Are genetics the sole determinant of cannabis sex, or do growing conditions play a role too? Learn more in this article. Regular sexed Cannabis seeds represent a breeding line that expresses an equal balance of male and female chromosomes. Working from seed using regulars is an excellent… When growing regular cannabis seeds the chances of them being male or female is 50/50. Find out how to tell the sex of you cannabis plant and ways to prevent any cross pollination happening.
Cannabis Sex: What Determines It?
Both genetics and environment play a role in the determination of the sex of a cannabis plant. Many growers focus on the growing conditions to ensure that hermaphroditism does not take place, but genetics play just as important a role.
Cannabis sativa L. is a dioecious plant – in other words, the male and female sexes are expressed in separate plants. With that being said, some cases of hermaphroditism are known to occur. The most desirable and psychoactive component of the plant is formed in the female flowers. Thus, knowing how to differentiate between male and female plants is integral to any grow operation, whether commercial or at home.
Male cannabis plants have their purpose, too. Even if the buds are not harvested for sale or consumption, male plants are imperative to a breeding program. For this reason, growers and breeders must know the differences between male and female plants and what determines this, especially to avoid hermaphroditism.
Which factors influence the sex of a cannabis plant?
How and why the sex of cannabis plants is determined is a subject frequently discussed by cannabis growers all over the world.
The determination of gender in human beings is simple: the male, who possesses both X and Y chromosomes, either gives or does not give a Y chromosome to the embryo. If it does, the child is born a male. If it does not, the child is born female. However, recent studies have shown that under stressful conditions, the male is more likely to produce spermatozoa containing X chromosomes.
In human embryos, a single X chromosome and a single Y chromosome denote a male (XY). Two X chromosomes denote a female (XX). The combination of genetics from egg and sperm create a diploid cell, containing two chromosomes.
In the case of cannabis, things are a little more complicated. While cannabis has been identified as having diploid cells, there are researchers producing tetraploid plants of cannabis for the purpose of improving its medical qualities. Tetraploid cells contain four chromosomes of either X or Y (XXXX, XXXY, XXYY, XYYY or YYYY). However, it is unlikely that tetraploidy occurs in cannabis in nature.
Generally speaking, in mammals, sex is determined at birth, with no interference on physical sex by developmental conditions. For example, even under stressful circumstances, a female reproductive organ won’t turn into a male reproductive organ. However, this does occur in cannabis. Therefore, the genetic make-up of the seed cannot be the sole factor involved in determining the sex of marijuana plants.
It is for this reason that some cannabis growers place more importance on growing conditions. Under extreme or poor growing conditions, there is a predominance of male plants. This is not so farfetched, as the main objective of a cannabis plant is to procreate.
Essentially, for a male plant to grow under adverse conditions is a defense mechanism of the cannabis plant, as one male can pollinate hundreds of female plants. The effect of growing conditions on both male and female plants will be discussed later in the article.
So as the understanding of cannabis cultivation has it, both nature (genetics) and nurture (growing conditions) influence the sex of the cannabis plant. But how exactly does this work?
Cannabis and Sex – What A High Can Do for You
1. Nature: The role of seed genetics
As much as growing conditions play a vital role in determining the sex of cannabis plants, there is also plenty of genetic information stored in seeds. In the presence of optimum growing conditions, it is the seed genetics which will determine the sex of the plant.
Botanists and researchers of this 2004 study identify fragments of gene sequencing that determine the sex for both male and female plants. They also identified certain gene fragments which may play a role in the development of hermaphrodite plants. In any case, the results of this study show that the genetics of a plant play a role in determining the sex. The commitment to a specific sex takes place as soon as the leaves of the fourth node emerge.
Remember, this is different to determining the sex of a plant as a grower. Cultivators do not need genetic identification material to understand if their plants are male or female. Rather, certain signs in early plant life can be used by a grower to help them determine the sex of their plant.
2. Nurture: Growing conditions and feminisation
The feminisation of cannabis seeds is a perfect example of how cultivation conditions are also intrinsically linked to a plant’s final sex. Feminisation consists of taking a female plant and turning into a hermaphrodite by creating environmental stressors. At this point, certain female flowers will begin to produce pollen, which can then be used to pollinate the same plant. The final product is a feminized seed.
The Evolution of Cannabis Sativa & the Cannabis Ancestor
Which external factors can affect which sex the cannabis plant manifests?
In general, plants that are subjected to stress around 3 weeks into vegetation are more likely to manifest male genetics. If stress takes place later on in vegetation or during flowering, a plant may be forced into hermaphroditism.
When humidity exceeds the optimum amount for cannabis, it is more likely that male plants will develop. In conditions with less relative humidity, it is more likely that female plants will develop.
Interestingly, the moisture of the soil is another environmental condition that can affect the sex of a cannabis plant. In soil that contains too little moisture, it is more likely that a male plant will develop.
The warmer the environment, the more likely it is that a male plant will develop. However, with that being said, it is possible that this stressor is linked with the photoperiod. In warmer climates, there are generally longer days and shorter nights, and the effect of temperature is inextricably linked with photoperiod.
In indoor cultivation programs, the grower may choose the colour of the light spectrum. The more blue light appears in the spectrum, the more likely that female plants will develop.
Finally, photoperiod is an important environmental condition that can affect sex. Shorter light hours per day usually results in more female plants, while longer exposure to light usually results in more male plants.
Ultimately, any grower can force a developed female plant into being a hermaphrodite by adjusting the environment. Changes in photoperiod, increasing the temperature, harvesting too late or over-fertilizing may all result in a female plant turning into a hermaphrodite. With that said, hermaphroditism may also occur as a result of genetics, as some strains are more prone to hermaphroditism than others.
When plants are kept in the correct optimum environment for their genetics, there is generally a small likelihood of hermaphroditism unless the seed is genetically prone. This is why growers must pay close attention to the cultivation environment to avoid hermaphroditism.
Long story short: As almost always, it’s not nature and nurture. A combination of both genetics and environment play a role in the determination of the sex of a cannabis plant.
Laws and regulations regarding cannabis cultivation differ from country to country. Sensi Seeds therefore strongly advises you to check your local laws and regulations. Do not act in conflict with the law.
A Guide To Regular Cannabis Seeds and How To Sex Plants
Regular sexed Cannabis seeds represent a breeding line that expresses an equal balance of male and female chromosomes. Working from seed using regulars is an excellent way to grow out large selections of either male or female plants. Knowing which plants belong to which sex, how to identify them early on and understanding the life cycle of a Cannabis plant, will give you the advantage when pheno hunting for an upcoming breeding project.
Why Grow Using Regular Seeds?
There are many reasons a grower may choose to work with regular seeds, despite the practical advantages in terms of growing space, waste of nutrients and medium.
For those who have the desire to make your own custom genetic crosses, starting your own breeding project in the comfort of your own home is easily achievable. For this you will need to invest in regular seeds that will allow you to grow either male or female plants. It is a good idea to start with at least 10 seeds to allow for a much wider variation, and greater choice of male to females. Some seedlings may underperform and be discarded early on, however with 10 seedlings, there is a good potential desired ratio. Labeling your pots with numbers and strain names, will make life much easier when sorting through the different plants, especially when taking cuttings before flowering for preservation purposes.
Pre 98 Genetics
There are plenty of old school genetics that have stood the test of time, and due to the marketplace during that era, were never feminized. It was from around early 2000 onwards, when the advantages of feminized seeds were becoming commercially popular. Many cultivars that existed during the last 50 years are often preserved in regular seed form, either as a first generation or as a stable IBL. Back crossing or producing a new generation of cultivar should only be done with regular seeds, especially when in-breeding.
Advanced Phenotype Hunting
When investing the time and money into a large pheno hunt, it is better to work with regular seeds over-feminized seeds. During this process the male and female plants will need to be separated well before flowering. There will be some impracticalites associated with this method such as wasted hydro system space, use of nutrients, growing medium, dedicated space, and maintenance. Working with a large number of plants to select from will allow you to access the best looking plants, based on height, structure, internodal spacing, aroma, leaf pattern, and overall vigor.
There are also commercial advantages when flowers are sold with a dedicated number such as Gelato #33, Gelato #45, KM11, or O.G #18.
Finding A Mother
Working through a bunch of seeds and narrowing down the best female plants to one keeper, will reward you with the ultimate mother plant, and can often soften the blow of paying three figures for a pack of seeds in some cases. If you truly want to find the best of the best, using regular seeds will allow for the most genetic diversity.
When a Cannabis seedling has been left to grow for up to 5 weeks under 18/6, the plant will begin to exhibit very small preflowers. Typically these preflowers reveal themselves once flowering is induced, however it is possible to see which sex you have when knowing what to look for.
Characteristics of Male Preflowers
Male preflowers will look like a small cluster of green, oval-shaped growth. They will be noticeable between the internodal growth and can even look like a female preflower minus the pistil. By this point there is zero need to worry about male pollen sacs and cross pollination, and after several weeks, it will be evident if you have an abundance of tiny male preflowers forming.
Characteristics of Female Preflowers
Unlike the male preflower, the female will produce a tiny white hair known as a pistil. When you see the first white hair, this will indicate the plant is in fact female, and an abundance of pistils will emerge once flowering is induced. Sometimes there can be a very thin and narrow growth, similar to the tip of a blade of grass, that later pushes out a pistil.
Top Tips On Sexing Cannabis Plants
- Make sure you are 100% confident that the plant in question is either male or female, prior to discarding from your garden. Male pollen sacs will not be encouraged to open until weeks 3-4 of 12/12, so take the time to be totally sure of your decision making ability.
- The conversion rate of female to male plants will be usually around 60/40, so the more seeds you plant then the greater chance you have of finding the elite keeper male or female plants.
- Use a magnifying glass or high-powered lens, to get up close and personal with your plants. This will make life much easier considering the flowers can be almost invisible to the naked eye at first.
- Take at least one cutting off each plant if you have the space and time. Make sure that you label and number the clones accordingly to the same numbers from the original plants. Taking clones now will save you from reverting the plants back into a vegetative state once they have been harvested.
3 Advantages of Feminized Seeds
Using regular seeds have their own unique advantages, however it is also good to consider the benefits associated with female seeds.
How to sex marijuana plants
Regular cannabis seeds will generally develop into both male and female plants. If you’re unlucky, you may end up with the odd hermaphrodite plant. You need to remove both males and hermies as quickly as possible. Males don’t carry bud and you don’t want them fertilizing the females which do. Hermies do carry bud, but it’s very low quality. They also carry pollen and so can fertilise productive females. Basically, they’re more hassle than they’re worth. The best time to sex marijuana plants is during pre-flower. This is when they first become identifiable as male or female.
If you are new to sexing marijuana plants, you probably want to start with a maximum of five seeds. Stick to the one strain, so you can easily compare your plants. You also want to leave plenty of space in your growing room so you can physically move plants. This will allow you to “sex in stages”. In other words, if you’re sure a plant is male you can just remove it. If you’re not sure, then you can separate your plants into “females” and “not sure”. Keep them far enough apart that there is no chance of pollen from the “not sures” reaching the females. Then you can work on definitely sexing the “not sures”.
Statistics can play tricks on people. In principle, regular seeds have a 50/50 chance of being male or female. If you only sow one seed, then it can only be one sex or the other (unless it hermies). If you sow more than one seed then you may or may not get a mix of genders. The more seeds you sow, the more likely it is that you will end up with a mix of genders. It is, however, not guaranteed. You could still end up with all male plants or all female plants. Remember this when you are sexing your marijuana plants. Basically, go by what you see rather than what the statistics suggest you ought to have.
How to sex marijuana plants
Frankly, the easiest way to sex marijuana plants is to use feminized seeds. If, however, you want to do it the “old-school” way, here’s what you need to know.
Step 1 – Go online
Look for videos showing the difference between a male cannabis plant and a female cannabis plant. If at all possible, look for videos which relate to the strain you’ve chosen. If you can’t find any, look for a comparable strain. In other words, if you’re growing a strain which is 80% Indica dominant, look for someone else growing a strain which is 80% Indica dominant. Then go and look for close-up images of the key parts. Yes, it will be different when you do it yourself. In fact the first time, you may find it a bit of a challenge. Looking at online resources, however, can definitely be a big help.
Step 2 – Stand back and look at your plants from a (bit of a) distance
Before you get caught up in details, take a look at the bigger picture. Male plants tend to grow quicker than females. They also tend to be slimmer and have less foliage. This is, of course, all relative. A male Indica is never going to be as leggy as a female Sativa. A female Sativa is never going to be as bushy as a male Indica. That’s why you want to stick to one strain at first. Then you can make like-for-like comparisons.
Step 3 – Look for pollen sacks
Pollen sacks look, quite literally, like tiny balls. They can be seen with just the naked eye. Having said that, a magnifying device can make the task a whole lot easier. If you see a pollen sack, then a plant is definitely male. If you don’t it may be female. Alternatively, it may still be in the process of development.
Step 4 – Look for pistils
In the pre-flowering stage, pistils are tiny white hairs. They are virtually impossible to spot without a magnifying device. Even with a magnifying device, it can be a challenge to see them at first. Later, as flowering continues, the pistils will become both very colourful and very obvious.
Step 5 – Clone the “not sures”
Take a cutting of the “not sures”. Let it grow for a few days. Then force flowering. The sex of the clone will also be the sex of the host. This trick is 100% accurate – as long as you keep accurate records of what cutting came from what host.
What is a hermaphrodite cannabis plant?
Hermaphrodite plants develop both male and female sexual parts. Hermaphrodite weed is lower in both quantity and quality than regular bud. Sometimes it’s still usable. Sometimes it’s only fit for the (composting) bin.
There are some strains which are frankly notorious for hermying. Reputable seed banks will mention this in their descriptions. You can also double-check with independent strain reviews. These strains are best left to the most experienced growers.
In general, most strains will only hermie if they are exposed to excessive stress. The big five causes of hermying are: ventilation, lighting, temperature, hygiene and handling.
Out of these, ventilation is usually the biggest issue. The reason for this is that it causes so many other problems. For example, poor ventilation means that your plants are too close together. This makes it hard for them to capture sufficient light and easier for them to overheat. It makes it harder for the grower to keep the growing room clean and easier for any problems to spread from one plant to another. Last but by no means least, it makes it harder for the grower to handle the plants appropriately and so easier for them to be damaged.
In short, if you choose a robust strain and remember your marijuana basics, then you should be able to avoid hermies. The less experience you have, the more important it is to choose a strain with solid genetics. Again, reputable seed banks will generally highlight strains which are particularly suitable for beginners. You can also check online for independent strain reviews.