Cannabis 101: Anatomy of the Cannabis Plant | Herban Planet

Herban Planet, LLC To understand how and why cannabis works, it's important to know the anatomy of the plant. We’ve broken down the basics for you here; no more wondering what those wacky orange hairs are or why your bud looks sugar coated.

Cannabis 101: Anatomy of the Cannabis Plant


Mainstream society is finally beginning to embrace cannabis for a variety of purposes: medicinal and recreational use, industrial hemp cultivation, and more. In the United States, over half of us have some form of legal access to it, and we’re using it in new and different ways each day. But to truly appreciate and understand the effects and healing properties of cannabis, it’s necessary to be familiar with the anatomy of the plant. Don't have a doctorate in botany? No worries. We’ve broken down the basics for you here. You'll never wonder again what those wacky orange hairs are or why your bud looks sugar coated.

First Things First: Determining Plant Sex

When considering the anatomy of the cannabis plant, the first thing you should learn to determine is whether the plant is male or female.  This is important because only female cannabis plants produce the resinous flowers, which are the part of the plant we smoke or extract medicine from. If a plant is at the flowering stage, sex is easy to determine: if female, there will be distinct buds growing at the top of the plant (more on that below). However, if the plant is in the pre-flowering stage, you’ll need to take a closer look. 

To determine the sex of a pre-flowering plant, examine the v-shaped area where one of the stems offshoots from the stalk.

On a female plant, you’ll see what look like tiny flower bulbs each sprouting a wisp of hair.

On a male plant, you’ll see tiny round pods. If both are present, your plant is a hermaphrodite, which is an indicator of stress and problematic growing conditions.

Parts of the Plant

For the purpose of this blog, we’ll explain the anatomy of the female cannabis plant, as that's what people are usually referring to when they talk about cannabis. However, much of the terminology applies to males, too.  We’ll start from the bottom of the plant and work our way up.

The stalk is the main stem, or backbone, or the cannabis plant. It is very tough and fibrous but contains minimal THC. It provides structural support and acts as a passageway. Nutrients travel through the stalk and are delivered to different parts of the plant.

Stems are like mini-versions of the main stalk, connecting the stalk and the leaves. Leaves grow from stems at junctions called leaf nodes. Experienced growers observe leaf nodes for indication of when a plant is ready to trim or needs a change in temperature.

Next we have the fan leaves, which are responsible for conducting photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process in which green plants absorb light energy from the sun and convert it into food, releasing oxygen in the process. Fan leaves are typically low in THC, but are used in edibles, extracts, and for raw juicing. The fan leaf is the world’s most widely-used and recognized symbol for cannabis.

Higher up the female plant, we have the flower, or bud. The flower grows near the top of the plant and is where THC is most highly-concentrated. Buds are a popular subject of macro photography because of their striking appearance.

Flowers cluster in formations called colas. There is one main cola at the top of the plant, with multiple others present. Commercial growers use techniques to encourage multiple colas to grow, as the more colas you can produce, the more flower you can harvest. 

Those fascinating, fuzzy little hairs that cover the cola of your female bud? They’re called stigmas and they grow out of pistils, which you can think of as the plant’s ovaries. Stigmas start out white before darkening to the orange we’re most familiar with and their purpose is to attract pollen from male plants. When most people say, “pistil,” they are usually referring to both of these parts. 

Calyxes are tear-shaped structures that make up the flower. Besides being high in trichomes, they protect and house the seeds. Seeds can be used for either growing or extracting oil for multiple purposes. Contrary to the belief of some, it is not possible to determine a plant's sex by looking at the seeds. 

Have you ever heard bud described as, “really crystal-y,” or, “sugar-coated?” That’s thanks to the trichomes, or resin glands that coat the outside of the flower. Trichomes are highly-valued as they contain both cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds (THC and CBD) with a wide range of uses. Terpenes are the oils responsible for giving your cannabis its aroma and flavor.

Increasing Your Knowledge

Growing beautiful, potent cannabis plants is both an art and a science. Gaining knowledge of the plant’s structure is important whether you're a budding cultivator, a medical patient, or a recreational user. So next time you're about to grind up a really pretty bud, admire it for a second and think about how each feature played a unique and vital role in producing the effects you're about to enjoy.

Now that you've got a handle on basic cannabis plant anatomy, would you like to find out just how Strawberry Cough tastes like a real strawberry? Our guide to terpenes is coming soon. Check back next week to learn your limonene from your linalool, and much more.