The Beautiful Botanical Body of Bud
every part of the cannabis is worthy of special mention.
If you're one of the many enthusiasts out there who's never actually seen this plant in person it's worth exercising your right (in legal states) to grow a cutting and get to know it. My hope is that it you banish the notion of dried and cured 'nugs' and begin to see cannabis as a whole being for her true and majestic form.
Cannabis plants are Dioecious –
If you’ve already read A Tale of Two Strains you know that cannabis is a vascular flowering plant with three separate sub-species; Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderals. From here it’s important to note that cannabis is also a dioecious plant meaning that it can grow both female or male flowers depending on the sex of the plant. While these organs typically appear separately with plants of male or female sex, it does have the ability to grow both flowers hermaphroditicaly much to the chagrin of cultivators everywhere. For our purposes, we will almost always be referring to the female flowering plants of Cannabis Sativa or Indica which contain high amounts of profoundly beneficial compounds.
In contrast, male plants produce small sphere like buds at the base of their leaves which are used to pollinate females. This encourages seed production for the purpose of genetic cross breeding or pressing for hemp oil. Although it is possible to grow female cannabis plants without a male plant at all using a cutting or 'clone' from a mature female specimen or 'mother'.
So, Let's recap real quick
Cannabis is a dioecious vascular flowering plant with three SEPARATE species
Its blossoms grow along long skinny stems with large palmate leaves intermittently extending from meeting areas called nodes. These large five pointed fan leaves have become a mascot like symbol of medicine but it's the bouquet of tightly clustered formations comprising the flower that make the plant truly unique.
A Cannabis Cola (also known as it’s terminal or apical bud) is the flower formation at the top of the plant. They can be pretty magnificent with large colorful blossoms that take on a cotton candy meets cauliflower like quality. Typically you'll find the most impressive colas on the upper most branches where the plant receives the most light. Fortunately, the number and size of colas a plant might produce can be increased using a variety of growing techniques such as the topping, low stress training, or screen of green methods.
To the untrained eye cannabis flowers can seem a little chaotic. They are comprised of several tiny tear-shaped nodules called calyxes. Calyx come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors but they all contain high concentrations of trichome glands which manufacture THC and other cannabinoids.
If you’ve seen a cannabis flower up close you’ve probably noticed the tiny reddish orange hair like strands called pistils. While they don’t add much in the way of medicinal or recreational value they are of some importance to gardeners and cultivators. The pistil is the portion of the plant that receives the pollen sent out by male plants for fertilization. They can also tell a story about where the plant is in it’s growth cycle. Pistils begin with a white coloration and progressively darken to yellow, orange, red, and brown over the course of the plant’s maturation. The color of a pistil provides a clue about the best time to start planning for harvest.
Although they may look a little odd, female cannabis plants do flower. This green popcorn like formation is made up of many caylx's clustered together and typically contains the highest concentration of cannabinoid compounds such as THC. This makes cannabis flowers ideal for recreational consumption. There are two different types of cannabis flowers or ‘buds’:
Axil & Axillary Bud
Apical or Terminal Bud
This is the place on the plant where leaves meet the main stem. In cannabis plants these have special cells that will grow into side branches or beneath the fan leaves. These buds are often a nuisance because they snag energy from the Colas forming above.
Terminal buds are located at the top of the plant. In Cannabis, these will typically be the biggest, most potent buds. They are often referred to as Colas or Kolas.
Ironically, the part of the plant that is most iconic of cannabis is the part that is least used in the industry. Large Cannabis fan leaves are palmate, meaning that they are comprised of five individual leaves making up one large, fan like leaf structure. However, some fan leaves may have as many as nine ‘fingers’ depending on the variety, strain, and growing conditions. Fan leaves may not be the most useful part of the plant in the way of cannabinoid extraction because they grow farther away from the plant's resin glands off of thick stems all along the length of the branch, but many believe that they are worth passing through the juicer or tossing in your morning smoothie.
The sugar leaf is the smaller of the two leaves and they tend to grow within the flower formation itself. This means that they are usually covered in beneficial trichome formations leaving them sort of frosty looking, hence the name. These leaves are typically trimmed when flowers are harvested because they can make the bud look a little scraggly, but their trichome-coating makes them an ideal ingredient for cannabis kitchen projects.
To the naked eye cannabis flowers appear to be covered in crystal dust. That’s because the flower, stems, and calyxes of the cannabis plant are covered in thousands of tiny translucent mushroom shaped glands where therapeutic cannabinoids like THC, CBD, and terpenes are produced. These glands, called trichomes, were originally developed to protect the plant against predators and the elements. Lucky for us we’ve learned to harvest these glands as ‘keif’ which can then be processed or extracted.
You are officially an honorary botanist
Understanding plant anatomy is important because it can tell you a great deal about a plants genetic history and health. I fear that cannabis suffers a certain degree of separation from the rest of the botanical kingdom in that it is often reduced to it's dry flower form without much regard for it's natural majestic beauty. When we compartmentalize nature by removing it from it's natural context it leaves things open to interpretation and imaginations begin to run wild. By familiarizing yourself with Cannabis in it's true blue botanical form you are taking the first step towards informed cannabis advocacy.
On behalf of the industry and plant people everywhere
I commend you!
Up Next: the ganja glossary
I'm Mary J Poppins, herbalist, cannabis connoisseur and founder of the Sativa Science Club. Keep an eye on my blog Cannabis for Curious Creatures for nifty new products reviews, DIY tutorials, and scientific insights.