Marijuana 101: Parts of the Plant

The legal marijuana industry is built upon a plant and to know that plant’s structure is to know its potential. Aspiring stakeholders who have basic plant knowledge will be better equipped to make educated decisions in this evolving industry.

The cannabis plant is typically dioecious, meaning male and female flowers develop on separate plants, but it can occasionally be hermaphroditic. In regards to cannabis intended for recreational consumption, female plants contain the desired levels of THC. For this reason, we will discuss the female cannabis anatomy; however, it is important to be able to distinguish between a male and female plant. In pre-flowering, male plants form ball-shaped clusters; females form calyces with pistils.



Flower – The flower is the part of the female cannabis plant that typically has the highest concentration of THC, making it the ideal part of the plant for recreational consumption. Flowers grow toward the top of the plant and they are commonly referred to as buds.

Cola – The mass of clustered flowers at the top of the cannabis plant.

Trichomes – Trichomes are the tiny resin glands on the flower’s leaves and calyces. With the naked eye, they simply look like crystals; under a macroscopic lens, they can look like crystallized mushrooms. Trichomes evolved to protect the cannabis plant from insects and they typically have higher concentrations of THC. Because hashish is made from the resin heads of trichomes, certain strains of cannabis are specifically bred for their high trichome production.

Calyx – The calyx is a floral structure that forms when the flower begins the budding process; it looks like a tubular sheath surrounding the ovule and pistils. It is composed of sepals, individual plant segments that are often green and occasionally fuzzy. The calyx’s trichomes form with their heads pointing toward the top of the calyx.

Pistils – Pistils are the pollen-catching hairs that extend from the calyx. They can be red, orange or brown in color. They are not known for containing high levels of THC.

Sugar Leaf – The sugar leaf is a small leaf that grows within the flower and it is usually covered in trichomes because of its positioning. Sugar leaves are typically trimmed when flowers are harvested, but their trichome-coating makes them an ideal ingredient when making cannabis edibles.

Seed – The cannabis seed is hidden within a flower’s calyx. Besides planting a seed to grow a cannabis plant, oil can be extracted from a cannabis seed to be used in human food or animal feed.

Stem – Stems provide the structural support for flowers, while also storing and transporting nutrients for them. Stems aren’t known for containing high levels THC, but they can be repurposed for their fiber.

Stalk – The stalk is the central stem of a plant. As it lacks high levels of THC, it can also be repurposed for its fiber.

Node – The node is the joint where a leaf branches off from the stalk.

Fan Leaf – The large leaf that has the photosynthetic responsibility for the cannabis plant. It uses energy from the sun to create chemical energy to feed the plant. Fan leaves lack significant levels of THC, but they have become the unofficial symbol of cannabis.


Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany
Cannabis Pharmacy
Green: A Field Guide to Marijuana
Marijuana Botany
The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook
World Wide Weed: Global Trends in Cannabis Cultivation and its Control

Caroline Cahill was the Managing Editor of MJINews from June 2014 through February 2018. She earned her BA in Communications from College of Charleston and her MFA in Creative Writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. You can follow her on Twitter @CtheresaC.

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