Identifying the sex of your cannabis plants is fundamental to a successful grow – especially if you’re growing for flower. You need to know how to spot males, how to remove them from your grow, how to harvest their pollen (and keep it away from females), how to spot hermaphrodite cannabis plants and how, therefore, to maximize the yield of the females in your crop.
Why is sex so important?
Cannabis is a dioecious and hermaphroditic species. It can be male, female or both. Each type of biological sex has distinct features and uses. Knowing the sex early on is of HUGE importance.
Why do cannabis growers prefer female plants?
Only female flowers can produce sensimilla.
If a female cannabis plant reaches maturity without being fertilized, it will produce sensimilla. These ripe flowers brim with trichomes and, more pertinently, contain ZERO cannabis seeds (bagseed).
Pollinated females, on the other hand, produce poor quality bud. Instead of producing all the lovely cannabinoids and terpenes, pollinated plants use their energy to grow seeds, resulting in small, seedy flowers with low levels of THC, CBD etc.
Male cannabis plants aren’t as rich in cannabinoids.
Female cannabis plants, as we said, boast the highest concentration of cannabinoids. While male cannabis plants have small amounts of cannabinoids, they are nowhere near as rich as females.
How can you guarantee a female cannabis plant?
Regular cannabis seeds will produce roughly 50% male and 50% female plants, which means half will be thrown away (if grown purely for flower). Young plants typically reveal their sex 3 to 6 weeks after germination, during the pre-flowering stage, but there are ways to avoid the hunt for male plants.
- Obtain clones. Cloning is the process of obtaining cuttings from mother plants. If the mother plant is female, then the clones, being clones, will be females, too.
- Use feminized seeds. Purchasing feminized seeds is the most effortless way to guarantee female plants. A trustworthy seedbank guarantees their feminized seeds will produce female plants, offering replacements in the unlikely event of a male.
What use are male cannabis plants?
Male cannabis plants cannot produce buds but they can pollinate your females and ruin your crop. So why bother with males? Why bother buying regular cannabis seeds?
- Breeding. Without the pollen from male plants, females cannot produce seeds – unless they hermaphrodite.
Not every male cannabis plant is worthy of a breeding program. The genetic predisposition of a plant such as its structure, growth rate and susceptibility to diseases must be observed and taken into account, not to mention taste, aroma and potency. This makes sure undesirable traits won’t be passed on to the offspring, enhancing the quality of future harvests.
- Producing Concentrates. Around 70% of the male cannabis plant contains trace amounts of cannabinoids and terpenes, mainly on leaves, stems and sacs. While the amounts are significantly lower than with females, they can still be extracted for use in concentrates.
- Strong Fiber. Female cannabis plants are known for producing durable yet coarse fiber, the kind used in making canvas and other rough fabrics. Male cannabis plants produce a more flexible material with increased resistance. They are also softer, making male plants ideal for manufacturing day-to-day products like clothes, tablecloths and other household paraphernalia.
- Companion Plants. The benefits of cannabis are not limited to consumption. Male cannabis plants are also exceptional pest repellents. The compounds and terpenes they do have serve as a great defense mechanism, protecting other plants in the garden.
What are hermaphrodite cannabis plants?
In some cases, cannabis plants show two sexes, male and female. These are hermaphrodites. Hermaphrodites can be categorized into two types: the true hermies and the nanner producers. Both kinds can self-pollinate or inadvertently fertilize females.
What are the main causes of cannabis hermaphroditism?
Two primary factors contribute to hermaphroditism – genetics and environmental stress.
Growing seeds from a hermaphrodite parent plant will result in ‘true hermaphrodites’ – offspring with hermaphroditic tendencies. While true hermies are inclined to exhibit both sexes, they might not do, especially if they are well-looked after as they grow. Having said that, even minor environmental stresses can force a true hermie to reveal itself. There are certain strains susceptible to this gynandgomorphism (particular strains of Thai Sativa, for example) but most modern hybrids are very, very low-risk.
As mentioned, environmental stresses can cause female cannabis plants to develop male parts known as nanners. These banana-like outgrowths can self-pollinate, as well as pollinating all the other females in the grow. But why? Why do cannabis plants try to self-pollinate when stressed?
When a female cannabis plant feels under stress, when her very survival seems to be threatened, she makes an interesting decision. She produces pollen and tries to pollinate herself, making sure there are seeds in the flower when she dies. These seeds preserve her DNA and, all being well, live to fight another day. Pretty amazing when you think about it! But what can cause this stress?
- Extreme heat
- Extended flowering period
- Physical trauma due to excessive pruning and fractures
- Pest and pathogen infestation
- Nutrient deficiency
- Improper moisture levels
- Inappropriate use of pesticides
- Inconsistent light schedules
- Light burn
What do you do if your plant hermies?
When a plant starts displaying signs of hermaphroditism, do not fret – there are still ways to rescue the plant.
Treat or eliminate. Hermaphrodites can either be kept or thrown away. If the plant has a substantial number of nanners, it’s wise to to get rid of it. If there aren’t many, you could try the following steps.
- Sanitize tweezers with alcohol or peroxide.
- Use the tweezers to remove the male parts.
- Sterilize with a few squirts of water to avoid pollination.
- Routinely check the plant for any signs of new male flowers.
If you need to completely remove a male or hermie, do so CAREFULLY, without allowing them to touch your females.
How do you identify the sex of cannabis plants?
Proper identification of plant sex can mean the difference between a premium harvest and a stash of mediocre, seeded buds. Establish the sex as soon as possible.
What are the early signs of a cannabis plant’s sex?
- Male. Around 3 to 4 weeks from germination, a male plant will produce tiny grape-shaped outgrowths. These bumps will develop into sacs, soon to be filled with pollen. Upon reaching maturity, these sacs rupture, spreading pollen.
- Female. Female plants pop their pre-flowers about 4 to 6 weeks from germination. The calyxes initially resemble a pollen sac, but with a pointy top. Within a few days, one or two white pistils will appear.
- Hermaphrodites. There are two ways of figuring out if a plant is a hermaphrodite. During the early flowering period, a true hermie will display both buds and pollen sacs in different nodes. Nanners, on the other hand, often emerge much later and always among the buds. Nanners are yellow or lime green and elongated in shape – their name comes from bananas. They can be single or clustered.
Sexing your cherries
There are two ways to determine the sex of cannabis. The traditional method is through observing pre-flowers, leaving nature to its course. Forcing the clones to flower, on the other hand, is a more proactive approach but it does require experience. Patience is crucial for both techniques.
Waiting for the pre-flowers to emerge is the most common type of sex check. They appear during the budding stage, which is often around 3 to 6 weeks from germination.
Flower-Forcing Clones Technique
By separately inducing clones to produce pre-flowers (while the mother stays in veg), the sex can be determined without exposing the mother plants to pollen.
- Obtain a clone from the mother.
- Label the clone and its corresponding mother plant.
- Once the clones have formed roots, ease into the flowering stage with a 12/12 light schedule (12 hours light, 12 hours darkness).
- The clones will reveal their sex in a week or two.
High quality cannabis needs high levels of patience
Before starting out in your cannabis cultivation career, arm yourself with as much information as possible. One of the the most basic skills you can learn is how to identify the sex of your cannabis plants. This is especially important of growing from regular, as opposed to feminized cannabis seeds. Spotting the sex requires keen eyes, quick judgment and patience. When your plants are in the right stage, you need to be checking them as often as possible. Once the males are out, you can breathe easy and focus on all the other things that can go wrong! Only kidding – it’s all going to be fine 🙂