By Mikal Jakubal
While the world condemns countries that practice female infanticide, in the Emerald Triangle, we do the botanical opposite, nipping mostly-useless male plants in the bud long before they can pollinate any nearby females and ruin the quality of the finished “buds.”
For those unfamiliar with marijuana botany, the plants are typically dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, the way most animals have male and female reproductive organs on separate male or female individuals. “Dioecy,” as it’s known to botanists, is relatively uncommon in the plant world, compared to bisexuality, where each individual flower on all plants of the species has both male and female parts. Kiwis, date palms and pistacios are some common dioecious food plants that require the occasional male plant to be grown for pollen with the fruit-bearing females. The dioecious Ginko trees that you buy in most commercial nurseries are usually male plants, grown from cuttings (“clones”) of known male trees. The Ginko fruit produced by female plants is apparently stomach-churningly foul-smelling, though I’ve never had the pleasure of that experience.
The process of identifying the sex of seed-grown pot plants is known as “sexing” and is usually done with the naked eye or a good magnifying glass between late April and early June. “Sexing” is also used to describe the growth stage where the plants first show visible flowers, e.g. “my O.G. Kush plants are all sexing, but the Sour Diesel hasn’t shown yet.” The earlier that plants can be sexed, the better for the grower, since this means the females can be planted out in their holes or large pots and the males can be composted (or a few selected out for later breeding). Most pot strains have a greater than 1/1 ratio of females to males when grown from seed. Some strains will end up with 70% females, a real boon when you have to buy seeds or had a poor seed crop the previous year.
Cannabis is special not only in its dioecy, but also in that it can also form separate male and female flowers on the same plant, making it “monoecious.” The vernacular term in the grower community for this is “hermaphrodite,” though I believe hermaphrodite is actually a synonym for bisexuality. “Hermies” are a serious bane to growers, since they typically don’t show up until late in the season on otherwise female plants. It can happen that a month before harvest, a huge female plant in full flower suddenly starts popping out male or “staminate” flowers (after the uniquely boy parts called stamens) intermixed with the female, or “pistillate,” flowers. Not only will these male flowers seed the “hermaphrodite” plant itself, but they’ll seed any plants downwind. Because they have been previously identified as confirmed females, hermies can sneak up on a grower, not being noticed until the damage has been done.
This guy in the photo was mistakenly sexed as a female and put in a 45-gallon plastic pot in a garden very near fifteen other female plants in similar pots. All of them are just beginning to flower, so had this male plant slipped the grower’s notice, it would have seeded a good portion of the nearby plants. Seedy bud is weaker, unaesthetic and virtually unsalable. The term sinsemilla, if you’re not familiar with stoner culture, is Spanish for “seedless.” For those who’ve been reading this blog regularly, last July one of my main film subjects had to destroy a dozen huge plants when they ultimately sexed-out as males. That was nearly a quarter of her entire potential crop. (She later lost a good third to the mold epidemic we had last fall.) I’ve known people to lose a similar percentage of their crop to hermies. Several years ago, when smoke from forest fires discolored the sky for months, many growers in SoHum reported an explosion of monoecy.
It used to be that the male plants were just killed and buried to prevent any buds from opening after the fact and causing mischief. Nowadays, with so much competition in both the medical market and black market, pollen from good strains is becoming valuable. Last week I was at a meeting of a local medical marijuana collective with which I’m involved, the Tea House Collective, where someone was looking for pollen from “Sour Diesel” (a strain of Cannabis). He had sourced females from a grower for bud production, but wanted to do his own breeding, since Sour D is popular with the legal medical marijuana dispensaries and with medical-use patients now.
New research is coming out regularly about the beneficial, but non-psychoactive, effects of eating raw marijuana leaves or drinking the juice, especially that from strains high in CBD, one of the other chemicals found in pot besides the well known and psychoactive THC. As a result, many people either juice their sacrificial males or give them to others who will use them. In what will be an amusing scene in the film, one of my other subjects accidentally cut and juiced one of his female plants. Ouch.