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What Parts Make Up the Cannabis Plant?

By Danyal Swan March 25, 2022

Cannabis is a complex plant with many structures, each serving its own purpose. The plant grows on long, narrow stems. Large leaves fan out from these stems, extending from regions of the plant called nodes.

These recognizable fan leaves aren’t the only part of the cannabis plant that’s unique. From the top apical bud to the roots, cannabis plants have survived mountain snowstorms, hurricanes, and has even evolved over time to protect itself from predators. Each piece of the cannabis plant plays an important function – let’s explore them, from seed and clone to cola.

The Structures Of A Cannabis Plant

With so many parts to a cannabis plant we thought it best to break these down from seed or clone to the picturesque trichome. Some parts are paired together to give you a better understanding as to how each piece of the plant works together to produce the beneficial medicinal flowers we use therapeutically every day!

Growing Cannabis From Seed Or Clone

When growing from seed, cannabis plants start out with both female and male parts. During the growth process characteristics of one or the other start to form. Male plants form pollen sacs and female plants form stigmas, which catch the pollen. We’ll touch on that more later.

Another way to grow cannabis plants is by cloning. When a cannabis cultivator has grown cannabis plants to be what they call “Mother Plants,” they are able to cut small parts of the plant off and replant that new small cut. If cared for properly, the cut of cannabis plant will root and start to form a new cannabis plant or a clone.

From the seeds or clones, roots begin to form.

Roots, Stem, Branches, And Nodes Of A Cannabis Plant

The roots, stem, branches, and nodes are the main base part of the plant. They make up the support system of the rest of the plant, allowing it to stand tall and gather sunlight. Let’s get rooted in our cannabis plant knowledge by starting with roots!

The roots are needed to anchor the cannabis plant into the soil. As the roots start to grow out of a seed, the taproot forms, also known as the plant’s main root. Healthy roots are key to keeping a cannabis plant alive and strong. The roots are what direct oxygen, water, and other beneficial nutrients into the plant. An indicator of healthier roots is when the root system is extensive, almost weblike in structure, with a white hue.

The stem of the cannabis plant has several purposes, one is to give the plant stability and structure. The plant’s main stem (sometimes referred to as its stalk) is the heavy lifter of the base part of the cannabis plant. It’s this main stem that supports all the cannabis plant’s lateral branches.

Now that we know the branches are supported by the stalk, you can picture the plant growing as we move along. Each branch supports the flowers and leaves. By pruning the cannabis plant’s branches, referred to as “topping” by cultivators, they are essentially able to train the plant’s growth. This can lead to more bud sites developing on the branches.

How that branch connects to the stalk is an important piece of the marijuana plant, called the node. When a branch connects directly to another branch, that point of connection is also called a node. The nodes are the spot on the cannabis plant where cultivators would see the pre-flowers or the early stage of the plant’s female or male sex organs.

More bud sites are always desirable, as they provide the chance for therapeutic medicinal flower to be grown on the plant. Through years of refining different techniques, cultivators have been able to manipulate the growth of the cannabis plant, including how close the nodes grow. The space from node to node is called "internodal spacing" - when cultivators shorten the internodal spacing on a cannabis plant, they may increase the amount of bud sites.From the branches come the marijuana plant leaves.

Cotyledon Leaves, Fan Leaves, And Sugar Leaves

Sugar leaves have a frosted appearance thanks to their proximity to bud sites, as seen above with cannabis strain Confetti Kush Cake.

The first leaves to form on a cannabis plant are the cotyledon leaves. The leaves sprout up from the soil when the seed of a cannabis plant has germinated. While most plants grow with a pair of these leaves, cannabis plants can grow with one, three or even four cotyledon leaves. There is no “optimal” number of cotyledon leaves – any number can grow to a healthy, therapeutic plant.

The most recognizable part of the plant, one of the most stigmatized symbols even, is the fan leaf. These leaves are color-changing and large, with the main purpose of capturing sunlight. Fan leaves will start one color and change to others over the course of a cannabis plants life cycle, with the change attributed to many factors like genetics, temperature, and lighting.

Sugar leaves are the smaller leaves that grow closest to the bud on the marijuana plant. The sugar leaves get their name from their frosted, sugary appearance – due to their proximity to the bud, they, too, are covered in trichomes.

Cannabis Flowers And Colas

When we mention the “buds” of the cannabis plant, we’re talking about its flowers. The flowers are important, especially if someone is harvesting the plant for medicinal purposes. Cannabis flowers are filled with terpenes, cannabinoids, and other beneficial compounds.

Each of the many strains of cannabis has its own unique color spectrum and structure depending on its genetics. Utilizing the flower after being dried and cured as a smokable product is one of the most popular ways to consume cannabis.

One of the most awe-inducing parts of the cannabis plant is the cola. At the top of the cannabis plant, you will find apical buds, also known as the plant’s main colas. Typically, a cannabis plant will grow one main apical bud and have many small colas at the top of the plant, as well as many small colas throughout. These smaller colas can have substantial growth if the fan leaves are defoliated (removed) to promote more light to lower branches.

Bract, Calyx, Stigma, And Pistil – The Cannabis Reproductive Parts

Only found on female cannabis plants, each bract encapsulates the plant’s reproductive components, visually appearing as tear-shaped leaves. Each bract is coated in resin glands and, as a result, it’s the bracts that contain the highest concentration of cannabinoids and terpenoids compared to all other parts of the plant.

The calyx is yet another piece not visible to the naked eye. It’s a translucent layer that forms at the bud’s base, covering the ovule. The calyx is where the original cola or flower formed from and the main place where THC is produced.

The pistil is where you can find the cannabis flower’s reproductive parts. Each pistil is covered in a collection of vibrantly colored strands, which are known as stigmas. Stigmas are what collect pollen from male cannabis plants, eventually allowing for the creation of seeds. Stigmas start off white, almost clear in color and, as the plant matures, morph into colors like red, orange, and yellow. Stigmas are commonly known as the “hairs” on a cannabis plant.


Each cannabis flower is covered in a layer of crystal resin, also known as trichomes. The trichomes are small, but they’re still quite hard to miss. The stems, leaves, and calyxes have translucent glands, and it’s these glands that secrete the trichomes.

Each trichome oozes terpenes, which are a type of aromatic oil with medicinal properties. Additionally, the trichomes secrete therapeutic cannabinoids, such as CBD and THC. Trichomes have developed over time to protect the cannabis plant against predators and even environmental factors, acting as the first line of the plant’s defense.

What Are The Different Types Of Trichomes?

Pictured above is Confetti Kush Cake, a cannabis strain beloved for its frosted appearance.

Trichomes are an essential part of the cannabis plant and the effects it has on the body after consumption. There are two main kinds of trichomes, glandular and non-glandular. Let’s focus on the glandular trichomes.

Glandular trichomes come in three forms: capitate-sessile, capitate-stalked, and bulbous:

  • Bulbous trichomes are the smallest and least abundant kind of glandular trichome. They take the shape of tiny bulbs, although none of these bulbs are visible to the naked eye. Sparsely dispersed, bulbous trichomes can be found across the entire cannabis plant.
  • Capitate-sessile trichomes are more abundant compared to their bulbous counterparts. These trichomes have a smaller head than bulbous and are found exclusively on the underside of fan leaves and sugar leaves. Capitate-sessile trichomes can usually only be seen under a microscope.
  • Capitate-stalked trichomes are the most visually noticeable type of trichome. They have a substantial trichome head and are found at the peak of the plant’s stalk, resembling a mushroom head. As the second most recognized part of the cannabis plant, the stalked trichome is one of the favorite parts of the cannabis plant for photographers. A lot of photography of cannabis plants are macro shots of the stalked trichome.

Non-glandular trichomes have no head, and unlike bulbous trichomes, produce no cannabinoids - nor does the male cannabis plant.

How Can You Tell Female And Male Cannabis Plants Apart?

How Can You Tell Female and Male Cannabis Plants Apart?Marina Mikkelsen, National Director of Cultivation, sorts cannabis plants by sex.

There are some key differences in the structure and function of female and male cannabis plants, the most prominent being only female plants flower. Cannabis plants are dioecious, meaning that for the cannabis plant to reproduce, the male plant must pollinate the female.

Determining sex on a cannabis plant is imperative for this reason, but virtually impossible before six weeks. Once the cannabis plant reaches this level of maturity, all you need to do is examine the nodes. Remember, this is where the branches and leaves connect to the stalk.

If the plant has pollen sacs, then it is a male. These sacs start out looking like little balls, then they become larger with age and take on an oblong shape. Unlike the flowers of a female plant, pollen sacs can’t be harvested and consumed by people. The main function of male cannabis plants is pollenating female plants so that cultivators can create new genetics by crossing male and females from different strains.

Unless cultivators are trying to produce more cannabis plants, then it’s important that they separate male plants from female plants as soon as possible. Male cannabis plants can start pollenating female plants early in the life cycle and will seed your females, thus degrading the potency of the flower.

The Cannabis Plant Has Many Moving Parts

As you can see there are many parts to a cannabis plant, and they all have functions in assisting the plant to grow and mitigate hazards. Cannabis plants have been around for a long time giving them ample opportunity to evolve. As a patient, you can feel more informed and have a clearer idea of each of the plant's attributes.

If you’re seeking medical cannabis from cannabis enthusiasts, those who believe fully in the plant as medicine, it’s time to make a MÜV. From the fruition of what was once just an idea - that everyone deserves access to the best cannabis products, MÜV Medical Cannabis Dispensary and its team of skilled individuals are ready and waiting for you!


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Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Contributor for Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.

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