How To Spot: Male, Female and Hermaphrodite Cannabis Plants
You don’t have to be an expert on the plant to at some point have encountered the term ‘feminized’ in relation to cannabis seeds. As the name suggests, this means cannabis plants can be either female or male and in some cases have both sexes. This is what you need to know to spot Male, Female and Hermaphrodite cannabis plants in your garden:
Male Or Female Cannabis Plants
Before we dive into the more complicated matter when it comes to sexing a cannabis plant, let’s start with some basics. Cannabis plants are so called ‘dioecious plants’ (‘di-‘ is ‘two’ in Greek; ‘oikia’ means ‘house’). This means they produce either male of female reproductive organs, known as the flowers. In contrast to ‘monoecious plants’, which produce two different types of flowers on the same plant.
The cannabis plants most consumers know and love are often female. As these are the plants that produce the smokeable flowers – the dried buds – but which can also be grown at home. These weed flowers, buds, or ‘colas’ are covered in trichomes / resin which holds the plant’s active components, like cannabinoids and terpenes. Male cannabis plants however are less popular with consumers, as their only task in life is to release pollen into the air.
Feminized Cannabis Seeds
When pollen from a male cannabis plant reaches a female cannabis flower, the female flower will start producing seeds with traits from both plants involved. That’s great for growers that like crossbreeding strains and develop their own cannabis varieties. But if you’re growing for your personal consumption, you might want to avoid pollination. Not only do seeds add a harsh taste to your smoke. Producing them also takes a lot of energy from the plant. Costly energy that should rather be put into the development of cannabinoids like THC and CBD.
The best thing you can do to guarantee you’ll grow female cannabis plants, is to purchase feminized cannabis seeds. In contrast to regular cannabis seeds, which will grow 50/50 males and females, feminized seeds guarantee for 98% to grow into female cannabis plants.
So even if you use feminized seeds, it is advised to keep a close eye and determine the sex of the plant as soon as you can. As there’s always a small chance at finding a male plant in your garden which could screw up your harvest, or for the plant to turn from female to hermaphrodite and develop both sexes on one cannabis plant; as we’ll explain later on.
Female Cannabis Plants
The sex of cannabis plants can be determined by looking for the first signs of bloom on the plant. These are visible a few days to a week after you switch your light to 12/12 and give your plant the sign to switch from the growth stage to the flowering stage of its life cycle . Outdoors, the same signal is given by nature as soon as the days grow shorter than 14 hours after the summer solstice.
Female cannabis plants are easy to spot once they start showing the first signs of flowering
Female weed plants are distinguished by the development of bracts with small white hairs (stigma’s) on their nodes. A node is the part of the plant where branches and leaves emerge from the stem. After a while, the female plant starts pushing out more and more of these hairs until they swell up from the bottom up. This means the plant is now forming ‘calyxes’ that eventually stack up to become the flower as we know it.
Pollination And Seeds
These ‘calyxes’ remain empty as long as the plant is not pollinated by a male plant. When it does get pollinated, these calyxes will fill up to hold and protect the plant’s babies: seeds. It is even thought that the resin on weed plants serves only that purpose in nature: to protect the plant’s offspring from burning in the sun.
Discover our Feminized Chocolato cannabis strain (White Choco x Gelato) here!
Male Cannabis Seeds
Male Cannabis Plants are recognized by the formation of pollen sacs on the plant’s nodes. This happens around the same time as female reproductive organs should be forming. Although female plants tend to develop their reproductive organs a bit faster. Luckily, these male pollen sacs can be distinguished pretty easily. As they look like small balls hanging from the side of the plant; instead of the upward facing hairs from the female plant.
Male Cannabis Plants form small ball-shaped pollen sacs on their nodes
When left to grow, these balls will eventually open up like a flower and release pollen into the air. As we’ve explained, this pollen is only interesting when you’re trying to make your own strains or seeds. If you’re not making seeds, make sure to remove every male plant from your garden or grow room before this happens. Do it with the upmost care, as rocking the plant could force it to release the pollen.
Hermaphrodite Cannabis Plants
The first paragraph of this article explains cannabis plants grow only one set of reproductive organs. Although there is still a ‘but’ to this. Because there always remains the possibility that female cannabis plants form male reproductive organs too. This usually happens when the plant(s) experience excessive stress. And in times of stress, they try to guarantee the survival of their species. Cannabis plants can do so by turning hermaphrodite, or ‘herma’ in grower terms.
Hermaphrodite cannabis plants develop both female and male reproductive organs
Because when cannabis plants turn ‘hermaphrodite’, they do so in order to pollinate themselves. Turning hermaphrodite is an evolutionary strategy of cannabis plants, designed to save the species in hard times.It allows the plant to produce seeds no matter what; even when there are no males around (for example, because the source of the ‘stress’ killed off all male plants).
How To Prevent Stress From Turning Female Cannabis Into Hermaphrodites
Some cannabis strains are more sensitive to stress than others. Stress can arise from a number of sources, from overly enthusiastic pruning and topping to environmental factors like excessive temperatures, water shortage or surplus, soil acidity or overfeeding and lack of nutrients. It is good to know that cannabis is called a ‘weed’ for a reason: this is a hardy species with great natural resilience. Still, most cannabis seeds you can order online are crossbreeds cultivated for specific traits like taste or THC content. Years of crossbreeding and hybridization have created some strains that are more prone to stress than their natural ancestors.
When growing strains that are sensitive to stress, growers run a risk of their cannabis plants developing hermaphroditic traits – like the well-known Original Glue (Gorilla Glue #4). In our online seeds catalogue, you’ll find certain strains that are particularly resistant to stress.
Removing Sex Organs From Hermaphrodite Cannabis Plants
If for whatever reason you do spot hermaphrodite cannabis plants, all is not lost. You just have to act fast and be cautious. To avoid hermaphrodite cannabis plants from pollinating themselves, carefully remove the male reproductive organs that form on the nodes. You can do so by gently taking a pollen sac in between two fingers and twisting/pulling it off. Wash your hands thoroughly before you go near your female plants – you don’t want to cause accidental pollination because of your dirty fingers! This way you can still have a satisfying harvest from any hermaphrodite, without having to pluck the seeds from your buds.
TIP: If you want to try and create your own unique strains, you can learn more about growing regular seeds in this blog.
TIP: For anyone trying to avoid raising hermaphrodites, check our info on the benefits of buying feminized seeds here.
Hermaphroditism in Cannabis plants. So, what now?
Among cannabis plants we can find dioecious and monoecious specimens, that is, individuals that only show a defined sex and others that contain flowers of both sexes in the same plant. Originally they were all monoecious, as is the case with almost all varieties of industrial hemp as well as the vast majority of vegetables on the planet.
In the past this was not a problem, because cannabis was used for making fibres and the seeds were eaten, so every plant was valid. Then they started smoking the flowers after removing the seeds, as well as producing hashish centuries later, and they soon realized that female plants were much better for these purposes, or that they barely showed any male flowers.
It was the human hand that began to isolate the best females for its own use, and by selection and crossing the dioecious traits were fixed in some pure varieties. From the best stable Landraces came the first hybrids, and from them most of the polyhybrids we know nowadays. The vast majority of cannabis seeds nowadays are of well-defined sex, but there are still genetics that can show hermaphroditism and this is what we will see here. What is a hermaphrodite cannabis plant and what can we do with it?
Meaning of Hermaphrodite
I guess we’ve all been there at one time or another, we have arrived to the crop and among all the plants we saw something strange. Something that you do not expect, a plant that has strange things in the buds and when you approach to see it well your predictions are confirmed, it is a hermaphrodite sex flower, but what is hermaphroditism?
The definition of hermaphrodite in marijuana plants means specimens containing both sexes in the same flower. This process is also called Monoceia. This can be a big problem if you want to smoke the buds, because male flowers normally pollinate female flowers and your buds will contain seeds. So, is hermaphroditism bad? It is for us, although we have to understand that sometimes it is a positive reaction that the plant shows on certain situations.
Picture showing the different sexes of cannabis plants*
⭐ Types and causes of Cannabis Hermaphroditism
- Environmental stress
- Culture Stress
- Chemical agents
- The most common cause of weed plants showing hermaphrodites is genetic. As we saw before, the ancestors of all the current varieties were hermaphrodites, but they have been working over the years to stabilize their sex. Many times plants contain hermaphrodite genes in a recessive way, that is, some specimens may not show it, but these same specimens may pass it on to the offspring. It is also the case of varieties that always show pure females when grown optimally, but can end up showing male flowers in stress situations.
- Environmental stress hermaphroditism is quite common too, but in this case it has to do with Darwin’s theory of evolution. It may seem like a negative thing, since it can ruin your crop, but it is actually a system of adaptation to the environment, since it happens when the female plant perceives that it can die due to environmental irregularities, so it produces male flowers to self-pollinate and procreate as soon as possible.
- Crop-induced stress can be caused naturally or by the grower himself/herself. Pure Afghani genetics have minimal water requirements, because they are used to dry and unfertile soil, and when you try to grow them in a rainy area they often show hermaphroditic signs. It also happens the other way around, of course, if you bring a Mexican to Afghanistan it’s normal for it to get stressed out too and it can end up hermaphroditing. This can be seen very well with some hybrids when they are over-fertilized, or when they suffer from water stress due to drought, excess irrigation or an inadequate PH in the nutrient solution.
- Hermaphroditism caused by over-ripening can be suffered by 90% of today’s commercial cannabis varieties. It is a kind of survival system of the plant, which when it perceives that its death is near and has not been fertilized, creates some male flowers to self-pollinate and try to continue with the lineage. There are many sexually stable females that endure many types of stress without showing any hermaphroditic signs, but in the case of over-ripening they end up producing hermaphrodite flowers.
- Cannabis has the ability to reverse or invert its sex thanks to certain chemicals. This is because there are some elements that have the capacity to inhibit the ethylene production of the female specimens, and therefore show male flowers capable of producing pollen. An example of this type of hermaphroditism is STS which is used to produce feminized seeds. Plants reversed with silver thiosulfate, colloidal silver or other chemicals, we call them hermaphrodites, although they are not really like that, because when they start to generate male flowers they stop producing female flowers, so maybe we could call them sequential hermaphrodites or just intersex plants.
Image of an intersex cannabis plant, where you can see a female flower next to a male one*
Difference between hermaphrodite and intersex
We usually call all plants containing both sexes hermaphrodite and it’s actually like this. But we must differentiate between those that produce both female and male flowers separated in different areas, which would be intersex ones, from those that form male and female flowers in the same bud.
➕ How to take advantage of a hermaphrodite plant?
The best thing you can do when you detect a hermaphrodite plant in your crop is to carefully remove it so as not to spread the pollen in case it has opened the flowers. But that doesn’t mean that you have to cut it down and throw it away, because sometimes you can get some use out of the plant.
Some specimens can take out 1 or 2 male flowers and nothing else, it happens sometimes with pre-flowers, in the fourth or fifth knot usually, that can be taken out and the plant will continue to flower as a female many times. It is convenient to keep an eye on these specimens if they are mixed with other females, in case at some point they take out some little banana (male flowers that come out in some hermaphrodite buds).
There are also some hermaphrodite plants that can take out a few small bananas in a bud, visible and that can be removed with tweezers. In these cases it is also better to separate them carefully and, depending on the development of the buds, choose whether to bring forward the harvest or keep them under supervision until they finish their cycle. Once you’ve removed the bananas, you can use that weed like any other.
If it is a plant that shows signs of continuous hermaphroditism during the first weeks of flowering, it is best to cut it directly if there is a danger of pollination of other females. If this happens to you, you should know that you can use the plant to make rubbing alcohol, for example. However, if you have to cut it with a more advanced flowering stage, I suggest you try to make BHO, because if the buds already have resin I feel that this is a better way to take advantage of a hermaphrodite.
And if they are seeds from a hermaphrodite plant, can I use them?
One of the factors that influence hermaphroditism is the genetic as we saw before, it is one more inherited characteristic that runs from generation to generation. Therefore, seeds that come out of hermaphrodite marijuana plants have a good chance of also being hermaphrodite.
Sometimes we find some seeds among the whole harvest of a plant, which usually come from self-pollination, they are the so-called S1. This happens when a little banana comes out and fertilizes a small area of a bud, so only a few seeds come out, sometimes only one. These seeds are feminized and very similar to the plant from which they come out, they always come out female, but they are always prone to produce some male flower between their buds as well.
How to avoid that a plant becomes hermaphrodite?
This is not always possible, because there are some varieties that have it very marked, intrinsic. But there are many others that only have a tendency to hermaphroditism, or a greater ability to produce flowers of the opposite sex. This tendency has a lot to do with the ability of genetics to withstand stress, those that are sexually pure, very few, endure much more stress without showing changes in their sex. If you want to stop them from showing it, consider the following factors:
- Don’t go crazy with nutrients
- Check the pH and regularly calibrate your meter
- Daytime temperature around 75º F. (24º C.) and at night around 64.5º F. (18º C.)
- Keep the crop clean, pests also stress
- Strict photoperiod and no illumination of the plants during the night period
- Don’t delay the harvest, you know that over-ripe ends in hermaphroditism
- Be careful with phytosanitary products, some are very strong and can stress the plant
- Don’t put too many plants in too little space, root stress is also bad
You’ve seen that hermaphroditism in cannabis is not a bad thing in itself, even if it bothers us. At least you know how to handle it and how you can take advantage of these plants in case this happens. I hope you liked this post, and if so, I’d like you to share it.