinoids or terpenes or have any influence over how rich a female cannabis plant is in those compounds.
Pistils are exclusive to the female plants. Male plants have a stamen that produces pollen sacs that then pollenate the pistils of the female plants. The stamen contains sacs of green and yellow pollen. Sometimes you may come across a hermaphrodite plant, which is a female plant that also contains these pollen sacs. If you do find an intersex plant, it’s important to remove it. Otherwise, you risk the rest of the weed becoming seeded.
The stem of the cannabis plant supports both its flowers and leaves. They contain vascular tissues that carry water and nutrients throughout the plant. Stems eventually grow thicker areas, called nodes, where the leaves come out. The main stem is the primary source of water and nutrients for the rest of the plant.
At the stem’s tip is the cola. The cola is a part of the female cannabis plant only. This is where the flowers come out. Specific gardening techniques can be used to increase the number of colors on a plant to enhance the harvest. Sometimes branching occurs off the stem, usually on sativa plants, where the stem grows additional leaves or nodes.
The first leaves to grow along a cannabis stem only contain a single leaflet, complete with the distinctive serrated edge and pointy tip. Further along the stem, the leaves will grow with more leaflets in pairs. Cannabis leaves tend to have five, seven, or nine leaflets on each leaf, though certain strains sometimes have more. Sativa strains are the ones that will often have more leaves. Using the sun’s energy to mix carbon dioxide and water into sugars, called photosynthesis, the cannabis plant then has the strength to continue its growth.
Marijuana leaves contain delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, the precursor to the psychoactive form of THC, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol is non-psychoactive, so it won’t get you high, but it is known to have lots of therapeutic value. Some people use cannabis leaves to make edibles and extracts.
Generally, there are three types of cannabis plants whose leaves have unique enough characteristics to identify them. The three that are most common are sativa, indica, and ruderalis.
Sativa leaves tend to be long, straight, and slender. Each plant can contain up to 13 light green fingers. Indica leaves, on the other hand, are broad and shorter in length. They usually carry only 7-10 fingers. Some strains, like Afghan Kush, grow with huge, wide fan leaves that tend to be dark green and dense. Ruderalis cannabis leaves look like young cannabis sativa plants. Their leaves are thin and lighter green. They only produce about five fingers per plant at the most. Ruderalis is the result of autoflowering seeds.
In seed-bearing plants, you may come across cotyledon leaves. A cotyledon leaf forms alongside the root through a process called embryogenesis. It tends to be the first set of leaves to appear after germination. They are usually small leaves that look very green in appearance.
Moving down into the earth, the roots of the cannabis plant have been playing a crucial role throughout the entire growth process. The roots are the vascular system of the marijuana plant. They are continuously drawing in nutrients from the soil to feed the cannabis plant. In marijuana plants, the root zone contains a single tap root and later on develops a system of secondary roots. It continues to develop roots until it becomes a fibrous mass of roots. Xylem in the plant continuously pumps water through the roots for the rest of the plant to stay hydrated.
While different strains and varieties of marijuana plants will have various physical features, the basics remain the same. Understanding the anatomy of the cannabis plant is the first step to understanding how marijuana works and how to grow the best plant.