The Cannabis Plant: A Complexity in Nature and Anatomy
The cannabis plant is perhaps the most controversial plant in history. Once revered, then later outlawed and vilified, the cannabis plant has slowly made its modern entrance back into society following its full legalisation in Uruguay in 2014.
The cannabis plant itself is as complicated as its history. The plant is an annual flowering, wild growing dioecious plant in which marijuana, hemp and their by-products are obtained. Dioecious means that the cannabis plant has male and female plants. However in some cases, a cannabis plant can be made up of both male and female parts. This is usually a rare occurrence and in such situations, this condition is referred to as the ‘hermaphrodite condition’.
Differentiating female and male Cannabis Plants. While male plants only produce buds, their female counterparts produce hair-like strands. Source
The Anatomy of the Female Cannabis Plant
Typically, marijuana and its by-products are obtained from the female cannabis plant. While its male counterpart performs its own set of unique functions, the female cannabis plant is of more benefit for producing commercial cannabis goods. These goods include cannabis flower (buds), resin and many others.
The anatomy of a cannabis plant showing its key components. Source
The female cannabis plant is made up of 5 major parts, each part performing a specific set of functions. These parts are;
- The Cola
- The Bract/Calyx
- The Pistil
- The Fan Leaves
- The Trichomes
The cola is a cluster of buds – flowers – which come together at the stem tip of the plant. Smaller colas often form at the lower branches of the plant, however, the main cola forms at the top of the plant. Technically, the correct name for the cola is the ‘terminal bud’. The size and quantity of the cola can be increased during the growing stage using mechanisms such as trimming (topping) or training.
The cola produces cannabis flowers. Cannabis flowers – also known as buds – are the most consumed part of the cannabis plant. Buds can be consumed via inhalation through smoking and vaping. Smoking is the most popular way to consume cannabis. According to a survey conducted by Weedblog.com, out of 4,269 people, 49.5% consumed the substance via smoking.
The bract/calyx forms the reproductive organs of the female cannabis plant. The bract is the covering which encapsulates the female reproductive parts. These manifest as green tear-shaped ‘leaves’ and are covered in resin glands. These glands produce high concentrations of cannabinoids – the chemical compounds present in the cannabis plant. The calyx itself is a translucent layer which covers the ovule at the base of the plant.
The bract is the base that the cannabis flower grows from. Aside from covering the plant’s reproductive organs, the bract offers protection as the flowers grow. The main function of this plant part is protection.
The Pistils are often described as ‘tiny hairs’ which grow out of the calyx. These ‘tiny hairs’ are responsible for the reproductive activity in the cannabis plant.
Only female cannabis plants have pistils and they are designed to capture pollen released by their male counterparts. Once fertilised, the pistils begin morphing into cannabis seeds, starting off white before changing to red, orange and finally brown.
Cannabis seeds – unlike the flower/bud – contain no psychoactive properties. These can be used in a number of ways, including as a food source. Cannabis seeds are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals including omega 3s, potassium and Vitamin E.
The Fan Leaves
The leaves of the cannabis plant are perhaps its most recognisable part. Despite this fact, the leaves are often overlooked.
The fan-shaped leaves are the most distinctive factor when attempting to place a cannabis plant under a particular sub-specie – either sativa or indica. Typically, plants under the sativa sub-species have narrow leaves with up to nine leaves occurring in one stalk. Its indica counterpart poses broader leaves with five to seven leaves per stalk.
The leaves of the cannabis plant can be used in a variety of extracts, infused products and even edibles. In the health community, cannabis leaves have gained a reputation as a key ingredient in a number of foods including smoothies and teas.
The trichomes are a small but important part of the cannabis plant. Trichomes are tiny, crystalline globes of resin which cover the flowers of the cannabis plant. They are secreted by translucent, mushroom-shaped glands found on the leaves, stems and calyxes. The shape of their glands gives trichomes their distinct appearance. They are responsible for the ‘frosty’ appearance of cannabis plants.
Trichomes contain steep concentrations of aromatic oils known as terpenes. They are also high in concentrations of cannabinoids particularly tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Trichomes are used in the production of cannabis concentrates which include Kief – dry sift or pollen – hash, wax and oils. These concentrates can be consumed for consumers who want to achieve a ‘high’.
Cannabis is an incredible plant, even without considering its effects on humans. The way it reproduces, the many different functions of its parts, and the wide variety of products that can be obtained from the different sections set it apart from other plants. As cannabis becomes legalised in more areas, a growing number of people are able to appreciate the plant and its benefits, and a deeper understanding of how it functions can be useful for growing and choosing products.