Female vs. Male Weed Plants: Similarities and Differences It is important to learn when to separate male and female cannabis plants so the males do not pollinate the female plants. Follow this quick guide on how to tell the difference between male and female cannabis plants to help you start growing big and beautiful buds right at home!
How To Separate Male And Female Weed Seeds
Article written by
Tina Magrabi Senior Content Writer
Tina Magrabi is a writer and editor specializing in holistic health. She has written hundreds of articles for Weedmaps where she spearheaded the Ailments series on cannabis medicine. In addition, she has written extensively for the women’s health blog, SafeBirthProject, as well as print publications including Destinations Magazine and Vero’s Voice. Tina is a Yale University alumna and certified yoga instructor with a passion for the outdoors.
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When to Separate Male and Female Cannabis Plants
Cannabis is an annual dioecious genus, meaning the species within the genus produce distinctly male and female plants each year from seed. In today’s cannabis industry, nearly all cannabis jobs and products focus on the female plant—and for extremely good reasons. It is important to learn when to separate male and female cannabis plants.
Female cannabis plants are the sex that produces the highest amount of coveted cannabinoids, which more often than not is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Females are undeniably the more exciting of the two sexes. Females produce the fragrant and potent flowers that all cannabis consumers know and love.
In comparison, the male cannabis plant isn’t nearly as enticing. Even the male plant structure is comparatively plain, even ugly.
When it comes to the battle of the sexes in the cannabis space, there’s no denying that females win, hands down. That fact aside, males are really just as important as females, although their usefulness is not as apparent. Without males, there would be no cannabis strains, and the industry would not exist.
Each of the two cannabis plant sexes plays a crucial role – meaning there’s a critical need to properly identify each sex, as well as when and how to keep them separate from each other in all but the rarest of circumstances.
First, A Little History on Male & Female Cannabis Plants
In past decades, cannabis—usually imported cannabis—was smuggled into the United States for the black market from countries such as Colombia, Mexica, Afghanistan, and Thailand. Bags of this type of bud were nearly always seeded in varying amounts, because male or hermaphrodite plants would be found within or in close proximity to grows consisting of females.
This abundance of seed wasn’t necessarily undesirable for the growers, because it ensured a ready supply of seed stock for future grows. The downside of this seeded marijuana was that it was low-quality, because female plants halt the production of resin in the form of frosty, sticky trichomes on their flowers once they become seeded by male pollen—and trichomes contain the highest levels of cannabinoids, including THC, the psychoactive property in cannabis.
Eventually, unseeded cannabis began to enter the black market, referred to as “sinsemilla,” which translates in Mexican Spanish to “without seed” (the word is derived from Latin sine “without” [see sans] + semen “seed” [see semen]). This unseeded cannabis quickly got the full attention of cannabis consumers because it was much higher quality from its high resin content.
Very quickly, sinsemilla was in high demand, and people began to shun heavily seeded flower, referring to it disparagingly as “shwag weed.” No one wanted the seeded stuff anymore.
In today’s cannabis industry, all commercial flower is sinsemilla, and it goes without saying that the flowers don’t contain seed. The term “sinsemilla,” although sometimes still heard, has become a somewhat antiquated colloquialism of the past.
How Modern Growers Keep Male & Female Cannabis Plants Separate
Today’s industry also cultivates cannabis under much more controlled environments that the marijuana fields found in other countries. Except for closely controlled and monitored breeding projects, female cannabis and male cannabis plants are segregated and kept apart from one another.
When a choice male plant (typically one with good structure and heavy resin production) is identified and its pollen collected, breeding it to a prime female is done with strict protocol in place.
For the home grower, the practice of culling male plants is extremely important to the overall success of the cultivation project. Today’s home growers typically acquire their seeds from a seed company or bank and have a choice between feminized seed (seed that will produce only female plants) and normal seed (seed that will produce both female and male plants).
Growing From Feminized Cannabis Seed
If growing only female plants is the ultimate goal, there’s much to be said for the merits of feminized seed. This type of seed comes from specialized breeding practices that only utilize female plants, so this seed lacks the male chromosomes to produce male plants. When the plants begin to reveal their sex, they will all be female.
How to Tell If A Cannabis Plant Is Male or Female
When it comes to growing cannabis, it truly is essential that you learn the difference between male and female cannabis plants. By learning this simple technique, you can easily decide what you want to pollinate and what you don’t.
Understanding Plant Reproductive Morphology
First, let’s take one step back to fully grasp why we need to separate cannabis plants by male and female in the first place. This is commonly referred to as the plant reproductive morphology, which is simply the study of the physical form and structure of a plant’s sexual reproduction parts.
While there are actually many complex forms of morphology, for the sake of keeping it simple, we’re only going to cover three of the most common ones.
This is a type of plant that forms both male and female parts on the same plant. Therefore, this plant will be able to reproduce on its own. However, in cannabis plants, you can discover a “hermied” plant by banana looking shoots, which form on the flowers. While this can be the genetics of the cannabis strain, it may also be an indication of the plant getting too stressed out. When a plant gets too stressed and fears it will die, it may begin to form male reproductive parts. This is to ensure that seeds can drop for its survival (keep reading for more info on detecting “hermied” cannabis plants).
For this type of plant, it will form both male and female reproductive parts. However, they will not be on the same flower as they are with hermaphrodite plants. Within monoecious plants, you will find one flower has female parts, while another has male parts. In cannabis, this is very uncommon to find. Actually, it’s only been reported a few times in history and something that we’ve never personally seen. If this were to happen, you would find one stalk with definitive male characteristics and other branches of the same plant with definitive female characteristics.
Now, with a dioecious plant, you will find that the plant either produces all male parts or all female parts. This means that no single plant can reproduce on its own. The female actually needs its male counterpart to continue producing seed for the following year. And, you guessed it, this is the category cannabis falls into and why you must separate your males from females. If you fail to separate them all, you will likely find that the male plants pollinated your females. Therefore, leaving you with a handful of buds chalked full of seeds.
How to Tell the Difference Between Male and Female Cannabis Plants
Now, with an understanding of the various sexual organs within cannabis plants, let’s get to the fun part – separating your lady friends from their male counterparts.
After the seeds have sprouted and the plants have had a chance to grow, it will be time to find out which ones you’ll be keeping to flower out and which ones you will be chopping down to avoid seeded buds.
Usually, when starting from seed, you will need to wait about four to six weeks before the male and female parts will be formed well enough for you to see the difference.