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Male vs. female cannabis: How to determine the sex of your plant

September 19, 2017
In the world of plants, reproduction can happen in a variety of ways. Hermaphrodite plants grow single flowers that have both male and female reproductive organs. Monoecious plants produce two different types of flowers on the same plant. And then there are dioecious plants like cannabis, which produce either male or female reproductive organs.

Because cannabis grows as either a male or female plant, we can isolate the benefits of growing females with or without male interference. Introducing both males and females will result in cross-pollination and thus seeds, which is how a breeder achieves new genetics. On the other hand, removing a male from the garden allows female plants to grow large, seedless buds (called sensimilla). The resinous buds that we consume all come from female plants.

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Seeded buds are generally regarded as lower-quality cannabis. When seeds are present, the smoke becomes harsh and unpleasant. However, growers may introduce male plants to pollinate females if breeding a new strain or collecting seeds for next year’s crop.

Female genetics can be guaranteed by obtaining clones and feminized seeds. If, however, you’re working with regular seeds or are unsure of your seed type, knowing how to determine the sex of your plant is vital to developing new genetics, gathering seeds, or growing sensimilla. Luckily, sexing cannabis plants is easier than one might think if you know when and where to start looking.

How to determine the sex of a cannabis plant

Female cannabis pre-flowers grow as tiny bracts with hair-like stigma peeking out. Male plants produce small, round balls at the nodes. (Amy Phung/Leafly)

Cannabis plants show their sex by what grows in between their nodes (where leaves and branches extend from the stalk). What starts as a pollen sac on a male plant or a stigma on a female will become what either spreads or catches pollen, respectively. Luckily, we can see these differences weeks before they actually start serving their purposes in the reproduction cycle. These are known as “pre-flowers.”

Pre-flowers begin to develop four weeks into growth, but they may take a little longer depending on how quickly the sprouting phase occurred. By the sixth week, you should be able to find the pre-flowers and confidently determine the sex of your plant.

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Pre-flowers can initially be extremely small and hard to identify with the naked eye, but you can use a small jeweler’s magnifying glass to get a better look. Examine the nodes of the plant and look for either the early growth of small sacs (male) or two bracts (female), which will eventually produce the hair-like stigma.

Though there are other methods to determine what sex the plant is, examining pre-flower formation is the most reliable. Removing males early on is important for two reasons: it frees up space in your garden so females grow bigger and stronger, and it prevents males from pollinating females.

What are hermaphrodite cannabis plants?

Hermaphrodite cannabis can express both sex organs and self-pollenate. (Amy Phung/Leafly)

When a female plant develops both male and female sex organs, it is considered hermaphrodite. This means your cannabis plant is now capable of producing pollen that can pollinate your entire garden. “Herming out,” as some call it, is something that generally happens when a plant becomes excessively stressed. Some plant stressors include:

  • Plant damage
  • Bad weather
  • Disease
  • Nutrient deficiencies
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There are two types of hermaphrodite plants:

  • A plant that develops both buds and pollen sacs
  • A plant that produces anthers, commonly referred to as “bananas” due to their appearance

While both result in pollen production, true hermaphrodites produce sacs that need to rupture, while anthers are exposed, pollen-producing stamen.

Because this occurs when cannabis is under stress, it’s important to monitor plants after they have been exposed to stressors. Indoors, high temperatures, or light leaks are often the cause. Outdoors, a snapped branch might be repaired and then turn into a hermaphrodite.

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The other primary cause of hermaphrodite plants lies in the plant’s genetics. A plant with poor genetics or a history of hermaphrodite development should be avoided to protect your garden. If you notice any pollen sacs or anthers at any point, remove the plant from your garden immediately to prevent pollination of female plants.

If you’re interested in pollinating portions of your crop, remember that pollen is extremely potent and very good at traveling. Keep your males intended for pollination far from your garden space and work carefully with that pollen.

Trevor Hennings's Bio Image

Trevor Hennings

Trevor is a freelance writer and photographer. He has spent years in California working in the cannabis industry.

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  • johnd

    I bought some cheap seeds from a dispensary- 10 for $30. Supposedly a cross between Panama Red and Afgooey- Red goo. All but one hermied. I put one of the hermies near a Blue Dream from a clone. It made seeds but small and not quite developed as it froze early but they still germinated. I got 4 beautiful, leafy plants and they got about 3 ft. tall before 3 of them hermied. I thought I caught them soon enough and the remaining female hadn’t started flowering but I see a few seeds. These seeds are more mature and healthier looking than the ones from their mother from last year. These plants were never stressed so I’m wondering if I should use the seeds because it seems genetically they tend toward herming out. I had a branch break off so I dried the buds and the high was great even though it was only a couple of weeks into the flowering stage. So I’ll probably take a chance on the seeds next year.

    • Majestic

      I know this is old but I hope you tried out that seed. Some (definitely not all) of my best have grown from hemy bagseeds.

      • johnd

        I did. I had 2 beautiful plants. Then one hermied and pollinated the other. So now I’m going to have plenty of seeds for next year. I was told I should destroy them and get rid of the hermie genetic. I would if the smoke wasn’t so good. I got over a pound of damn good smoke from last year and this year I’ll get a pound or more but I’m not sure what the quality will be with all the seeds. With the Panama Red genetics the plants takes forever to finish and I’ve had to start harvesting earlier than I want because of the frost.

        This is a very productive strain if it wasn’t for the hermie genetic. Outside in a barrel without any special treatment and the horse eating it down to a foot high when it was 3 foot and it still grew to about 7ft.

  • mick

    nice article! thx for the hermy tips trevor. i try to kick the boys out around week 2 or 3 of flower.

  • Pat Ray Attic

    Is the herm. A genetic thing, I think it is more of a stress factor that will push a plant to change, like a sudden change of spectrums or drying out and also the overuse of fertilizers and hormones or a combo. I have defiantly noticed those things but not so much in the genetics of a hybrid. Maybe it’s just me though.

  • Grateful Padro

    I’m on my first grow since 1986… Boy have things changed.. I was given 10, GG4 seeds and I have 9 in veg.. 4 of them look like male plants in structure but still no “sign” of sex
    people say throw them away because of the Hermie traits, but I can’t do that.. (GG is just so tasty)
    I’m going to top and flower soon… Praying 🙏

  • Denis Quinn

    Quit smoking mids then. 😉

  • James Henry

    What kind of plants only have 3 leaves and will they grow 7when they get bigger they are only about 3 to 5 inches tall ?

    • Jennifer Clark

      All of mine start with 3 in early veg. After a few weeks the the leaves will get larger with 5-7 per fan leaf.

  • Jeanette Carolina. Gonzalez Ga

    Can someone tell me what kind of plant this is?