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Cannabis: Characteristics, Anatomy, & Reproduction

Cannabis: Characteristics, Anatomy, & Reproduction

9th Jun 2022

Cannabis(hemp) is classified as a genus(taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living organisms) of flowering plants belonging to the family Cannabaceae, which also includes hops and hackberries.



Completes a full life cycle, from germination to the production of seeds, within one growing season.


Has separate individual plants that produce male and female reproductive organs.


Produces reproductive structures that facilitate the union of sperm with eggs(pistils) through wind-pollination.


Contains leaves, seeds, and flowers with aromatic properties that are used as flavoring, food, medicine, or fragrance.

The most recognizable and memorable features of the Cannabis plant are the leaves. Cannabis leaves are described as a palmately compound, consisting of leaflets all radiating from one point. The leaflets have serrate(saw-toothed) edges with asymmetrical teeth pointing forward. They usually contain seven or nine leaflets per leaf depending on varying environmental conditions.



Seeds are embryonic structures consisting of a radicle—an embryonic root that grows downward in the soil, and two cotyledon leaves, which are the food source of the plant embryo and are also the first leaves that emerge from the seed as it germinates.


The root system supports the plant. They absorb water needed to transport nutrients, they store food, and they effectively source necessary microbes.


Above-ground, the stem supports the plant allowing it to grow upwards while holding branches that shoot out sideways. It carries water from the roots into all areas of the plant. It is rigid and sturdy and can grow up to really tall lengths depending on the genetics.


Branches are offshoots from the main stem that hold leaves and flower. They start near the base of the plant and go all the way to the top.

Fan Leaves

Instantly recognizable, fan leaves are the largest leaves of the plant. Positioned along all of the branches, they help take in light allowing the plant to photosynthesize.


Nodes are important points at which branches meet each other or the main stem. These are where flowers are formed. Internodes are the spaces in-between each node.


These are the buds that contain the reproductive organs of female plants. Flowers of cannabis plants produce cannabinoids in much higher concentrations than any other part of the plant.


Colas are the largest flower buds that grow at the top of every cannabis plant. Colas are made up of calyxes, which are teardrop-shaped structures that protect the reproductive organs of the plant.


Stigmas are the hairs that grow out of the flower buds. Young flowers grow white hairs that turn red, orange, or brown when the plant is fully matured. This change in color is a sign that the plant is ready to be harvested.

Sugar Leaves

These are spearhead-shaped leaves that grow within the flower. Typically covered in trichomes, they contain high levels of cannabinoids and also conduct photosynthesis.


Trichomes are tiny crystal-like resin glands that occupy the surface of flowers and sugar leaves. Their main function is to help pollen stick to the flowers. The main reason for why female plants are cultivated is because these trichomes are rich in cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.

Female vs Male

Cannabis is dioecious in nature, meaning they produce separate male and female plants. During the vegetative stage within the life-cycle, both female and male plants look similar and indistinguishable. They reveal their sex as they transition into the flowering stage. Female plants will begin to produce flowers rich in cannabinoids, while male plants will form sacs filled with pollen. Reproduction occurs through wind-pollination, when male pollen sacs release pollen into the air making their way into the flowers of female plants.

Female Plants

Female plants are the most sought after by cultivators because of the flowers they produce, which are high in cannabinoids. When growing for high contents of CBD, THC, or other cannabinoids, female plants are completely separated from male plants in order to prevent pollination and production of seeds. Female plants can either be cloned from an existing female plant or bred between a female and male plant.

Male Plants

Male plants don't produce flowers, which makes them less desirable for growers seeking any amount of cannabinoids. Male plants are mainly used to breed new strains. Males are known to produce softer fibers than females making them ideal for products like clothing or textiles.


In some instances, due to environmental or genetic factors, Cannabis plants may develop both male and female reproductive organs. These are known as hermaphrodites. Hermaphrodites have both flower buds and pollen sacs gaining the ability to pollinate themselves. Typically, cultivators try to find and remove hermaphrodites in order to avoid pollinating female plants.


[1] “Cannabis: Definition of Cannabis by Lexico."Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries,[2]Leonard, Andrew. “Can Hemp Clean Up the Earth?” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, LLC, 25 June 2018,

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