Male cannabis plants: parts and purposes

While some growers dismiss male cannabis plants as useless, these plants have many benefits to offer. This guide will explain the differences between male and female cannabis plants, detail the parts of male plants, and lay out the various purposes of male plants.

Differences between male and female cannabis plants

The most striking difference between male and female cannabis plants is that only female plants produce buds. The bud is often regarded as the crown jewel of the marijuana plant since these large, resin-rich flowers can be dried, cured, and ultimately enjoyed.

However, male plants do produce flowers which help visibly distinguish the plant's gender. The flowers on male plants are characterized by small, bell-shaped clusters that dangle and open to release fertilizing pollen. In contrast, female marijuana plants produce teardrop-shaped flowers that will yield buds at harvest time.

In addition to unusable buds, the male plant produces lower levels of potentially therapeutic cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This difference serves as a double whammy for many cannabis lovers, as male plants are consequently lower in both therapeutic properties and psychoactive effects. Lower levels of cannabinoids also means less intense flavors and aromas.

Parts of a male cannabis plants

Let's start from the top of the plant and work our way down. In descending order, a male marijuana plant exhibits the following parts:

Nodes: Signifying a crucial aspect of the male plant's anatomy, the nodes are where the pollen sacs form and bear seeds. Nodes grow in opposite pairs on seedlings and divide the stem at the point where lateral branches begin. When the plant matures before harvest time, the nodes will grow alternately and signify that flowering has begun.

Stem: Alternately called the stalk, the stem is usually hollow and provides the base for leaves to grow. As a connector to the leaves, the stem's purpose is to transfer water, minerals, and other nutrients throughout the plant.

Fan leaves: Each plant may have between five and nine of these large, protruding leaves. The purpose of fan leaves is to support photosynthesis, the process by which light energy converts to chemical energy. Growers often trim excess fan leaves to facilitate better airflow to the plant as well as to incorporate into marijuana recipes. Fan leaves make key ingredients in cannabis edibles and can be equally useful infusions and extracts. Raw cannabis juice is the newest craze in the weed world and fan leaves can be blended into these superfood beverages.

Parts that are notably absent from male plants include the cola, pistil, and calyx, all of which are exclusive to female cannabis plants and produce trichomes that can be cured and smoked. There are a few other differences between male and female cannabis plant parts. According to Somoza, "In the preflower stage, males will develop small round balls at the node where pollen will form. Females will develop very small hairlike stigmas protruding from rounded bracts."

Each part of the plant serves a distinct purpose that benefits the whole and contributes to a healthy harvest.

Purpose of male cannabis plants

While too many male cannabis plants in a confined area can infringe upon female plants' growth and lead to seeded, non-smokable flower, male plants are essential pollen producers that play an integral role in cannabis breeding. Without male plants, there would be no female plants and vice-versa.

Like all "fathers," male cannabis plants pass genes on to their offspring. For cannabis progeny, these traits may include resistance to mold and pests, adaptation to different climates, successful growth rates, and general health. Males are especially useful for growers who breed autoflowering cannabis strains, such as Royal Cookies Automatic and Amnesia Haze Automatic.

Diversifying the genetic pool is one more reason male cannabis plants are good for pot farmers. Steven Somoza, who has more than eight years of cannabis cultivation experience at Hydroponics, Inc., says, "Male cannabis plants play a key role for genetic diversity of cannabis. Skilled breeders tediously and patiently cross-pollinate their gardens in pursuit of exciting new strains." Cannatonic, 3 Kings, and White Widow are a few examples of the countless hybrid strains created from cross-pollination. Such cultivars may be genetically stronger than purebred cannabis varieties since they inherit the best qualities from each parent.

Not all cannabis growers will want to tap into the male's cross-pollinating powers, however. As Somoza added, "Cross-pollination is undesirable for cannabis flower growers. We've heard of outdoor farms having their crops destroyed by a neighboring farm's pollen due to drift. As a grower, it's important and responsible to be able to sex your plant, especially when introducing new genetics to your farm." In fact, pollen can travel far and wide in search of a female to fertilize, so it's necessary to keep a watchful eye on male marijuana plants and space them accordingly.

While they can have drawbacks, male plants serve an indispensable purpose in the cannabis life cycle and in the continued evolution of their species.

The primary purpose of a male plant is to perpetuate the cannabis life cycle. However, male plants have other possible uses, such as:

Make hemp fiber: Male cannabis plants produce softer fibers than females. Fibers from male plants make ideal base materials for clothing, napkins, tablecloths, sheets, and even light blankets.

Produce hash and other concentrates: Just because males have lower levels of cannabinoids doesn't mean they're completely devoid of these potent compounds. There are enough cannabinoids in male leaves, pollen sacs, and stems to create cannabis concentrates. 

Enrich a garden: Beyond cannabis cultivation, male cannabis plants are useful in flower and vegetable gardens. The terpenes in male plants, though not as abundant as in female plants, exude natural fragrances that can repel pests. These powerful terpenes are common ingredients in industrial insect repellents and pesticides. The long taproots of male plants can also be helpful in enhancing soil quality. Taproots burrow deep in the ground and break apart weak soil, which allows for more nutrients and moisture to penetrate the soil. During rainy periods, taproots hold soil in place, which maintains nutrients that might otherwise be lost in runoff. Male plants can also be added to the compost bin to enrich next season's garden. 

There is no doubt that male cannabis plants offer an array of benefits to cultivators, gardeners, and consumers. As scientists learn more about cannabis, they may discover new ways in which male plants are beneficial. For now, cannabis enthusiasts can value male plants for a variety of uses — so long as they think beyond the bud.

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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 June 20, 2022.