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A cannabis plant in the grow room.

The Fascinating Anatomy of the Cannabis Plant

Cannabis, also known as Marijuana, is a genus of flowering plants in the family Cannabaceae that has been a part of the human experience for thousands of years. However, in the past decade, the popularity of cannabis has surged to the forefront of public attention due to the wave of legalization sweeping the nation state by state.

Thanks to the legalization movement, we can push scientific research into areas that have never been explored before. As we explore its potential, a deep knowledge of this amazing plant’s structure and the functions of each becomes essential to our understanding.

This knowledge allows us to harness its full potential and contributes to the advancing field of Marijuana cultivation and processing, leading to a richer and more rewarding experience.

The Cannabis Plant Root System

The root system of a cannabis plant is incredibly important for many reasons. It literally forms the foundation, providing a strong anchor into the soil. The roots are also responsible for absorbing nutrients and water from the surrounding soil.

When cannabis is sprouted from seed the initial small root system is known as a “taproot.” Once the plant reaches maturity, a main root drives straight down into the soil, producing secondary roots that expand out horizontally.

The main root develops capillaries, microscopic outgrowths, that absorb water and essential nutrients for the plant’s growth. In cannabis, a robust root system not only ensures the plant’s stability but also significantly contributes to the overall yield.

A cannabis plants stem system.
The stem system of the cannabis plant provides stability.

The Stems and Branches

The stem is a crucial structure in marijuana plants, performing multiple important functions. Like the root system, it is the plant’s metaphorical backbone, providing structural support and acting as an anchor to the branches and leaves. They are also the central transport hub of the water, nutrients, and sugars between the roots and the leaves. Basically, The stem and branches act as the plant’s circulatory system.

The branches of the plant extend from the stem and support the leaves and flowers. And as the plant develops, the branches grow larger and more robust to accommodate the leaves and flowers. Their robustness significantly affects the plant’s productivity.

During the growth cycle, cultivators will prune the stem and branches from the top of the plant. But, this allows it to grow laterally, giving the leaves and flowers more bud sites as well as more canopy space to absorb light.


A node (sometimes called an axil) is the joint of a plant where new growth sprouts and forms a branch or buds. This can be either a point on the primary stem, or it can be on a branch where it produces smaller secondary branches.

Nodes are very important to sexing a cannabis plant. Additionally, it’s at the node that the male and female sex organs appear. Female plants will produce a preflower with long white pistillate from the node while a male marijuana plant produces a stick and ball structure that houses pollen called a staminate. The space between nodes is called an internode.

A cannabis plant with the leaves and flower.
The leaves of the cannabis plant perform several crucial roles.

The Leaves

The leaves of a marijuana plant, with their characteristic serrated edges, are easily the most recognizable part of the plant. However, there are actually two different leaf types, each playing a critical role in the plants survival:

Fan Leaves

The iconic leaves the cannabis plant is known for, fan leaves store water and absorb sunlight and have almost no trichomes, usually discarded in the harvesting process. The size and shape of fan leaves can vary depending on the strain. They typically have 5 or 7 points but can have as many as 9.

Sugar Leaves

Sugar leaves are the smaller leaves that grow from the flower of the plant. They also grow resinous trichomes but in smaller quantities than the flower itself. And they can be processed and used to produce a variety of products.

Cannabis leaves are the site where photosynthesis takes place– the process that plants use to convert light energy into chemical energy for growth. Cannabis leaves also help in a process called transpiration, the movement of water throughout a plant, allowing the plant to move and utilize nutrients.

The leaves of a cannabis plant are extremely helpful in judging and diagnosing nutrient issues of the plant. Likewise, they are the first to show any signs of discoloration, withering, or spotting which tells cultivators about the health of the plant and how they should be treated.

A closeup of the cannabis plant leaves and flower.
Trichomes are tiny crystalline structures found on the cannabis plant.


Although minuscule and almost invisible to the naked eye, trichomes are arguably the most important aspect of the cannabis plant’s functionality and appeal to consumers. Trichomes are mushroom-shaped resin glands found on the surface of the flowers, leaves, and even the stems. In nature, these tiny, crystal-like structures form a sticky layer that acts as a defense mechanism against insects.

Most importantly, trichomes are the primary site where cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are produced – the compounds responsible for the therapeutic and psychoactive properties of marijuana plants.

a cannabis flower in full
The cannabis flower is beautiful.

The Flowers

The cannabis plant is what’s called a dioecious species, meaning it produces male and female flowers on separate plants. Although both male and female plants produce a flower the flowering cannabis plant that is most prized is the female because of its high trichome concentration.

Female flowers, when pollinated by males, produce seeds for reproduction. However, in cultivation, male plants are culled or isolated from females to prevent pollination, causing the female plants to produce seedless buds with a higher cannabinoid content.

Cannabis plant flowers can be broken down into several parts:


The cola is the portion of the flower that forms in dense bunches near the top of the plant and down the upper stalk. Typically, the cola has the highest concentration of trichomes, making it the most sought-after part of the plant.


A closeup of the cannabis flower's trichomes and pistils.
Pistils are often referred to as “hairs”

Pistils, sometimes referred to as “hairs,” are filamentous structures that protrude from the flower and collect pollen from male plants in nature. They start off as orange or red and slowly change color as the flower reaches maturity. Only female marijuana plants have pistils.


These are the dense pear-shaped leaves that form a protective cover over the cannabis seeds. Bracts are densely coated in trichomes making them a prized part of the cannabis flower.


The calyx is enclosed inside the bract. It forms a protective layer over the female plant’s ovule located at the base of the node.

The Seeds

Cannabis seeds are the genesis of the cannabis plant in nature and the product of successful pollination between male and female plants. Seeds are the genetic repository of the plant, containing all the information needed to produce a new plant.

Cannabis seeds are made up of a hard shell that protects the plant in its embryonic form. The interior of the seed is made up of a root cap, cotyledons, radicle, primary leaves, and a shoot apex.

Cannabis seeds are the starting point for every cannabis cultivation effort. However, in cultivation facilities, after the mother plant is fully grown, plant cloning is the preferred method of propagation.

The Male vs Female Cannabis Plant

Unlike many species, marijuana plants are sexually dimorphic, meaning there are separate male and female cannabis plants. And it’s also worth noting, however, that cannabis plants can sometimes be hermaphrodites, displaying both male and female flowers on the same plant, often as a response to stress.

Understanding the difference between male and female cannabis plants’ sexual characteristics is crucial in cultivation. The female cannabis plant is desired for its high-cannabinoid-producing flowers which always come from an un-pollinated female plant. The seedless buds that these plants produce are called “sinsemilla.”

The male cannabis plant is only necessary for breeding and seed production. Confusing male and female plants could result in disastrously low flower yields for growers. This is one of the reasons that clones are preferred as they are genetically identical to the mother plant. There growers also use feminized seeds to ensure the gender of their plants.

A cannabis grow facility with female plants growing.
The cannabis plant is truly amazing.

Final Thoughts

A deeper understanding of the anatomy of cannabis plants offers valuable insights into their life cycle, growth, and survival. Each part of the plant, from the root to flower, plays a critical role in the plant’s health and productivity. Structures like trichomes are important in defining the cannabis plant’s medicinal value and recreational appeal. They play a crucial role in producing cannabinoids and terpenes. Grasping the balance between these structures helps cultivators. They optimize growth conditions, maximize yield, and ensure the quality of the final product.

Finally, the knowledge of the cannabis plant’s anatomy empowers not only the cultivators and researchers but also you, the consumer. Understanding the source of cannabinoids and terpenes enables you to make informed decisions about cannabis use. As we continue to explore this incredible plant’s biological structures and their functions, we are bound to unlock new potentials and applications, marking an exciting new era in the world of cannabis science.


Cannabis Roots: A Complete Guide

Sexing Cannabis: How to Tell the Difference Between Young Male vs Female Cannabis Plants

Breaking Down the Cannabis Plant

Cannabis Anatomy

General Cannabis FAQ

Cannabis, often referred to as marijuana, is a plant that has been used for thousands of years for various purposes, including medicine, textiles, and recreation. The plant contains compounds known as cannabinoids, with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) being the most well-known. THC is primarily responsible for the plant’s psychoactive effects, while CBD is recognized for its potential therapeutic benefits without causing a “high.”

Many countries and U.S. states have decriminalized or legalized the use of marijuana for medical use, recreational, or both. The legal status changes frequently as legislation evolves.

In the U.S., states vote to regulate marijuana use on an individual basis. While it remains illegal at the federal level, numerous states have legalized it for medicinal and/or recreational use.

The following states have legalized medical, recreational, or both:

  • Alaska – Medical
  • Arizona – Legal
  • Arkansas – Medical
  • California – Legal
  • Colorado – Legal
  • Connecticut – Legal
  • Delaware – Legal
  • District of Columbia – Legal
  • Florida – Medical
  • Hawaii – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • Illinois – Legal
  • Louisiana – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • Maine – Legal
  • Maryland – Legal
  • Massachusetts – Legal
  • Michigan – Legal
  • Minnesota – Legal
  • Mississippi – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • Missouri – Legal
  • Montana – Legal
  • Nevada – Legal
  • New Hampshire – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • New Jersey – Legal
  • New Mexico – Legal
  • New York – Legal
  • North Dakota – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • Ohio – Medical (Possession decriminalized)
  • Oklahoma – Medical
  • Oregon – Legal
  • Pennsylvania – Medical
  • Rhode Island – Legal
  • South Dakota – Medical
  • Utah – Medical
  • Vermont – Legal
  • Virginia – Legal
  • Washington – Legal
  • West Virginia – Medical


Outside of the U.S., countries like The Netherlands, Canada, and, more recently, Thailand have legalized cannabis on a national level.

Always check local laws and regulations in your specific location.

In states where marijuana has been legalized, you can purchase products at licensed dispensaries. Revolution products are available at Enlightened, Revolution, and partner dispensaries in Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, and Maryland. Find a dispensary near you.

Keep in mind that dispensaries may cater to medical patients, recreational consumers, or both, depending on local laws.

Always ensure that you are buying from a reputable and licensed establishment to guarantee product quality and safety.

The effects of cannabis vary widely depending on the strain, dosage, method of consumption, an individual’s endocannabinoid system, and more.

Some commonly reported effects include:

Psychoactive Effects: Euphoria, mood elevation, cerebral stimulation, stress relief, calming effects, and relaxation.

Physical Effects: Pain relief, body buzz, anti-inflammation, anti-nausea, energy boost or sedation, and appetite stimulation

*Medical Benefits: Cannabis is believed to have a range of therapeutic effects and alleviation of symptoms related to conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, and more.

*Marijuana is not approved by the FDA to treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

The primary difference lies in their intended use:

Medical Cannabis: Used as a treatment and alleviation of symptoms for specific health conditions. Medical strains might be cultivated and processed to have higher CBD content or other therapeutic compounds. Medical cannabis requires a physician who usually prescribes or recommends it as a treatment option.

Recreational Cannabis: Used without a medical justification but for personal enjoyment and fulfillment.

The process varies from state to state but typically involves the following steps:

Doctor’s Recommendation: Schedule an appointment with a physician who is authorized to recommend medical marijuana. Discuss your health conditions and reasons for seeking cannabis as a treatment.

Application: Once you have a doctor’s recommendation, you’ll usually need to apply for a medical marijuana card through a designated state or country agency.

Proof & Identification: Provide necessary identification and proof of residency as required by your jurisdiction.

Fee Payment: Most jurisdictions require a fee for the application and issuance of a medical marijuana card.

Card Issuance: Once approved, you will receive your medical marijuana card, allowing you to purchase cannabis at designated medical dispensaries.

If you’d like more detailed information, please read our state-specific medical card guide here.