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Cannabis anatomy: The parts of the plant

June 9, 2014
(VasilevKirill/iStock)
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Updated: 8/23/17

When examining a cannabis bud, you’ll notice a complex knotting of different parts: the fiery orange hairs, the sugary crystals, chunky knobs enveloped by tiny leaves. But what exactly are these formations and what functions do they serve?

This brief guide to cannabis anatomy is meant to familiarize you with the plant in its full form. Unfortunately, the sight of real, living cannabis is made rare for many by restrictive laws, but we hope we can bring you just a little closer to your favorite strain’s source.

Male & female plants

Cannabis plants can be male, female, or both (hermaphrodite), but what’s in your stash jar now are the flowers of a female.

Female plants produce the large resin-secreting flowers that are trimmed down to round or pointed buds while males produce smaller pollen sacs near the base of the leaves. The male plants pollinate the females to initiate seed production, but the potent flowers we consume come from the seedless female plants, called sinsemilla, which grow large cannabinoid-rich buds while without seed.

The rare hermaphroditic plants contain both female and male sex organs that allow the plant to pollinate itself during flowering. This self-pollination is typically deemed a nuisance among growers as it spoils the seedless sinsemilla plants and passes on hermaphroditic genes.

Growers can ensure the sex of their plants by growing clones or the genetically identical clippings from a parent strain. Feminized seeds are also made available through a special breeding process.

Cannabis plant anatomy

Deborah Ro/Leafly

The cannabis plant is comprised of several structures, many of which we can find on any ordinary flowering species. Cannabis grows on long skinny stems with its large, iconic fan leaves extending out from areas called nodes. Cannabis really starts to stand out in her flowers where unique and intricate formations occur.

Cola

A cola refers to a cluster of buds that grow tightly together. While smaller colas occur along the budding sites of lower branches, the main cola (sometimes called the apical bud) forms at the very top of the plant.

Stigma and pistil

The pistil contains the reproductive parts of a flower, and the vibrant, hairlike strands of the pistil are called stigmas. Stigmas serve to collect pollen from males. The stigmas of the pistil begin with a white coloration and progressively darken to yellow, orange, red, and brown over the course of the plant’s maturation. They play an important role in reproduction, but stigmas bring very little to the flower’s potency and taste.

Bract and calyx

A bract is what encapsulates the female’s reproductive parts. They appear as green tear-shaped “leaves,” and are heavily covered in resin glands which produce the highest concentration of cannabinoids of all plant parts. Enclosed by these bracts and imperceptible to the naked eye, the calyx refers to a translucent layer over the ovule at a flower’s base.

Trichome

Despite their minute size, it’s hard to miss the blanket of crystal resin on a cannabis bud. This resin (or “kief” when dry) is secreted through translucent, mushroom-shaped glands on the leaves, stems, and calyxes. Trichomes were originally developed to protect the plant against predators and the elements. These clear bulbous globes ooze aromatic oils called terpenes as well as therapeutic cannabinoids like THC and CBD. The basis of hash production depends on these trichomes and their potent sugar-like resin.

  • manofallseasons

    I have some plants of unknown origin. I cut down all male plants that came up but they seem to have gone to seed anyhow https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2f214cd27064c80b62ebab5e2244d79873862650ba36a0eba0939e6922ec9b96.jpg . Are they useful at all? I also do not know if they are ready. I’ll post some pics. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f76e9ce719f2f24ab10f03a492b7efec913bb776d9dd7ec895664f6ee5344b41.jpg This is all new to me. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e01be4b573117b57e27c57d01abbb376b4a53a2964a9b9cc3ed6edfa5680ee25.jpg

    • Phyllis Rocher

      Sometimes female plants will produce seeds without the intervention of males. Those are feminized seeds and will only produce female plants. Sometimes a female plant will also put out a male “arm” and self polinate

      • Dean Young

        Thanks for responding! What it looks like to me is that the heads are all seeds and small leaves. What part is used? Do all the seeds have to be picked off?

        • Phyllis Rocher

          Are you sure there are seeds in there. Sometimes there will be things that look like there are seeds. If there are seeds, you just clean it as you would any plant. Taking the fan leaves of and throwing away and then just trim the bud. Dry it and process it and then just clean the seeds out when you are going to use it. I am old (66) and still clean as I did in the 1960’s. ALL pot had seeds then. I use a card and the top of a carboard box or the cover of an album and clean the seeds like that.

          • Dean Young

            Thanks Phyllis. We are about the same age. I appreciate your comments much and pass them on! 🙂

          • Phyllis Rocher
          • MAGA68

            If you are throwing away leaves… you are doing it wrong and should be shot lol. jk

            Save your leaves and all stems for making hash and/or oils. Or sell them to someone who makes them.

            Waste not want not!! 😉

          • Chris Flewelling

            leaves/stem have no trichomes,, the key thing needed for hash or oil,,,,,,,cant make very good hash or oil with zero trichomes lmao educate urself

            https://disq.us/url?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dq6rMyOrp2iU%26amp%3Bspfreload%3D10%3AcGHrQsplOuIvJIywyeQjZR9oQvM&cuid=4084064

          • MAGA68
          • Mischief

            Woteva

          • Phyllis Rocher

            The fan leaves have no oil on them and are just adding plant material to the product. I will take those off the plant towards the end of growing season as they are not needed anymore, just as stems are not needed. I use a glass and look at what I am trimming. If I want a real smooth smoking material I even remove the little tip ends from the bud, but as you say, I do not throw that away but make products out of it. The removal of the fan leaves at the appropriate time will increase your yield.

          • Luna

            Just curious if there is any use for fan leaves? Tea perhaps? Also, I’d like the health benifits, without the high…is this possible?

          • granja indica

            Absolutely, the fan leaves can be juiced in a slow macerating juicer. This juice is incredibly healthy; an incredible anti-inflammatory, immune booster, high in uncarboxylated THC and CBD it is a non-intoxicant. One day it will set the standard for health drinks.

          • Aries Fiire

            there is a you tube video of some guy who does cannabis juicing saying it got him high ……… how was that possible? i also got really high from eating cannabis leaves off plants someone tossed as a teen and developed life time depersonalisation and derealisation off it the next day waking up after the anxiety attack from eating the leaves .

          • dixiedragon

            You, my dear, were trippin’ and it had NOTHING to do with your cannabis adventure…

          • Justin Wainwright

            Preach it brother 🙂 It hurts me when I see people take their stems and fan leaves and try to make tea or “hash” out of it. Its not the plant that has what your looking for. Its those sweet, sweet trichomes that cover the buds and its “sugar leaves” that you use to make hash/extract/rosin/everything with but hey if you want to drink stem tea then more power to you lol Ill stick with my dry sift full melt.

          • I was pulling out an old “Who” album I hadn’t seen in 30 years, and it had weed and seeds in the fold…

          • Emma Lou #2

            that is a great story! which who album?

          • dixiedragon

            Were we just young or did the pot seem better back then? Was it fear of getting caught, the deliciousness of “sneaking” our hits? I knew back then that 95% of my stoner friends would grow up to be stoner retirees!

      • Ryan Walker

        I was wondering this myself cause I had found one miracle seed within 1 oz of Afternoon Delight and was hoping since it germinated and growing great that it would be a guaranteed female. So your giving me good news knows I hope?

      • dixiedragon

        Damn, why can’t WE do that?

  • Mike Fulk

    i have some female plants that began show male flowers which is nothing new for me but this particular plant put out a male flower in the center of one of the upper leaves. Has any one else ever seen this kind of activity before? It’s new to me and pretty weird. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e8de6a6493b8fc6c0fa3f6cc4eeb273d6448b4eaa9b9d4cacc22a04a3eab0146.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/85dd02d4f35485c7aef2d2611209d44ecc038f7f881236811c04c448e747c1e4.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b2f22b4f006a13f74bf96e58a92ad39bfd245700b9525d78776b65a91ccdf891.jpg

    • TheMagnificentDeplorable

      Extremely rare. What did you do with it and the plant? A clone would be extremely valuable to some people.

  • I had two clones of Bubba Kush last year and one of them barely developed any pistils. It was mostly calyxes and didn’t look as developed as the other clone, even at harvest. The smoke was great, but the plant was the larger of the two clones and yeilded significantly less weight in buds. They were light and fluffy, but not very dense.
    I am wondering if there is a way to react to plants showing this trait to help ensure a peak yeild?

  • You guys are putting out some serious quality content! Thanks!

  • mel frank

    Leafy has no idea what the correct botanical nomenclature is for cannabis plant parts.
    it’s not pistils, the correct term is stigmas.
    the calyx cannot be seen in the female cannabis because it amounts to a few undistinguished cells in the perianth.
    What Leafy calls the calyx is actually bracts

    Even the general vernacular is explained incorrectly, such as with “cola.”
    Cola is a collection of buds at the end of a stem or branch that grow so tightly together that it looks like a giant bud. This has been the term used by cannabis enthusiasts since the 1960s and was used consistently beginning in the 1970s.
    Leafy is in dire need of people who actually know about cannabis.
    You can see the correct botanical naming of plant parts in my Marijuana Grower’s Guide Deluxe, published in 1977.

    • Grey Host

      Can you explain further why the hair like structures are stigmas and not pistols

      • mel frank

        Stigmas are part of the cannabis pistil. A pistil is by definition, all of the reproductive parts. In female cannabis, that amounts to an ovule (which will become a seed, if fertilized) and two stigmas, which are the pollen catchers that provide a passageway for the genetic material to pass from a pollen grain that has landed on a stigma, to grow and deposit genetic material and fertilize the ovule. Many books and growers say a flower has two pistils, but each flower has only one pistil, but two stigmas.

        • Grey Host

          Awesome, thank you. Are there any books you’d recommend?

      • Gerald Dixon Cummings

        I now understand the stigma of it all…get it? The stigma…? Nevermind.

    • Mister Blu

      Clovers Mel.

      Good to see you around.
      The guide you wrote Ed Rosenthal was the first grower’s guide purchased by me.
      Thank you for correcting the vernacular and terminology used in the article above.

      See you around.

      Kindly,
      Mister Blu

    • Amanda Indigo

      come home with me for a few hours, please lol.

    • Erika Smith

      So I’ve heard something about years ago a man band marijuana and thats why it’s illegal today.. but I have to take pain management for my back and side effects of pain meds to me create new problems so doctors can continue with work.. I find it dad that my mother takes 19 meds that cause thr same damn thing.. and could possibly cause more problems. I’m young and not educated about marijuana but I did sit and think… Did Jesus pop a pill or Adam and eve or did they pray about it.. I know in some cultures they believed in using herbs and natural things from the earth… don’t the government understand that piping a pill makes things worse and it could be the simplest thing In front off them that could make all the difference..?? I mean it helps with cancer,ms.. like I said I’m not really educated on all the details.. but im learning.. and I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal about banding something that is natural.. what will be next ?? Having cows?? 🐄🐄🐪🐖

      • Lauren Ikenberry

        jesus doesn’t existt home boy.

        • Anne Jay

          Actually, according to the meticulous Roman record-keepers, Jesus did exist…

          • MrProphetMan

            there arent any meticulous roman records, only about 100 years after he supposedly dies, did someone mention the figure…

          • PubliusK

            And fleetingly at that. Evidence of people writing about the movement does not appear until the 2nd century although it is generally agreed that the earliest Gospels were written shortly after the fall of the Temple in 70AD, at least 35 years after Jesus’ death. His story evolved over the next several hundred years into what we now know. Old men protecting their power assembled a group of books and destroyed the ones that did not fit or showed another truth. Then they printed the book in a language that few of the faithful could read and made it a crime punishable by death to print it in a local language. The Protestant Reformation made the book readable by everyone and opened our eyes a little. Then came Google and we have no more excuses.

          • Akiko Fujishima

            No known historian of the time ever wrote about Jesus, he’s only “documented” in the bible, they wrote about a lot of other figures during the time that Jesus was said to exist. And let’s say, for the sake of argument, that he did exist, what’s got me is why people don’t stop and think that maybe this Jesus dude and his “miracles” were mere slight of hand, just like magicians do today, Because making doves come out of your sleeves, or a rabbit pop out of hat is certainly very different to turning a lump of clay into a dove (that’s useful for something, I guess..lol. David Blaine levitates ffs.. Jesus didn’t do that.. lol) right? People of the time just didn’t understand what they were seeing were tricks rather than actual real magic or miracles… If someone turned water into wine in the wrong era they would have been killed for witch craft, (today they’d be invited over for dinner and thanked for saving the host money) why isn’t Jesus seen in the same way? He had long hair and wore a damn dress and hung out with hookers.. lol. He was probably smoking his fair share of c.indica too if he existed. There are people today who had people believing they figured out the science to running on top of water, and all it was was a platform of wood just below the surface of the water where you couldn’t see it, and what was Jesus? Ah, yes, he was a carpenter.. lol.

            Or could it be that religion was the result of some really stoned people constantly anointing themselves in concentrated oils derived from the very plant we’re trying to legalize the world over? It’s funny how that little plant can make you think you really have it all figured out, right down to the final molecule of the cosmos.. That’s what people love about it, well that and all the pain relief (among relief from a multitude of other conditions).. But the “expansion of the mind” experience is definitely the reason for the most long standing religions and philosophies such as Buddhism.. All of which seem to stem from the regions where the cannabis plant has it’s origin. Interesting.

          • Burnus Swarthout

            You should try to find a copy of ECCE HOMO written by the Roberts brothers in 1886.Jesus existed by not as the person western civilizations have made him out to be.This book explains in the first chapter how the christian movement began before Jesus’s birth and how it was John the Baptist who taught him what to teach others.

          • Jeff Gauthier

            still supposition. not even theory.

          • PubliusK

            Interesting stuff, akiko. A free mind is an interesting thing. But your opening statement is false. Josephus Flavius was indeed a known historian at the time who was born just after Jesus’ death or at about the same time. He absolutely mentions him and John the Baptist. But the details of his life were all created long after his death and most by men who never knew him. I have no doubt that prophets used the tricks you mention or some like them back in the day but we don’t even have to go there as we are certain that almost all of the New Testament was not a Testament at all but the retelling of stories that grew to support one of the largest cultural and political movements in human history.

          • Akiko Fujishima

            Not true, there are actually no records outside of the Bible about Jesus. If there are, please, by all means, produce them. Don’t come at us with things your preacher or whatever told you.

          • PubliusK

            Josephus’ Histories of the Jews mentions him.

          • Jeff Gauthier

            A mention does not equal fact, not even close.

          • PubliusK

            Agreed, Jeff. Josephus is quoted by many as proof. But proof of what? That he lived and breathed or that he was the Son of God on Earth? Josephus mentions him fleetingly unless you cite Book 18, Chapter 3 where he mentions Pilate and that he was a wise teacher and Messiah who was crucified. It is mostly agreed that this text was added after his death when Christians were busy building their bible and destroying documents that did not fit. The OP is on the right track. Josephus did not just live at the same time that Jesus did, he was an educated leader who would have been very aware of his environment and any political or cultural movements. Yet there are only two very small mentions that are universally thought to be Josephus’ words. But Mr. Or Ms. akikofujishima said there was no mention of him outside of the bible which is not true.

          • Jeff Gauthier

            That is simply not true, just because you state it. They were not meticulous record keepers. Been to Rome many times. Just never comes up. I bet you can’t find a proper site to verify our claims.
            Prove to me that one time there is a verifiable supernatural event. I will change my whole life thinking. But I won’t give up on critical thinking for any ‘faith’. That just sounds like a silly thing to do as an adult.

        • HonestyHonored

          Just because you don’t believe doesn’t mean HE doesn’t exist! Its a matter of faith. FYI..There were many writings by many authors collected and known world wide since before His crucifixion, actually before He was born! I could go into much further detail but I don’t think it would matter to you. I will just leave you this: How the books of the Bible(written by many authors) and even the scripts not included; from Moses to the ascension of Jesus and the incomprehensible speed of Christianity that took place after His death, came together and have held true(with more evidence being found) through centuries is a miraculous thing! There is no dispute that these works are of supernatural strength when you think of the history and magnitude of people through time the texts have affected. I pray that your soul is opened to Him. Your circumstances may not change but how you deal with them and the affect they have over you most definitely will.

        • indigo borbs

          Go off sis

      • Kimberly Robinson

        Just FYI….Ban/Banned/Banning

        • Richard Thethird

          Spelling would appear to be the least of her problems.

          • Akiko Fujishima

            Could just be auto-correct and them not being too arsed about correcting auto-corrects mistakes.. lol. My typing is so shit when I text that people ask me if I’m drunk…lol!

    • Nathen Gabriel

      Cmon Leafly got it 95% correct, so they certainly have SOME idea of nomenclature. Still it’s a shame they haven’t corrected things 10 months or more after your comment. Cheers!

      • Clark Akatiff

        I agree. If the first critique is correct then the graphic should be corrected.

    • Kirstie Tittensor

      I have the growers guide Deluxe I call it my bible! Never failed me in 15yrs of growing.

    • Gerald Dixon Cummings

      How long does it take to achieve a PhD in Botany? That would be so cool…and expen$ive.

  • frisianirish19

    from factory leaves and stems you can make some very good hash oil as i have done quite a few time using bho method and the rick simpson method and have come away with some potent enough oil 🙂

  • JohnnyBG
    • Justin Wainwright

      That is DEFFENITLY a male plant my friend. Sorry……unless that’s what you are going for cause you are breeding. A female would be showing a cluster of white stigmas at the sites you are seeing those clusters of seed pods. If you let it go to much longer they will swell and pop and your whole grow area will be nicely pollinated so if your trying to keep your females virgins you need to cut him down ASAP.

      • JohnnyBG

        Justin,

        Thanks for the reply! I thought it was but this is my first time through.

        Just another newbie question, I have a isolated grow room, if I put that in there, will it produce seeds?

        The original strain seeds cost a little bit of $$ and wouldn’t mind keeping it if I could get some seeds that would be usable from it.

        Thanks for answering, I really appreciate you taking the time to post a reply.

        • Akiko Fujishima

          Male plants don’t produce seeds, females do.. You need the males to fertilize the female plants so the females can produce seeds.. So, if you’re looking to produce seeds, you want the male around at least one of your females.. If you don’t want seeds, keep that horny bastard in a separate closet.. lol! Make sure not to touch any of your females after handling a male with pollen, or you could inadvertently cause your females to seed.. Make sure you shower and change clothing before touching any of your female plants… yeah, I’m that anal with mine.. lol. I want my fat buds to be seedless.. ^_^

        • PubliusK

          What did you do, Johnny? I am growing out some Gorilla Glue seeds and hoping one is a male. My plan is to keep it in an isolated spot and collect the pollen. You can then apply the pollen to select buds rather than just letting it fertilize the whole room or plant.

  • Peter

    What happens to All the Stems of the cannabis plants when harvest?

    • Richard Thethird

      They sell that to idiots and charge them extra because “this is the GOOD stuff”.

  • Stephen Richards

    The female cannabis flower cola, the top part containing the stigma offshoots, sounds like Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, but Coke and Pepsi have no pot, do they?

    • Greenleaf910

      Oh ya, sure. And cocaine too!

    • MrProphetMan

      its called a cola, as in the spanish word for tail, its not related to the cola nut at all.
      Back in the day they used to say that they looked like sheep tails, or colas de borrego…

  • James Goodwin

    This explanation is an improvement for Leafy. But, there are no resin glands or resin on a calyx, in fact, the calyx in female cannabis amounts to undistinguished cells in the perianth. The perianth is a very thin translucent veil that encapsulates 60 to 90 % of a seed. You can rub the perianth off of seeds between your thumb and finger, You’ll notice that the spots, stripes, and other markings disappear as the perianth is removed.
    Also, the wording here sounds as if the resin oozes or is secreted, which is not the case–almost all of the cannabinoids are produced and held in the heads of the resin glands. (Almost all cannabis cells make minute amounts of cannabinoids.) Yes, a few gland heads may leak resin, but for the most part, almost all of the resin remains within the heads. Further, resin does not drip or burst from the glands, another industry myth.
    Mel Frank

  • Martha Holden

    We are expecting tropical storm Dorian tomorrow. My plants aren’t ready to harvest. Should I let them ride out the winds, 40-60mph, or cut them and bring them in?

  • Rob Justice

    The male flower artwork is just atrocious and not anatomical whatsoever. Deborah Ro did a horrible job.

  • Slim2none

    Will someone please save us in Wisconsin, the trump republican legislators are acting like (richard) heads, besides no one wants booze or beer anymore, that shat makes u fat