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The Importance of Male Cannabis Plants

When it comes to psychoactive cannabis, people mostly sought out female plants, often discarding their male plants. There were economic reasons for this as well. Not only would male plants pollinate any nearby female plants in the vicinity (with the effect of producing seed rather than flower, which is not ideal unless you’re breeding), they would also take up valuable time and space in small grow operations.

Some of us might be familiar with the story of the cannabis strain Chemdawg ’91, where the female plants were kept but male plants thrown away, much to the dismay of breeders everywhere. But why would breeders be so disappointed? Here’s why.

Table of Contents

  1. Diversifying the Gene Pool
  2. No Males, No Auto-Flowering Plants
  3. Male Cannabis Plants Have Potency, Too
  4. How to Tell the Difference Between a Male and Female Cannabis Plant 
  5. Is There a Way of Telling Which Is a Male Plant Pre-Flowering? What Are the First Signs of a Male Cannabis Plant?
  6. Male Cannabis Plants Can Be Used to Keep Pests Away from Your Main Crop
Male Cannabis Plant
Male hemp/cannabis plant.

 

Diversifying the Gene Pool

Cannabis is dioecious, an evolutionary advantage. “Dioecy” is when a species has distinct male and female characteristics. Unusually amongst the plant kingdom, cannabis also displays this characteristic, although cannabis can also self-pollinate. Some people have taken advantage of this self-pollinating aspect to retain the characteristics of a specific female plant, but this also means that future plants will be prone to hermaphroditism, which will eventually turn into a weakened gene pool due to inbreeding. Keeping good male plants can keep the cannabis plant alive for generations to come.

When you have more variety, there’s a greater number of characteristics to choose from. Not only does this mean the gene pool is kept alive, but we can also start selecting for resistance to pathogens, growth rate, general health, and even different cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles. This results in a variety of strains that have unique and specific effects and aromas.

Female Cannabis Plant
Close-up shot of a female cannabis plant.

 

No Males, No Auto-Flowering Plants

You may have looked at seed breeders and banks, and noticed that all auto-flowering strains are also feminized. This is because male plants can have auto-flowering traits, and these can be passed on over by breeding it with the pollen of an auto-flowering female plant. You can then eventually produce true-breeding feminized, auto-flowering plants. Sadly, these feminized auto-flowering plants cannot be cloned, and they will not produce seeds unless fertilized by a male.

Hermaphrodite cannabis plant
Hermaphrodite cannabis plant. From http://www.growweedeasy.com/male-plants-bananas-hermies

 

Male Cannabis Plants Have Potency, Too

As cannabis is a dioecious species, this means that it’ll carry half of the genetics from the mother and the other half from its father. Now, although cannabinoid concentration is generally higher in female plants, this doesn’t mean that the fathers don’t have some amount of CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids and terpenoids of their own. Male leaves also tend to contain more cannabinoids than their flowers (the opposite is the case with female plants). This means that, yes, males produce their own resin glands, and can be used to make limited amounts of hashish when harvested in large amounts.

However, most breeders would be looking at the resin and cannabinoid-terpenoid content of a male plant in order to create strains that are disease-resistant, high-yielding, and potent. Male plants can also be used to breed strains for specific cannabinoids – essentially breeding a male plant that contains a high CBD concentration with a female plant that has a high CBD concentration.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Male and Female Cannabis Plant 

Once the vegetative stage is over and you start flowering your plants, they will usually display whether they are male or female within 1-3 weeks. Indoor grows tend to display their sex quicker. You can check the nodes or joints of plants. If there are sacs, they are male. If there are two hairs or bracts, the plant is a female. Other telltale signs of a male plant include thicker stalks and fewer leaves.

Is There a Way of Telling Which Is a Male Plant Pre-Flowering? What Are the First Signs of a Male Cannabis Plant?

Yes, by looking for what are called “pre-flowers.” During the vegetative stage, pre-flowers show up in under 4 weeks in males and over 4 weeks in females (this takes a little practice). Pre-flowers can be found at the V where stems meet the stalk, in particular at the top of the plant closest to the light. Female pre-flowers tend to have pistils or hairs, whereas males tiny, small sacs.

Male Cannabis Plants Can Be Used to Keep Pests Away from Your Main Crop

Some outdoor breeders will use male cannabis plants not only as a way to keep themselves stocked up on seeds, but also to use terpenes that male cannabis plants produce, like pinene, limonene and borneol, in order to act as an insect repellent for other crops. If male plants are kept some distance and separated away from female plants, then they will not fertilize (unless you handle pollen and handle a female plant immediately afterward).

So, as you can see, male cannabis plants are an important facet of any good breeding program. If you want to get a medical marijuana card and grower’s license, book an appointment talk to a physician at Leafwell today.

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Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj - Chief Research Officer

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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