Are male plants useful in any way? Unfortunately, the male cannabis is unnecessarily underrated. The majority of cannabis growers destroy any males the second they display signs of gender, and now that feminised seeds are available, many will never see a male in their room.
The cannabis plant is unique for many reasons. One primary reason is that it creates chemical compounds called cannabinoids, which produce the herb’s psychoactive and therapeutic effects.
Another major reason is that the plant has two distinct sexes. Cannabis plants can be either male or female, a rarity in the plant world.
Most plants produce “perfect flowers”, which are hermaphroditic and can reproduce by themselves. For cannabis plants to reproduce, however, a female plant needs to be pollinated by a male plant. Once pollination happens, the female plant can produce seedsand pass on genetic information.
When most consumers pick up some bud from a dispensary or a coffee shop, they are getting a dried bud from a female cannabis flower. Unfertilized female cannabis flowers produce the most cannabinoid-containing resin, which contains the coveted psychoactive THC.
To preserve the quality of a cannabis crop, male plants are separated from females and often destroyed.
Unlike female flowers, which produce seeds, male flowers produce pollen. Male flowers have a more common flower structure, producing a soft five-petaled flower once they bloom. Prior to bloom, male flowers develop in clusters of tightly closed buds.
Upon bloom, male flowers release pollen into the air.
Are male flowers useless?
It’s not difficult to see that male plants are vital in cannabis breeding programs. However, these flowers may have another trick up there sleeves as well.
Today, an unfertilized female flower can produce over 30% THC. Because female plants are the cash crop of the cannabis world, they are tended to with care and given ample nourishment. For many growers, producing a plant with as potent a cannabinoid profile as possible is the end goal.
Unfortunately, male plants just don’t stack up on that front. However, a high-potency male or a male with other desirable characteristics will make for an excellent father plant when breeding new strains.
Good-quality male specimens are essential for any cannabis breeding program. In providing pollen to females, the males are also contributing half of the DNA that will make up the subsequent offspring. Thus, selecting males which display advantageous traits can produce offspring that will retain those traits. Some traits can be distinguished relatively easily, such as growth rate, overall health, and resistance to mould, hermaphroditism and pests; while characteristics that may have an effect on flavour and potency are less obvious, expert breeders can spot various subtle clues as to a male’s potential as a breeding father. Males are also important in breeding autoflowering strains, as their growth pattern traits can be passed down while the flavour and potency profile of the female can be retained—with a little skill and perseverance.
Differentiating male and female flowers
Early in the vegetative growth phase, cannabis plants produce small preflowers. These preflowers help growers determine the sex of a plant before any accidental pollination can occur, which would lower the quality of the crop.
Look for these preflowers three to six weeks into the vegetative cycle. Preflowers will often be found on nodes close to the plant’s light source. A male preflower will look like a tiny, tightly closed bud. A female preflower will produce a calyx with one long, whitepistillate hair.
Once the sex of the plant is identified, removing the male plant is recommended. While some may cultivate the male to use in later breeding projects, many growers will simply discard the plant.
The pollination of a female plant can drastically reduce the quality of the end crop, as it is very difficult to sell cannabis buds that contain seeds.
Rather than throwing the male plant away, there are a few things you can do with the remains. Fan leaves and dried stems can be used to make teas or infused into topical creams and lotions. Fan leaves and buds can also be eaten raw or dried and used as a simple kitchen spice. Plant remains can be composted as well, to reduce waste.