Cannabis Sexing: How to Tell The Difference Between Male and Female Weed Plants

cannabis plant sexing
By Anthony Pellegrino Published January 24th

When it comes to cannabis cultivation, female marijuana plants are more valuable than males. The female variety produces buds with higher potency and THC levels, while the males are generally removed from a grow entirely (unless you’re trying to breed strains or gather more seeds).

This article explains cannabis sexing and why it’s so important to differentiate between male and female weed plants.

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What is Cannabis Sexing?

Simply put, cannabis sexing is the process of determining whether your plants are male or female (or hermaphroditic).

Cannabis sexing is a critical process for any professional or home grower. If you allow male plants to pollinate the females, the females will develop seeds. In doing so, the yields of these pollinated plants will be significantly diminished, as energy is diverted to developing seeds instead of growing buds rich in THC and other cannabinoids.

No cannabis cultivator wants lower yields filled with seeds. So male plants need to be identified quickly and removed from the females. Thankfully, cannabis sexing is pretty simple. And it only gets easier the longer you cultivate marijuana. 

After approximately a month of vegetative growth, your cannabis plants will develop pre-flowers. Males develop small pollen sacks, whereas females will develop pistils resembling white hairs. 

male vs female cannabis leaves

As soon as these pre-flowers develop, you can sex your plants and remove the males. This should be done immediately so the males don’t have time to pollinate the females. 

Take extra care when segregating your male plants, as it is possible that they still release pollen that ends up in the females’ pistils. For this reason, many cultivators destroy and throw out the males.

However, the opposite is true if you’re trying to breed more cannabis plants. If you want to produce seeds of a particular strain, you’ll want your male plants to pollinate your females.

What are Male Weed Plants?

The primary characteristic of a male plant is the pollen sacs that develop towards the end of the vegetative stage of growth. These pollen sacs release the pollen to pollinate the females, which go on to develop seeds, and the whole reproductive process begins once more.

From the standpoint of a cannabis cultivator, male plants are useless unless you’re intentionally after more seeds. Only female plants develop cannabinoid-rich flowers. However, male cannabis plants are used to produce hemp, as they are more suited to that purpose (considering they do not develop bud).

Nevertheless, male plants play an essential role in breeding better and better marijuana strains. Strong male plants are sought out by breeders and paired with other strong females, which go on to develop seeds with excellent genetics. In this way, strains can be developed with greater potency and specific effects, color, or aroma.

What are Female Weed Plants?

male vs female weed

Female cannabis plants are what everyone is ultimately after, as they are the only sex capable of producing flowers rich in THC and CBD, which can be smoked or used to produce concentrates and other cannabis products. 

The marijuana products you see at your local medical or recreational dispensary are ultimately derived from the yields of female cannabis plants. 

Unlike males, female plants do not develop pollen sacs. Instead, they develop pistils, like other female plant species. Pistils are the ovule-producing part of any flower. In cannabis plants, the pistils resemble pink or white hairs, which ultimately catch pollen disseminated into the air by male plants. 

Female cannabis plants are the only ones to produce high potency buds that consumers want. Likewise, pollinated females are the only cannabis plants to produce seeds. As such, cannabis breeders are constantly searching for strong female plants, not only for their bountiful harvests but for their genetics as well. 

What are the Differences Between Male and Female Weed?

There are several differences between male and female cannabis plants you can use when sexing. However, the primary distinction is the difference in sex organs that develop towards the end of the vegetative phase. 

So, how can you tell the difference between male and female weed plants? 

Both plant sexes develop their sex organs largely in the same place, between the plant nodes. Nodes are the area where the plant branches connect with the primary stalk. 

Pre-flowers will spring up on these nodes toward the end of the vegetative phase as the plant grows taller and bushier. Male and female pre-flowers can be distinguished by their unique visual characteristics. Male pre-flowers, called staminate primordia, resemble tiny little sacs that house pollen. Female pre-flowers, called pistillate primordia, look similar but have white or pink hairs protruding from the top, called pistils. 

If female plants continue to grow without being fertilized by males, they won’t develop any seeds. Female plants that aren’t pollinated will dedicate their energy to developing high-potency flower – the proverbial “dank bud” – which is ultimately what most cultivators are after. Male plants do not produce flower and, thus, contain only trace amounts of THC.

male vs female cannabis plant differences

What is Hermaphrodite Cannabis?

In some cases, cannabis plants develop characteristics of both sexes. While hermaphroditic plants may seem like a bit of a curiosity to novice growers, they should be treated the same as males and removed as soon as identified.

Hermaphrodites can hurt your cannabis cultivation efforts in two ways. First, they can still pollinate females, reducing the yield of other plants in your crop. Making things worse, hermaphroditic plants can also develop seeds, reducing their own yield. 

In most cases, cannabis plants will either turn out to be male or female. But a seed’s genetics and the plant’s environmental conditions (specifically if the plant is under significant stress) can increase the chance it will become hermaphroditic. Some sativa strains, for example, have a higher incidence of hermaphroditism than others.

Cannabis Sexing: Frequently Asked Questions

How long before you can tell the sex of a weed plant?

You won’t be able to visually distinguish the sex of your cannabis plant until it reaches the vegetative phase. Typically, you’ll be able to see the pre-flowers develop within 3-6 weeks of the seed sprouting. 

Pre-flowers may develop in male plants as soon as 3 to 4 weeks, and in females in 4 to 6 weeks. However, it ultimately depends on the strain of cannabis you’re growing and your grow methods.

Which cannabis sex grows faster?

In most cases, male cannabis plants will grow faster than their female counterparts. So, while it may take nearly a month into the vegetative phase to see the pre-flowers develop, you may find your male plants growing significantly taller than the females right away. 

Male cannabis plants will also end their vegetative phase and enter the flowering phase almost a month before females. This is one of the primary reasons you’ll want to identify the sex and segregate the males as soon as possible, as they’ll pollinate your females before they can start developing any high-potency flower. 

Can you grow male and female weed together?

If you’re cultivating marijuana to produce bud, you cannot grow male and female plants together. Otherwise, the males will pollinate the females and ruin your crop.

However, if you have cannabis plants with particularly strong genetics, you can grow males and females together to breed seeds with equally strong genetics for later cultivation. 

When is the best time to sex cannabis plants?

It’s always best to determine the sex of your cannabis plants as soon as possible. Pollination can happen quickly, and one slip-up could ruin your whole crop. 

After your seeds have germinated and your seedlings begin to transition into the vegetative phase, you’ll need to monitor them diligently every day. The pre-flowers will typically show around 3 to 6 weeks following germination. As soon as you see them, you’ll need to segregate the males from the females to prevent pollination. 

What are feminized seeds?

While cannabis sexing is an essential part of cultivating cannabis, it can be a bit nerve-wracking. If you were to plant a seed you’ve received from a marijuana plant, there’s a 50:50 chance the plant will become a male or a female. To get around this, cultivators have bred feminized cannabis seeds. 

Feminized cannabis seeds are nearly guaranteed to produce female cannabis plants. 

Cultivators can create feminized plants by spraying silver thiosulphate solution on a female plant during the flowering stage. When sprayed on the plant, this solution will inhibit the production of the hormone ethylene, which is heavily involved in the flowering process. From there, the female plant will develop a male flower with its characteristic pollen sacs. The pollen in these sacs, however, will only carry female genetics. As a result, the seeds produced by this pollen will be feminized and almost always grow into female plants. 

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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