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Pollination of your female cannabis plants will make them produce seeds and spend less energy on producing quality buds. But when you recognise the signs of pollination early, you can avoid putting time and resources into a poor harvest.
Spotting male cannabis plants and pollinated females early can save you from investing further time and effort into an entire growing season that will be for naught. Most of the time, the best course of action is to get rid of the males along with your pollinated ladies and just start a new grow.
HOW TO TELL THAT A FEMALE PLANT HAS BEEN POLLINATED
Among the early signs that your female has been pollinated is that her bracts become larger. Bracts are small, leaf-like structures that protect the female’s reproductive parts. These are the sites from which the flowering buds appear. Do not confuse the bracts with calyxes.
Male plants won’t show hairs at these nodes, but will develop little sacs of pollen. These pollen sacs will look like little balls. These balls can appear on their own or in clusters, depending how far into the pre-flowering stage the plant is. At some later stage of growth, the pollen sacs will burst open, spilling the pollen and possibly pollinating your females.
Cannabinoids, including the valuable end products THC and CBD, are concentrated in the female flower tissue. A study by Meier and Mediavilla, 1998, found that pollination decreased the yield of essential oils in cannabis flowers by 56%. Today, most marijuana is sinsemilla (Spanish for “without seeds”) and seeded crops are considered inferior, commanding a lower price in the marketplace. The same strategy is now also being applied by industrial hemp growers producing CBD.
Important variables related to pollen transport and viability include wind speed, direction, precipitation and humidity, topography, physical barriers, time since release, etc. For example, a study by Small and Antle, 2003, on pollen dispersal in cannabis found that a 3-mile isolation distance downwind was equivalent to a 0.6-mile distance upwind in terms of the amount of pollen deposited.
A study by Stokes et al., conducted in 2000, years before hemp and marijuana were legalized, found that cannabis pollen comprised up to 36% of total airborne pollen counts in Midwest states during the month of August. This pollen likely came from wild hemp or illicit marijuana fields where male plants were not controlled, minor sources that could be greatly compounded by legal hemp production.
Cannabis is what’s known as a dioecious species, meaning that male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. There are some monoecious varieties of cannabis with male and female flowers on the same plant, and stress can also induce the production of male flowers on female plants, but these are exceptions to the plant’s normally dioecious nature. Flowering is induced when day and night lengths become equal. Male cannabis plants flower for a period of two to four weeks, and a single male flower can produce 350,000 pollen grains. Pollen is carried to female plants on the wind and can travel great distances when conditions are favorable. Bees will collect cannabis pollen but are generally not attracted to the female flowers to contribute to pollination.
When passage of the 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp, many people in agriculture celebrated the new opportunity that this crop symbolizes for our industry. The spring day when we planted our first hemp plots at Michigan State University Extension’s Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center also had an aura of historic significance. Hemp had not been legal to grow for over 60 years in Michigan, and today we are initiating research and outreach to support the potential (re)development of an entire value chain surrounding this multipurpose plant. Now that our first hemp crop is up and growing, a new concern is emerging with it that could threaten the future of Michigan’s cannabis industry.