The Importance of Male Cannabis Plants

Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi - Content Writer

Sep 17 2021 - 4 min read

Male cannabis plants serve an important purpose in cultivation. When it comes to psychoactive cannabis, people have historically sought out female plants, often discarding the male plants. 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), but 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 are the many benefits of male cannabis plants.

Table of Contents
  1. Male Cannabis Plants Diversify the Gene Pool
  2. Male Cannabis Plants and Auto-Flowering Plants
  3. Male Cannabis Plants Are Potent
  4. How to Tell the Difference Between a Male and Female Cannabis Plant
  5. What Are the First Signs of a Male Cannabis Plant?
  6. Male Cannabis Plants Can Keep Pests Away
  7. Male Cannabis Plants Are Essential
Male Cannabis Plant
Male hemp/cannabis plant.

Male Cannabis Plants Diversify the Gene Pool

Cannabis is dioecious, an evolutionary advantage. “Dioecy” is when a species has distinct male and female characteristics. Unusually among 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.

Male Cannabis Plants and 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  by breeding  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. Source

Male Cannabis Plants Are Potent

Cannabis plants 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.

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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 to determine the sex. 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.

What Are the First Signs of a Male Cannabis Plant?

One way to recognize a male cannabis plant is 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 have tiny, small sacs.

Male Cannabis Plants Can Keep Pests Away

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

Male Cannabis Plants Are Essential

As you can see, male cannabis plants are an important part of any good breeding program. Male plants offer pest control and potency, while contributing to gene pool diversity. If you want to get a medical marijuana card and grower’s license, book an appointment with a physician at Leafwell today. We’ll help you navigate the whole process and answer any questions you have about cannabis medicine.

Written by
Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi

Tina Magrabi is a writer and editor specializing in holistic health. She has written hundreds of articles for Weedmaps where she spearheaded the Ailments series on cannabis medicine. In addition, she has written extensively for the women's health blog, SafeBirthProject, as well as print publications including Destinations Magazine and Vero's Voice. Tina is a Yale University alumna and certified yoga instructor with a passion for the outdoors.

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