Male Cannabis plants

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Male Cannabis plant – How & when to identify the sex, pollen sacs, lifecycle and more thumbnail

How to identify a male cannabis plant? When to tell the difference?

Hey there and welcome (back) to Free the Tree ! Today we decided to take advantage of one of our plants being male to cover male cannabis plants 🙂
How to identify them early, what to do with males, what are their “use”, we’ll cover each point one by one 

What is a male cannabis plant?

Are you wondering what a male cannabis plant is? 

As the name suggests, it is a plant containing the “male parts” of the plant, meaning that during its development the plant is going to produce pollen sacs and not flowers and pistils.

For a little botanical knowledge here, cannabis is considered a Dioecy specie, which means that each seed contains either a male or a female gametes, producing a male or a female individual.

This also means that in order to reproduce the plant (or animal) needs a male and a female individual, self-fertilization is excluded.

This excludes known stresses to cannabis that can produce herming or seed production without pollinisation as well as feminized seeds.

When can I tell if my plant is male or female

The cannabis plant starts to reveal differences between male and female during the stretch, also known as the “pre-flowering” period. This period occurs during the 2 first weeks of the flowering stage, when the plant has a strong foliage growth and prepares for the flowering period.

Here’s the comparison of a male and a female plant during the stretch. Notice the little ball like growths on the male cannabis plant, versus the little white growth on the female

Preflowering signs of a male cannabis plants

You can see the first “ball like” growth appearing at the intersection of the leaves and steams (knots). This growth is the first sign that this is a male plant.

To be sure don’t hesitate to wait a couple days to confirm, but generally that first gut feeling is right (scroll below to see the next stages of growth of the male plant)

Preflowering signs of a female plant

The first signs of a female plant also occur during the stretch. Small little white hairs (pistils) will start appearing at the same spots as the male cannabis plant.

Check out the section below “how to tell the difference between male and female plants“, to see the growth of a male cannabis strain step by step.

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How to tell the difference between Male and Female cannabis plants

Cannabis is one of the few plants that is either male or female (apart from hermies). As we said in the previous section, you can start telling the difference at the beginning of the stretch and the differences become more and more obvious as time goes.

Telling the difference between male and female cannabis

We figured the best way to help you see the difference between a male and a female cannabis plant is to show each growing at each stage. You can click on each picture to get the full view of it.

Male plant – First signs of pollen sacs

See the first “ball like” growth appearing at the intersection of the leaves and steams (knots)? This is the first sign that this is a male plant. With time they will grow into pollen sacs.

To be sure don’t hesitate to wait a couple days to confirm, but generally that first gut feeling is right (scroll below to see the next stages of growth of the male plant)

Female plant – First pistils growing

The first signs of a female plant also occur during the stretch. Small little white hairs (pistils) will start appearing at the same spots as the male cannabis plant.

Male plant – Pollen sacs developing

As the stretch goes on, you will notice these little “balls” grow and increase in number. These are the first pollen sacs starting to grow

Female plant – Pistils forming budlets

On her end, the female plant keeps forming white pistils. Their white color is a sign that they are “humid”, meaning that if pollen gets to them they will stick and pollinise the flower.

As time goes by, as long as the plant stays un-pollinated, the flower will grow.

For more on the flowering stage you can check out our full article

Male plant – Pollen sacs maturing

As the days go by you will see the little “balls” grow into packs of what seems like little buds of flowers, these are the pollen sacs forming.
They will keep getting bigger until they open up (looking like a small flower) and release the pollen.

Female plant – Flower growing & thickening

As time goes by, the un-pollinated female flower keeps growing more and more pistils, resulting in large flowers growing bigger and bigger.

We are “unknowingly” using the stress of non-pollination to increase the yield of the final flower

Male plant – Ripe & Open pollen sacs

Once the pollen in the sacs is ready, the sacs will open, revealing the anthers and releasing the pollen inside of them into the wind & on the leaves below; you will see what looks like dust on them.

If you have any female plants around, there’s a good chance that they will get pollinated and produce a bunch of seeds. On the picture above you can see ripe pollen sacs about ready to open on the top, and opened sacs at the bottom.

Note: if you want to breed your strain, check out our full article on breeding cannabis strains

Female plant – Flower nearing the harvest

At this stage, the female flower looks like what you’re used to; a nice, smelly, bud.

The fattening of the bud is due to the fact that the pistils aren’t pollinated. Every time the pistils dry up (turn orange) without pollen, the cannabis plant grows new, fresh, pistils which fattens the bud.

As growers, whether we’re aware or not, we stress the female plant by not providing pollen, making her product fatter and fatter flowers.

The picture above is our SexBud nearing harvest

What is a Cannabis Pollen sac composed of?

To be able to show you what a pollen sac is composed of we went ahead and kept our male plant, allowing us to harvest some ripe, and open, pollen sacs.
Honestly it’s pretty awesome to watch a male grow, we hadn’t seen it so far and there’s a beauty to them too 🙂 

Hope the pics will help you visualize, we did the best we could with our camera phone.

Male cannabis Flower – Useful definitions

Before getting to the parts of the male plant, here’s a couple definitions of parts we will see.


The sepal is the outer part of the flower, what is described as the “sac casing” in our pictures


The stamen is the part of the flower that produces pollen. Generally, there’s a little filament that supports the anther;
You can see the stamen, filament and anther of cannabis in the pictures below.


The anther is the part of the stamen where the pollen is actually produced;
On the cannabis plant it’s the little pieces that hang when the pollen sac is open.

Note: As we said previously, cannabis is a Dioecy specie, meaning that each plant is either male or female. This is why below you will not see any pistils or any other female parts of a plant.

Image credit to amnh

Cannabis Pollen – Steps of the pollen sacs ripening

Ripe pollen sac

In this picture you can see a pollen sac that has started to open; You can see the sac casing (Sepal) starting to open, revealing the stamen at the center.

Open pollen sac

In this picture we’ve aligned, from left to right:

  • Closed, still forming, pollen sacs
  • An open pollen sac with the anthers open
  • Another open pollen sac showing the open sepal (casing), fully revealing the anthers and allowing the pollen to blow in the wind.

Cannabis pollen released from the anthers

In order to be able to show you the process, we scraped the inside of the anthers (left) which released the pollen (right) contained inside.

With just 3 anthers we got a good amount of pollen, just imagine what a full grown adult can release into the air!

Naturally, the male cannabis plant would have release its pollen in the following way: 

  1. The opening of the pollen sacs
  2. The anthers drop: Generally here most of the pollen is released onto the leaves below
  3. With the wind, the pollen gets picked up from the leaves and travels, searching for a humid pistil to hook onto.
  4. Once attached to a humid cannabis pistil, fertilization happens, a seed will be born 🙂

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Can a female cannabis plant become male?

The short answer is yes, it is called “herming “, meaning that the female plant starts to develop male part. 

As we’ve said earlier, cannabis is a plant that is either male or female (botanically called a Dioecy specie), but in some cases a female plant can start growing male “parts” that will produce pollen sacs instead of pistils.

There are 2 situations here, either the genetic make-up of the seed was a hermaphrodite, or the female plant was under stresses that made her turn into a hermie.

It would be hard to give you a full list of stresses that can make a female plant produce male sections, but here’s how we think of it :

The objective of a female plant is to survive via reproduction [aka, seed production].
If she thinks that she doesn’t have time to wait for pollen to arrive (due to stress), she will do what she needs to in order to survive (reproduce)

In order to do so, she adapts the genetic make-up of certain sections in order to produce pollen and self-pollinate.

With that train of though in mind, stresses that can produce hermaphrodites will be ones that make her think that her survival is at stake, here are some of the known ones:

Stresses to cannabis that can produce hermaphrodites

  • Sudden change in photoperiods: Since cannabis times its life cycle around the number of light/dark hours, sudden changes in the photoperiods can really mess her up, especially interruptions of her night cycle.
    Read up on photoperiods and cannabis
  • Bad climate: Temperatures too high can make your plant think her “life is at stake”, in which case her objective becomes to survive (meaning, produce seeds).
    Male sections may start appearing so that she can “auto-pollinate”.
    Read up on the best climate for cannabis
  • Over-flowering:  Yes you read right, if you wait too long to harvest she can start herming.
    We’re not talking of a couple days here, but keep in mind that we’re playing with the fact that the female plant is expecting pollen, that’s why the bud keeps fattening.
    If you really wait too long (weeks), she’s going to start “thinking” that pollen will never arrive and solve the problem herself by producing it.
    Read up on harvesting cannabis
  • Heavy watering issues: Under-water and over-watering can be very stressful for cannabis. A watering schedule that is totally erratic may stress her in a way that she thinks she won’t be able to fully develop and needs to rush to produce seeds.
    Read up on watering your cannabis babies
  • Nutrient burn: A soil that is too rich in nutrients creates a situation where your plant cannot absorb any nutrients. This nutrient lock-out, if left untreated, can be deadly, and a deadly stress can… make her do anything to survive (herming)
    Read up on nutrient burn
  • Pest invasion: A massive pest infestation, like a deadly spidermite attack, can definitely finish off your plants; In this case, and if she has time, to survive your plant may turn hermi, or directly produce seeds without being fertilized;
    Generally if you’re in this case, you’ve got other things on your hands… We’ve had these headaches 101 times, don’t hesitate to reach out.
  • Thermal shock, especially to the root system: If you water your plants with very cold, or warm water, you can give them thermal shock, just like with humans.

    This is one of the reasons why it’s said that you should water your plants during the hot hours of the day, the soil (and roots) being very hot, even room temperature water can be considered as “very cold”.

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What to do with a male cannabis plant?

So what can you do with a male cannabis plant? 

It’s really going to depend on what you want to do here, but the first thing to note is that cannabis pollen has a very strong capacity to pollinate, meaning that if you have females around, there’s a good chance that they’re going to get pollinated. Once pollinated, the flowers will produce seeds instead of fattening up.

With that in mind, the main thing you need to determine is the objective of your grow:

  1. You’re growing to get the best yield possible
    In this case, chop chop chop as soon as you’ve identified the male(s). Keep the space and nutrients for your females
  2. You’re growing to learn / discover
    Welcome to the club! 🙂  In this case let them grow a bit! Honestly we really enjoyed having a male and watch it develop.
    In our case, we let the very small males live their full life, as they only had one or two pollen sacs.

    The larger male (used for the pics here) we let grow until the first pollen ripened and opened to see the full development, but didn’t want our females to be pollinated.
    Once the first pollen sacs had opened we chopped him down as added him to the mulch.

  3. You want to breed your strains
    In this case take good care of you male my friend! You can check out our article on breeding cannabis for tips, but really here you can let them do their thing and watch the magic happen 🙂 

What to do with my male plants after cutting them down?

Decided to cut down your male plants? Don’t throw out the foliage it’s fuuull of nitrogen and other nutrients!

You can use all the foliage as mulch for your soil, just make sure to keep it aside from your cannabis plans, but set it on the ground of any of your other plants, or straight into your compost if you have one. 

Same goes for all your other plants, the foliage you remove you can lie right on the topsoil, it will create mulch and nurture your soil.

Just keep in mind that you don’t want to lay foliage under the same plant, this can facilitate the diseases.

Are male plants dangerous for my yield?

In short, yes they are! As we’ve said previously, as growers aiming to get as much flower as possible, we are using the stress related to the lack of pollen.

During the flowering stage, you can see the pistils dry up (turn brown), then new ones grow, fattening the bud; which we actually expect and want.

This consecutive new growth of pistils is the direct consequence of the lack of pollinisations. If you leave a male around your females, they will be pollinated, after which instead of focusing on producing new pistils your female will focus on growing seeds.

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Pollen or trichomes? What is the difference?

Before ending this piece we wanted to go over the difference between trichomes and pollen, this is a bit of a “plant lover rant” to be honest, but I think at least growers should keep this in mind!


The term “Trichome” itself defines an outgrowth or appendages on plants, algae, lichens or protists.

Source: wikipedia

On marijuana they look like tiny crystals, white powder or little hairs that cover the buds and leaves near them. Once you look closer, you’ll notice that it’s actually thousands of small little bulbs.

Trichomes grow on the female flowers of cannabis, and contain the cannabinoids we consume, like THC, CBD, CBN.

The female cannabis plant uses trichomes to protect her flowers from animals, heat, the wind, etc.

To learn more about trichomes check out our in-depth article



The term Pollen is a fine powdery substance, located in the Anther, consisting of microscopic grains discharged from the male part of a flower or from a male cone. Each grain contains a male gamete that can fertilize the female ovule, to which pollen is transported by the wind, insects, or other animals.

Source: wikipedia

Only a male individual has the ability to produce pollen and it is used to pollinate a female individual. It is the equivalent of a spermatozoid in the animal relm.

So with this in mind, be aware  every time people talk of cannabis pollen, whether for hash-making, extracts, or whatever, people are speaking of trichomes, since it’s produced by the female plant.

The difference isn’t all that important “in the world”, but botanically the difference is huge. The comparison for humans would be like saying a woman produces sperm.

I think that as a grower you should keep in mind that pollen is produced by the male parts of a plant, and in the case of cannabis, trichomes are produced by the female.

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Alright folks with that said that’s it for this one!
Hope you found what you were looking for, if not don’t hesitate to reach out 🙂

Until next time, be safe and grow easy

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