It is critical that you know how to identify which of your plants are male vs female. This guide will explain cannabis gender & reproduction. Are genetics the sole determinant of cannabis sex, or do growing conditions play a role too? Learn more in this article. If you didn’t know by now…girls rule in the world of weed. That’s because female plants are necessary for producing high-quality buds with high THC levels. In fact, unless a grower is breeding – male plants are typically discarded as soon as the sex of the plant presents itself. But, what if you didn’t have to wait for growth to tell the sex of cannabis seeds? There’s a common myth across the industry that you can identify the sex of cannabis seeds before they sprout. So, is it true? We set out for the answers, to find out. Continue reading →
Sexing marijuana plants & reproduction
Understanding marijuana gender and reproduction is essential to achieving the best possible harvest. However, it can be confusing.
For marijuana growing success you need to know what feminized seeds are and how to identify your plant’s gender.
This guide will explain these cannabis reproduction topics, as well as other important fundamentals such as what are hermies, and why so many people love sinsemilla.
We’ll also share some ideas on how to make a male plant female.
Cannabis gender identification & reproduction guide
Cannabis plant reproduction
First, let’s talk gender. Unlike most flowering plants, cannabis plants are dioecious, meaning there is a separate male and female plant, similar to humans.
Every plant possesses two pairs of sex chromosomes, X-chromosomes and Y-chromosomes.
Male plants have XY chromosomes, while female plants have XX chromosomes. Also, like humans, there is a natural 50/50 split between males and females.
There is a significant difference between the gender of marijuana and humans, however.
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This is because a marijuana plant can also be hermaphroditic. This means a single plant can have both male and female genitalia (a pistil and stamen).
Unlike humans, a cannabis plant’s gender depends not just on its genetics but also on environmental factors.
That is one reason why, when growing marijuana, you should be familiar with the different traits of female versus male plants.
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Each gender has unique qualities that may or may not be desirable in your garden.
Identifying males and females
It is critical that you know how to identify your male and female plants. However, it can be a bit tricky because cannabis plants do not start with gender.
Plus, they won’t truly reveal their gender until they start receiving 12 hours of darkness every 24 hours. In some cases, that is too long to wait.
Why do you need to know?
The simple reason is this:
Females produce THC and males distract them from it. Therefore, you want to determine the sex as soon as possible so that the males do not fertilize the females.
To explain it further:
Females without seeds (sinsemilla) have higher levels of THC, whereas males produce significantly less THC.
Preventing pollination, therefore, is the best way to ensure the highest quality buds.
Knowing what to look for
In terms of identifying between the two, in general, males have flowers, while females have pistils. Males tend to be taller as well.
All marijuana plants have flowers at some point. However, if you can’t differentiate between males and females on height alone, then flowers and pistils are good indicators.
This may seem simple, but to be honest, identifying the sex of a cannabis plant can be hard.
This is because marijuana plants don’t disclose their gender until they are mature enough to do so.
In fact, you may not know until your plants are almost ready to begin pollination.
If you wait this long to identify the sex of your marijuana plants, then it’s probably too late to grow sinsemilla buds.
Female cannabis plant
Female plants are often very recognizable. While both males and females will form flowers, the flowers from female plants usually do not bloom until after the males.
The females’ flowers will look like sacs that grow two stigmas (they sort of look like feathers) out of them.
Here are two features of females:
- They eventually open to form little yellow, cream or white flowers
- They have hairy, whitish pistils that trap pollen from males
You’ll find the stigmas in a node region of the main stalk. This is where a branch grows from the main stem, or where a branch grows from another branch.
Male cannabis plant
The easiest way to identify a male is by its rapid maturity. Males mature faster than females, meaning they will grow quicker and become taller about two weeks before a female plant. This is so they can drop pollen on female plants. Their flowering phase can begin as much as a month before females, giving growers some time to identify them.
Despite what you may have been told, male cannabis plants are not completely useless.
Obviously if you are growing a crop to smoke or sell, then you want females.
If you’re growing for the purpose of making hemp, the male plants make for a softer fiber, which is great for making clothing. Male plants also produce far more seeds, which you need to grow more plants.
Here are some typical features of males:
- They tend to grow straighter and don’t develop as many flowers as females.
- The flowers are generally located at the top of the plant.
- Unlike the female flower, male flowers are tight green clusters.
The male flower has a central part that looks like petal-shaped objects, five of which are inside of the sex organs.
To the untrained eye, they look like a tiny banana bunch. Male flowers are sometimes called “false buds” since they are actually pollen sacs.
These clusters begin opening over time until a stamen appears – ready to pollinate the females.
It is challenging to identify the sex of a cannabis plant-based on flowers. This is because there is a very short window between when they appear and when the plant is fertilized.
Instead, expert growers do this to identify sex:
They focus on finding the preflowers. These develop at the tips of branches and on the main stem. Preflowers are the immature first flowers that proceed the mature flowers.
Basically, it works like this:
If you notice a raised calyx on a small stem or stalk, then it is most likely a male. If this calyx isn’t raised, then it is probably a female plant.
Yes, it’s that simple. It can be hard to see the difference at first, but over time, every grower gets better at it.
Other methods for identifying the sex of your plants
Sometimes, you want other options. Maybe you need to know sooner, or perhaps you just prefer to use a variety of methods. Here are a few other ways to identify the sex of your plants.
Look at the growth patterns.
During vegetative growth, every plant, regardless of sex, starts to flourish. As the plants age, however, you will notice subtle differences in their sizes.
Some marijuana growers have even noticed certain signs early on that can help determine the sex.
Females tend to have more complex branching when they progress from the seedling stage to the vegetative stage. Males, on the other hand, tend to be slightly taller and less filled out.
This method is not foolproof, and you shouldn’t use it as a reason to throw out a plant.
Of course, the last thing you want to do is pull plants out at this early stage.
There is a reason to try it, however. It can help you get an idea, so you know which plants to watch later on.
(Note: this works best on outdoor grown plants, as those grown indoors under artificial light don’t usually exhibit these tendencies).
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Identify where the plant sprouted during germination.
Need to know as soon as possible? Some marijuana growers have discovered a method that identifies the sex of the plants just after germination.
According to their theory, if the sprout comes out of the top or bottom of the seed, it is generally a female. Side sprouts, on the other hand, generally turn out to be male.
While this hasn’t been scientifically studied, growers who have used this method report a 90% success rate.
Even with this anecdotal evidence, you shouldn’t use this as absolute fact. Let the plants grow a little and try to notice any distinctly male or female signs.
Don’t just throw away the marijuana seeds simply because they sprouted out of the sides.
Instead, keep track of your predictions so that you can make an informed decision later.
Clone your marijuana plants.
This is really the only foolproof way to determine the sex before the plants achieve maturity.
The best part about this technique is that it is easy. You merely take a cutting from one of your plants.
Cloning in 3 steps:
- Cut a small piece of the mother plant
- Place the cutting into potting soil and let it grow
- Force flowering with 12hr darkness/12hrs light after a few days
To identify the sex of your clones, you’ll need to keep them separate from the host plants.
This method works because, since they have the exact same DNA as their host, they will have the same sex.
Once the clones go into the flowering stage, it will be easy to determine their sex and the sex of their hosts.
Make sure you keep track of which clone came from which host, so you don’t get things mixed up.
You can also force the flowering of a regular plant (not a clone) and put it back into the veg stage once you know it is female.
However, this process can cause more trouble than it is worth. While effective at speeding up the reveal process, it can also place unnecessary stress on a developing plant.
Flowering and reproduction
Once your plants have developed their sex, they are ready for reproduction.
Here’s some detail on what happens during that process.
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Female flower formation
On a female marijuana plant, a large cluster of buds appears. This cluster is called the cola, and it consists of many sub-units of buds.
Within the cola, there are many pistils, which moderate the female processes of reproduction. Each pistil contains the stigmas that interact with male pollen.
Throughout the flowering process, cola is preparing for reproduction. The plant stretches and develops its bud sites.
These sites house groups of female marijuana flowers seeking to be fertilized. New flowers form on the top side of these subunits, and small stigmas emerge from the pistils.
These thin structures are often recognizable by their white hair.
They can still be pollinated even if they are not white.
Stigmas can sometimes die – especially after heavy rains or wind. This will cause them to become dry and change in color from brown to red.
This does not mean that pollination cannot happen. Even if a stigma is this color (instead of white), it can still receive pollen.
The female flower also has other hairs – glandular trichomes. These “hairs” are responsible for producing resin on the flowers and nearby leaves.
Up close the resin looks like a ball attached to a tiny neck. Its shape is a good indicator of how delicate they are.
If you handle the buds roughly, some of these trichomes can break off.
Underneath the pistol, you will find a smaller leaf called the stipule. It is more noticeable before flowers are formed.
Once the plant is fully grown you will need to start thinking about harvest time.
Our free little Harvest Guide will help you determine the best moment to cut your plants. Download it here.
When a male marijuana plant matures, it releases pollen and seeks out the female stigmas.
The pollen then travels to the egg cell located inside of the pistil, producing a seed. If this process does not happen, the female flower begins to change.
The fact is, Cannabis plants are designed to pollinate.
The pollen from a male plant can survive for a few days as it attempts to reach a female, increasing the cannabis plant’s chance of survival.
Pollen can survive on fabrics, and in air ducts. It can also be stored for intentional fertilization.
Female plants also do their best to be fertilized. Pistils grow larger when they are not fertilized. This is so they have an easier chance of locating pollen.
However, this effect does not last forever. When the pistils are completely mature, the stigmas will die, and they cannot be fertilized.
At this point, resin production will slow down or stop, and the trichomes will begin to break down.
The last opportunity for fertilization marks the beginning of the plant’s death, but it is not immediate death.
Pistil maturation occurs gradually, instead of all at one time, leaving growers plenty of time to harvest.
What about autoflowering seeds and plants?
Most standard marijuana plants start to flower at the end of summer as days start to get shorter and the amount of light drops.
Regular plants recognize that they need to start maturing before the onset of winter, but autoflowering plants are different.
They will enter the flowering stage even if they receive a full 24 hours of light.
An automated flowering period is great for growing in places with unusual growing seasons, or when you’d like to harvest twice in a single growing season.
This is because a decrease in daylight hours (typically triggered by the change in seasons) is not needed for these plants to flower.
Feminized autoflowering seeds provide the dual benefits of a quick harvest and not needing to identify plant sexes.
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Autoflowering marijuana seeds also produce plants that are generally small and ideal for outdoor growth. With these, you can plant a couple for every square foot.
Plus, they only take about 10 weeks to harvest. That being said, the yield and quality are not up to par with seeds that flower regularly.
The features of autoflowering plants
- Generally, 12 to 23 inches tall (30 to 60 centimeters)
- Suitable for outdoor growth
- Starts flowering automatically after around 3 weeks
- Yield between 0.5 to 2 ounces depending on hours of sun
- Goes from seed to harvest in about 9 to 10 weeks
Autoflowering seeds will yield between 50 and 500 grams per m2, but this depends on how well you care for your plants.
Prevent fertilization with feminized seeds
Many growers prefer cannabis that is not pollinated and does not have seeds. It is called sinsemilla, which is Spanish for without seed.
Because these plants did not produce seeds, their plants tend to have more trichome production and more potency.
Feminized seeds help prevent fertilization by ensuring your seeds grow into female plants. If there are no male plants nearby, your female plant will not form seeds.
Many growers try to prevent pollination. Here’s why you should consider growing sensimilla using feminized seeds.
Save the energy for the buds
Pollination means that the plants will use their precious energy for creating seeds instead of flowers. This has evolved due to natural selection.
Since a plant that produces more seeds is more likely to reproduce many future plants, the trait is passed on.
Although this is an advantageous feature for marijuana’s survival, it is not exactly what smokers are looking for in a weed plant.
When female plants grow into maturity without being fertilized with male pollen, they can usually produce a more resinous bud. This is because there are no seeds to take over the valuable flowering area.
Sinsemilla is difficult to grow
Sinsemilla weed is expensive not just because it is high quality. It’s also because preventing pollination is hard.
Your female plants could be pollinated by male plants from up to a mile away!
You could also simply identify the sex incorrectly or wait until it’s too late to separate the males from the rest of the marijuana crop.
If you make a mistake, don’t freak out.
While seeds aren’t always wanted, accidental pollination frequently occurs. If you are worried that it has happened to you, look for swollen calyx rings (beneath the stigmas).
If unintentional pollination occurs, remember that a few seeds won’t ruin a harvest.
After all, it may only be one flower, and your plant has hundreds of them. You can either pick those seeds off or leave it alone.
A few seeds aren’t bad
Although you probably don’t want them, producing a few seeds isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
If one crop is particularly delicious or potent, you want those plants to produce a few seeds.
Store these seeds correctly and label them accurately so that you can identify which seeds produced the best crop later. Then, use the seeds that produced the desired traits in a future growing season.
Now that we understand the flowering stages’ role in marijuana reproduction let’s go more in-depth into the different sexes.
The female marijuana plant
Female marijuana plants take a tad bit longer than males to reach sexual maturity. But once they do, it is quite easy to spot them.
During the pre-flowering stage, the female plant will grow one or two wispy white hairs where buds will form. It means that the plant is ready to bud anytime soon.
The hairs will be visible on the main stem that connects to the nodes or branches. Once the hairs are spotted, that is a great sign that the plant is a female.
Ensuring female plants
Female plants tend to start showing hairs even before the flowering stage, or changes in grow light schedules, but they can still be fertilized by a single male. Most growers dream of having an all-female garden. This way they won’t have to deal with removing half their plants when they reveal themselves as male. This is where feminized seeds come into play.
Feminized seeds help improve your chances of growing female plants.
Feminized marijuana seeds are seeds that only produce female marijuana plants.
But they aren’t the only thing that makes a cannabis plant female. Under some conditions, female (and feminized) seeds can become hermaphrodite plants and fertilize themselves.
How feminized seeds are created
Are you wondering how breeders create a female seed? Here’s a summary.
Early feminized marijuana seeds usually were made with two female marijuana plants.
One of the plants would have already shown hermaphrodite tendencies, i.e., prone to produce male marijuana flowers when it was stressed.
The intersexual-prone marijuana plant is then stressed by light cycle interruption or pruning. The stress would encourage them to produce male marijuana flowers.
Then, the pollen from the hermaphrodite plant is applied to the ‘true’ female (i.e., a plant that did not easily display intersexuality when stressed).
The downside of this method is that the female marijuana ‘pollen donors’ already had quite a strong tendency to turn intersexual.
That tendency, in turn, was very likely to be inherited by the resulting feminized seeds.
In the early days of feminized marijuana seeds, hermaphrodites were a reasonable concern, but nowadays hermaphrodites formed from feminized seeds alone are rare.
Today, breeders use a technique called rhodelization. It uses different forms of silver to force female plants to produce male flowers.
This new, more intensive, technique produces stable and consistent seeds. Now, female plants with a very minor tendency to turn intersexual can be used, instead of the hermaphrodite plants needed in the past.
Best of all, none of the genes are modified, so the seeds produced are female.
These female plants stay female even when placed under harsh, irregular, or stressful conditions.
This means that their offspring have no more tendency that a normal female marijuana plant to turn intersexual.
If anything, the parent marijuana plants are physically modified by silver, and the seeds are produced naturally, through pollination.
Cannabis Sex: What Determines It?
Both genetics and environment play a role in the determination of the sex of a cannabis plant. Many growers focus on the growing conditions to ensure that hermaphroditism does not take place, but genetics play just as important a role.
Cannabis sativa L. is a dioecious plant – in other words, the male and female sexes are expressed in separate plants. With that being said, some cases of hermaphroditism are known to occur. The most desirable and psychoactive component of the plant is formed in the female flowers. Thus, knowing how to differentiate between male and female plants is integral to any grow operation, whether commercial or at home.
Male cannabis plants have their purpose, too. Even if the buds are not harvested for sale or consumption, male plants are imperative to a breeding program. For this reason, growers and breeders must know the differences between male and female plants and what determines this, especially to avoid hermaphroditism.
Which factors influence the sex of a cannabis plant?
How and why the sex of cannabis plants is determined is a subject frequently discussed by cannabis growers all over the world.
The determination of gender in human beings is simple: the male, who possesses both X and Y chromosomes, either gives or does not give a Y chromosome to the embryo. If it does, the child is born a male. If it does not, the child is born female. However, recent studies have shown that under stressful conditions, the male is more likely to produce spermatozoa containing X chromosomes.
In human embryos, a single X chromosome and a single Y chromosome denote a male (XY). Two X chromosomes denote a female (XX). The combination of genetics from egg and sperm create a diploid cell, containing two chromosomes.
In the case of cannabis, things are a little more complicated. While cannabis has been identified as having diploid cells, there are researchers producing tetraploid plants of cannabis for the purpose of improving its medical qualities. Tetraploid cells contain four chromosomes of either X or Y (XXXX, XXXY, XXYY, XYYY or YYYY). However, it is unlikely that tetraploidy occurs in cannabis in nature.
Generally speaking, in mammals, sex is determined at birth, with no interference on physical sex by developmental conditions. For example, even under stressful circumstances, a female reproductive organ won’t turn into a male reproductive organ. However, this does occur in cannabis. Therefore, the genetic make-up of the seed cannot be the sole factor involved in determining the sex of marijuana plants.
It is for this reason that some cannabis growers place more importance on growing conditions. Under extreme or poor growing conditions, there is a predominance of male plants. This is not so farfetched, as the main objective of a cannabis plant is to procreate.
Essentially, for a male plant to grow under adverse conditions is a defense mechanism of the cannabis plant, as one male can pollinate hundreds of female plants. The effect of growing conditions on both male and female plants will be discussed later in the article.
So as the understanding of cannabis cultivation has it, both nature (genetics) and nurture (growing conditions) influence the sex of the cannabis plant. But how exactly does this work?
Cannabis and Sex – What A High Can Do for You
1. Nature: The role of seed genetics
As much as growing conditions play a vital role in determining the sex of cannabis plants, there is also plenty of genetic information stored in seeds. In the presence of optimum growing conditions, it is the seed genetics which will determine the sex of the plant.
Botanists and researchers of this 2004 study identify fragments of gene sequencing that determine the sex for both male and female plants. They also identified certain gene fragments which may play a role in the development of hermaphrodite plants. In any case, the results of this study show that the genetics of a plant play a role in determining the sex. The commitment to a specific sex takes place as soon as the leaves of the fourth node emerge.
Remember, this is different to determining the sex of a plant as a grower. Cultivators do not need genetic identification material to understand if their plants are male or female. Rather, certain signs in early plant life can be used by a grower to help them determine the sex of their plant.
2. Nurture: Growing conditions and feminisation
The feminisation of cannabis seeds is a perfect example of how cultivation conditions are also intrinsically linked to a plant’s final sex. Feminisation consists of taking a female plant and turning into a hermaphrodite by creating environmental stressors. At this point, certain female flowers will begin to produce pollen, which can then be used to pollinate the same plant. The final product is a feminized seed.
The Evolution of Cannabis Sativa & the Cannabis Ancestor
Which external factors can affect which sex the cannabis plant manifests?
In general, plants that are subjected to stress around 3 weeks into vegetation are more likely to manifest male genetics. If stress takes place later on in vegetation or during flowering, a plant may be forced into hermaphroditism.
When humidity exceeds the optimum amount for cannabis, it is more likely that male plants will develop. In conditions with less relative humidity, it is more likely that female plants will develop.
Interestingly, the moisture of the soil is another environmental condition that can affect the sex of a cannabis plant. In soil that contains too little moisture, it is more likely that a male plant will develop.
The warmer the environment, the more likely it is that a male plant will develop. However, with that being said, it is possible that this stressor is linked with the photoperiod. In warmer climates, there are generally longer days and shorter nights, and the effect of temperature is inextricably linked with photoperiod.
In indoor cultivation programs, the grower may choose the colour of the light spectrum. The more blue light appears in the spectrum, the more likely that female plants will develop.
Finally, photoperiod is an important environmental condition that can affect sex. Shorter light hours per day usually results in more female plants, while longer exposure to light usually results in more male plants.
Ultimately, any grower can force a developed female plant into being a hermaphrodite by adjusting the environment. Changes in photoperiod, increasing the temperature, harvesting too late or over-fertilizing may all result in a female plant turning into a hermaphrodite. With that said, hermaphroditism may also occur as a result of genetics, as some strains are more prone to hermaphroditism than others.
When plants are kept in the correct optimum environment for their genetics, there is generally a small likelihood of hermaphroditism unless the seed is genetically prone. This is why growers must pay close attention to the cultivation environment to avoid hermaphroditism.
Long story short: As almost always, it’s not nature and nurture. A combination of both genetics and environment play a role in the determination of the sex of a cannabis plant.
Laws and regulations regarding cannabis cultivation differ from country to country. Sensi Seeds therefore strongly advises you to check your local laws and regulations. Do not act in conflict with the law.
Can you tell the sex of cannabis seeds?
If you didn’t know by now. girls rule in the world of weed. That’s because female plants are necessary for producing high-quality buds with high THC levels. In fact, unless a grower is breeding – male plants are typically discarded as soon as the sex of the plant presents itself. But, what if you didn’t have to wait for growth to tell the sex of cannabis seeds? There’s a common myth across the industry that you can identify the sex of cannabis seeds before they sprout. So, is it true? We set out for the answers, to find out.
Identifying A Seed’s Gender
Feminized , regular and feminized autoflowers are now widely available to purchase on the market today, however one question that continues to arise with growers beginning their crops is, can you tell the sex of cannabis seeds upon first sight? The quick answer is no. But, why? Basically, there’s no exterior signs that a seed is female vs. male – no matter what certain myths say.
Debunking Seed Gender Myths
Speaking of myths, the reason some growers think they can identify sex of cannabis seeds, is due in part to misinformation. Here are a few common myths that surround the sex of cannabis seeds, and how they’ve been debunked.
Contrary to popular belief (and what an old-fashioned chart may say) a seed’s shape, size, and color has no bearing on the actual sex of a seed. All seeds, female, regular, or autoflower, can vary in appearance, with no actual trait as an indicator of sex, whatsoever.
The Roll Test
Another common myth is known as the ‘roll test’. The same relic that states seeds can be identified by their appearance, states that female seeds will roll more easily across a table, than males. Overtime, we’ve learned that this test is clearly flawed and fails at determining the sex of cannabis seeds.
Another old growing fable, is that the environment of your room or growing area, can change the sex of a seed during germination/seedling. For now, the jury is still out on whether this is 100% true. What we do know about environments, and cannabis seeds’ sex, is if a plant is stressed due to off-balanced conditions, it can cause plants to hermaphrodite during growth.
How Can You Tell The Sex?
So, if you can’t tell the gender of a seed by just looking at it, or rolling it. how are you supposed to tell the sex of cannabis seeds? Unfortunately for growers, you’ll just have to wait it out. The only answer to identifying your seed’s gender as early as possible, is waiting for it to show its sex during growth .
Most growers wait until the flowering stage to keep a careful eye on a plant’s sex. Without keeping a close eye, if you let males grow for too long in your space they can end up ‘breeding’ with the other females. This is detrimental to a crop, as it causes female plants to pop seeds themselves, diminishing the quality of the plant overall. Luckily, determining a seed’s sex in the early vegetative stages is possible.
If you’re anxious to know, one trick that some growers implement uses a technique that mimics light cycles from flowering. By placing a black bag over a small part of your veg plant you’ll trick the plant into thinking it’s time to flower. You can then check the sex of this small portion, before fully moving into its flowering stage.
Case Closed On Seeds & Gender
In growing, it’s all about learning and sometimes unlearning certain myths, tricks, or tips that you’ve been told. All in all, while cannabis is nothing new there’s still a lot to learn when it comes to specific questions like – can you tell the sex of cannabis seeds by looking at them? Thankfully, we were able to close the case on seeds and gender, by knowing there’s no way other than letting the plant flower to ultimately decipher sex of seeds.