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“When you see a pollen sac, you will know that a female plant is turning male,” says Perlowin. “Oftentimes, you can tell before the pollen sack becomes a problem. You should examine the plant from the very bottom of the plant to the top. It is easy to spot when the pollen sacs are at the top of the plant, but be sure to examine if there are pollen sacs at the bottom.” Male plants additionally grow taller than female plants as they mature and have thicker stems and fewer leaves.
A hermaphroditic plant, by definition, contains both female and male sex organs. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
“Herming can also definitely be a genetic problem, but it is not cultivar-specific,” says Perlowin. “You can get the same cultivars from different seed companies, and they will yield different results.” Reputable breeders are more likely to competently sort and select seeds from genetically robust plants with desirable traits.
“With hemp and cannabis, you h ave to walk your fields or monitor your plants every single day to ensure that there are no hermaphrodites or pollen on the plants, as it will affect the rest of your grow,” states Perlowin. “It is surprising how fast something can go wrong so it is important to watch closely. If you don’t find these plants, you could be jeopardizing not only your crops, but also those of other growers .”
When female plants herm, or develop male flowers capable of disseminating pollen, the entire crop is at risk of pollination. Female flowers that have been fertilized by pollen will halt their development to produce seeds, limiting flower production.
Male plants can be identified most easily when they begin flowering. The flowers initially appear as a curved claw shape, which soon differentiates into a flower bud containing five radial segments. As the flowers develop, pollen sacs emerge that almost look similar to small bunches of grapes. Eventually, the sepals of the pollen sacs will open to release the pollen.
Author Robert Connell Clarke’s book Marijuana Botany An Advanced Study: The Propagation and Breeding of Distinctive Cannabis presents clear instructions for differentiating male and female plants. The gender of a cannabis plant is located at the nodes along the main stem.
The only bummer, unless you grow from clones, is that cannabis is wired to produce about 50% male seeds and 50% females. It is just the nature of the beast.
Plants bred using feminization are homozygous. This can have two effects that can’t be assessed until the seeds are grown. Homozygosity will increase the dominant or recessive traits of the parent in the progeny, so features you don’t want and do want can be amplified. Genetics is a weird, weird thing.
To begin with, select a plant that has the characteristics you want to preserved. Feminizing clones is the usual practice as the growth, flowering, and resin characteristics from the mother are already known. There is no need for any vegetation time once a clone is well-rooted. Simply pot the clone into a small pot, give it a day or two to recover, and begin a 12-12 light cycle right away. A pollen-producing plant only needs to be small as cannabis produces copious amounts of pollen.
Just as with standard male to female crossings (which is a heterozygous process), a number of plants will need to be grown and the best selected for mother plants and future breeding. With enough room, hundreds if not thousands of new plants can be grown in order to select the best of the best phenotypes.
When sexing begins, male pollen sacs will develop instead of female calyxes and pistils. Male plants mature much faster than females, and viable pollen can be expected within 3–4 weeks once the plant has been sexed. Some growers will spray until the plant shows sexual growth, just to be sure the method has worked. Make sure these plants are well-isolated from any flowering females. A burst pod can release millions of pollen spores, and it only takes one spore per hair to create a seed.