Flower, or bud, is the smokable, trichome-covered part of a female cannabis plant. Flower is the most popular form of cannabis due to its versatility since it can be consumed in a variety of ways, including smoked in a pipe or joint, vaporized in a vaporizer, or incorporated into edibles.

Common forms of flower

Loose flower

cannabis nugs flower Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Loose flower is what it sounds like — just buds on their own, not rolled or processed. Purchased in a dispensary, loose flower might come in a jar or sealed bag labeled by strain and weight. Once harvested from the cannabis plant, dried, and cured, flower must still be ground, usually in a cannabis grinder, to make it easier to handle and consume. Once ground, it can be rolled into a joint, packed in a bong bowl, or decarbed and used in homemade edibles


prerolls Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Another way to buy flower is in pre-rolled joints or pre-rolls. It's a high-convenience product that saves the consumer having to grind, pack, and roll the joint on their own. Pre-rolls are usually sold in single- to three-pack sizes of about 0.75 grams per joint. Product diversification being what it is, expect to find broader options in some locations. Pre-rolls may also be available adorned with wax and other concentrates inside or out, dipped in cannabis oil, rolled in kief, or all of the above. 

Flower quality

Private reserve

Private reserve is a title used to describe the best available cannabis a dispensary offers. It often carries with it the connotation that the dispensary is responsible for its cultivation and harvest. Be aware that private reserve is also a brand of cannabis and a strain so be sure you and the budtender are on the same page when you ask for it. 


The term top-shelf describes high-quality cannabis that's not quite as good as private reserve. Interchangeable terms that describe marijuana of this tier include piff, fire, chronic, loud, and artisanal. Growing top-quality cannabis requires attentive care and meticulous harvesting, which is why bud in this category fetches higher prices. Growers focus on quality over quantity when it comes to producing top-shelf cannabis. Buds should be dark to bright green with shoots of purple or orange. If you look closely, top-shelf bud also boasts oodles of intact trichomes. Oftentimes, fire cannabis feels sticky to the touch, like cotton candy. But your nose should be your primary guide so sniff for a rich, pungent aroma. 


The term bottom-shelf describes particularly low-quality herb. Bottom-shelf cannabis is also known as brick weed, dirt weed, schwag, popcorn, and ditch weed. Modern-day dispensaries organize their cannabis by quality, saving this term for their cheapest, lowest-quality stuff. Bottom-shelf cannabis is old, contains seeds and stems, and tastes harsh when combusted. Often, bottom-shelf cannabis is brown in color and lacks a robust scent or visible trichomes.

Smoking methods

Joints and blunts

Joints and blunts are the most commonly utilized methods of smoking. Blunts are joints made from hollowed-out cigars or rolled in cigar tobacco leaves. Blunt can also be slang for an exceptionally fat joint. The grinders, papers, blunt wraps, and crutches can be purchased online or found in local dispensaries. For some, the process of grinding, filling, and rolling is a ritual they enjoy as part of the cannabis experience.  Further, the act of smoking either of these forms of cannabis is universally recognized across the globe. “Puff, puff, pass,” the saying goes.

Pipes and bongs

Bubblers, chillums, spoons, steamrollers, and Gandalf pipes — there are a lot of terms for the various shapes and sizes of weed pipes. Pipes are the least fussy method of smoking, making them perfect for travel or discreet use: grind the cannabis, pack it into the bowl, and light up. Most pipes are made of glass, but some are ceramic, metal, wooden, or silicone. 

Bongs function similarly in that they offer smokers a readily usable method of indulgence.  Consumers need only grind their cannabis, pack the bowl, fill the bong with water or ice, and rip. Bongs come in as many shapes as there are colors under the sun and, just like pipes, the materials range from glass to plastic, ceramics to bamboo, and metal to silicone. 

It's also worth understanding that cannabis consumers tend to flex their engineering creativity, so impromptu bongs can often be constructed with materials at hand, including fresh apples, beer cans, and empty water bottles.


Vaporizing has become one of the most popular methods for consuming cannabis. Just like joint and blunt materials or pipes and bongs themselves, vaporizers can be purchased online or at any local dispensary. However, while the aforementioned smoking methods involve combustion, vaporizers use a more gentle method of heating to activate cannabinoids. Flower or cannabis concentrate is heated just enough to release its key ingredients in vapor form, which prevents users from inhaling combusted material. Because the devices use just enough heat to vaporize, but not combust, consumers can enjoy all the terpenes and cannabinoids without the tar and carcinogens that can come from combusting plant material and rolling papers. 

As vaporizing has gained in popularity, more types of vaporizers have become available. Large tabletop models allow for the most precise selection of temperatures for connoisseurs interested in specific terps and cannabinoids. Vape pens are the most convenient tool though the customization may be lacking. Many choices exist in between. 

How to properly store flower

Unless you're in the business of aging bud to up its sedative ante, properly storing flower is an important concern. The solutions are simple: Minimize flower's exposure to oxygen, heat, moisture, and UV light by storing it in a long-lasting, airtight container such as a Mason jar. For those in search of premium storage options, hermetic containers are excellent options, as they can maintain consistent levels of humidity.

Signs of flower degradation

Color: Visually, cannabis flower exhibits telltale signs that it's been around the block once or twice. Once-exuberant flower shot through with bright greens, purples, and oranges will wilt over time into desiccated lumps of rust-encrusted khaki green. However, if left largely undisturbed, its trichomes will remain intact.

Smell: Cannabis left to its own devices in a jar will, over time, produce a rather unpleasant aroma that can shock even the most veteran consumers. Exposing the cannabis to fresh oxygen should flush the container of its stale, fermented air, which, upon closer inspection, will reveal an underlying amalgam of hay and parchment paper. 

Taste: The taste and mouthfeel of old cannabis stand apart from fresh flower. For some, aged and desiccated bud packs an acerbic punch, while for others, the difference is negligible. However, in keeping with the flower's degradation of THCA into THC into CBN, its taste grows more earthy.

Anatomy of a flower


cannabis plant trichome Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Trichomes are hairlike, glistening growths that crop up along cannabis buds. These structures serve a diverse set of functions across plants in botany. In carnivorous plants, trichomes function as digestive traps. In others, including cannabis, trichomes protect plants from encroaching frost, damaging pests, or destructive wind. In cannabis plants, trichomes also house the majority of the plant's potentially beneficial terpenes and cannabinoids in the resin produced there.


The bract of a flower encapsulates a female plant's reproductive parts, and in a cannabis plant, bracts surround the flower's inflorescence — a term that includes a group or cluster of flowers arranged along a stem. Bracts resemble the shape of a leaf but differ from normal petals. Generally, they are specialized leaves that protect a plant's flower structure. However, in cannabis, bracts are also part of the flower.


The calyx of a cannabis plant can often be confused with its bracts. This segment of the plant forms first and it is constructed of miniature leaves that spiral where the flower branches from the stem. Calyxes are made of sepals, which are tinier leaves that shield the flower's base. Calyxes provide cannabis flowers rigidity and structural protection, safeguarding their reproductive organs from external damage. The calyx of a cannabis plant is incredibly valuable because it holds the flower's pistils and the majority of its trichomes. In fact, calyxes are, by far, the most resinous portion of the cannabis flower.

Sugar leaves

Sugar leaves are small leaves that form at the base of the bud. Trichomes give the leaves a white, sugar-dusted appearance. The number or size of sugar leaves does not equal the number of trichomes in the bud, however. Since the leaves are technically part of the flower, some growers leave them on when harvesting and trimming cannabis for aesthetic reasons or to help with a natural drying process. Others remove them. If they are attached to the bud, it's fine to grind and smoke them along with the rest but they are too harsh and don't have enough resin to bother smoking on their own.

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The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice. This page was last updated on August 10, 2021.