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

February 11, 2020
In the world of plants, reproduction can happen in a variety of ways. Monoecious plants produce two different types of flowers on the same plant, and hermaphrodite plants grow single flowers that have both male and female reproductive organs.

Cannabis is a dioecious plant, meaning male or female reproductive organs appear on different plants.

With cannabis, females are usually isolated away from males—introducing males into a garden will result in pollination, causing females to create seeds.

This is important for a breeder to achieve new genetics, but most growers remove the males to allow females to produce seedless buds, also called sinsemilla. These are the resinous buds that appear on the store shelf; they all come from female plants.

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Seeded buds are generally regarded as low-quality cannabis. When seeds are present, the smoke is harsh and unpleasant.

Female genetics can be guaranteed by obtaining clones and feminized seeds. If, however, you’re working with regular seeds and are unsure of your seed’s sex, knowing how to determine the sex of your plant is vital to developing new genetics, gathering seeds, or growing sinsemilla.

Sexing cannabis plants is easy. Let’s see how to tell.

Check out these additional resources for more info on cannabis seeds:

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). Pollen sacs will develop on a male plant to spread seeds and stigma will develop on a female to catch pollen. You 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 occurs. 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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Cannabis anatomy: The parts of the plant

Pre-flowers can initially be extremely small and hard to identify with the naked eye, but you can use a magnifying glass to get a better look. Examine the nodes of the plant and look for either the early growth of small sacs on a male, or two bracts on a 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 can 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-pollinate. (Amy Phung/Leafly)

When a female plant develops both male and female sex organs, it is considered a 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.

Related

How to Train Your Cannabis Plants for Better Yields and Potency

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.

This post was originally published on September 19, 2017. It was most recently updated on February 11, 2020.

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.

        • Dave Earle

          I know this comment thread is a little old, but my thought was go for indoor gardening; eliminate the seasonal problems of outdoor growing. I mean, unless you’re growing like thousands of plants, supplying dispensaries and stuff. Believe it or not, I am using an Aerogarden Farm XL to grow, and since this is my first grow, I have made some mistakes, but I can tell you I have a beatiful, just-over-two-feet-tall, Huckleberry Kush. My buddy gave me a clone back in early October, it was 5 inches or so when I got it, and she’s been flowering now at least 4 weeks, and closer to 5. I expect I will get about a 1/4 lb at least, maybe a tad more. On the other hand, I am talking about hydroponic growing, and not soil growing; I know nothing about soil growing. Of course, indoor growing is not without its disadvantages, as well. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

          • johnd

            For a lazy pot head as myself, indoor is too much work. This year I wasn’t even going to grow as I’ve got pot left over from the last 2 years. Then I started seeing plants start popping up naturally from the seeds that dropped from last years plant. Many froze but I ended up with 4 nice plants. I harvested about 2 lbs. of pretty good smoke. I watered about every other day and fertilized early with manure (I live on a ranch).
            I’ve tried Huckleberry Kush and thought it excellent. I hope yours turns out to be that good.

      • johnd

        I used them and you were right although some plants hermied again so I got more seeds and some very good smoke.

  • 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?

  • Dave Earle

    You get my vote for best comment ever lol 🙂

  • johnd

    I agree but I think it’s more because I’m getting old and the brain doesn’t fire on as many cylinders as it used to.

  • lionel

    “Lime Green” Oaxaca Golden seed husks “Nice” as it had seeds. Excellent! 5 *****

  • Trudy Trindall

    The best weed i smoked was back in the 80,s I think the dope was better back then !