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The cannabis plant is an enigmatic species. By any agricultural standard, it is one of the hardest crops to cultivate, perhaps because of its therapeutic properties. Over the years, breeding practices have multiplied both the number of strains available and increased the diversity of terpene and cannabinoid profiles present in those varieties. Where cannabis tested on average of 4% THC in 1995, a study in 2014 found the average cannabis strain tested at 12% THC.1
While the analgesic and psychoactive qualities of the plant have evolved since cannabis was first put to human use 12,000 years ago, its general anatomy remains untouched. For centuries cannabis has pushed up free, from the Himalayas to the rocky Afghani countryside. Now a global area of interest for growers, breeders and consumers, the plant continues to stand on the same characteristics for which it was first domesticated.
Types of different cannabis plants
It is important to note that cannabis plants can be female, male or hermaphrodites. The latter contains both male and female parts, which permit the plant to pollinate itself. These hermaphrodites are unwanted by cultivators, given they can pollinate seedless female plants. Male plants are used by breeders, primarily to produce new cannabis varieties. In the context of the type of cannabis used for medical and recreational properties, the female plant is the primary focus.2
When thinking of cannabis consumption, female plants should be front of mind. These plants produce resinous flowers, that contain trichomes filled with terpenes and cannabinoids. At its highest quality, seedless female flowers are rich in psychoactive and medical properties, allowing patients to consume them whole, or extract the chemical components for use in various cannabis products.
Putting trichomes under the microscope
It may seem absurd to start a discussion about anatomy at the heart of the species, but trichomes are easily the most significant component of the plant. In these resinous sacks, often called crystals, the female plant’s vital cannabinoids and terpenes are stores. Reportedly developed by the plant to protect it from predators, these trichomes dictate the potency of the strain, and richness of its terpene profile.
Colas: The tip of the cannabis iceberg
The prize of every grower’s crop, the cola is the very tip of the cannabis plant. Housed in these dense flowers are the finest qualities of the plant. Because the top of the plant has the greatest light exposure, the cola typically tests higher in cannabinoids than the rest of the plant. The cola typically also possesses the most poignant example of the plant’s terpene profile, making it the second most significant part of the cannabis plant.
Getting a feel for tasty sugar leaves
Finger-like leaves that develop around the flowers of female cannabis plants, sugar leaves are often dusted with a white cast. This trichome covering makes sugar leaves a great secondary source of cannabinoids and trichomes. These sugar leaves are often mistakenly trimmed off in post-production but should be kept with the flowers. When dried, these leaves curve into the flowers and can be consumed just the same.3
Simplifying stems and fan leaves
Unlike the sugar leaves of the cannabis plant, fan leaves have no therapeutic value. These large leaves are often pruned during flowering or trimmed in post-production. Similarly, the stem, sometimes referred to as the stock, has little value to patients and consumers. Most often, these two components are simply discarded after the female flowers and sugar leaves have been salvaged.
Understanding the calyx and bract
A cannabis plant component that houses the female reproductive parts, bracts appear as small green leaves coated in trichomes. In fact, these tear-shaped leaves are responsible for the highest concentration of cannabinoids in the entire cannabis plant. The calyx, while unseen by the eye, is a translucent layer over the base of the female cannabis plant. These are also rich in plant cannabinoids.
The significance of little red hairs
Containing the reproductive elements of female flowers, the pistil work to collect pollen from male cannabis plants. These hairs, as they’re most often described, are actually stigmas, which turn from yellow to orange and brown over the course of the plant’s lifespan. In addition to helping the cannabis plant with reproduction, these stigmas also give it a unique aesthetic, and high production is celebrated by growers and breeders.
  1. “Changes in cannabis potency over the last two decades (1995-2014) - analysis of current data in the United States.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4987131/
  2. “Gender: what determines it?” https://sensiseeds.com/en/blog/gender-what-determines-it/
  3. “Sugar leaf.” https://www.myhydrolife.com/definition/2068/sugar-leaf

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