The life cycle of cannabis

 “I used to smoke marijuana. But I’ll tell you something: I would only smoke it in the late evening. Oh, occasionally the early evening, but usually the late evening – or the mid-evening. Just the early evening, mid-evening and late evening. Occasionally, early afternoon, early mid-afternoon, or perhaps the late-mid-afternoon. Oh, sometimes the early-mid-late-early morning. . . . …But never at dusk.” 

– Steve Martin

In this section I’m going to give a brief description of the cannabis life cycle.  As a grower it is important that you have the basics of what happens throughout your plant’s life.  And, if you are like me, you will watch in awe as it first breaks the ground till later when it grows so fast you will notice the change every day.

Cannabis is plant known as an annual.  Unlike perennials, which grow year after year, cannabis’ life lasts less than a year.  It is one of the most unique plants in nature in that it has male and female plants.  It pollinizes itself and does not rely on pollination brought by insects and birds.  As you begin to grow your first crop of cannabis, you will notice the plants becoming either males or females.  Left alone the females will develop the colas or buds familiar to anyone who has purchased bud that has not been broken up.  These buds secrete a sticky resin; it’s this resin that gets you high.

When the resin has been sifted from the plant matter, you can press the resin into cakes and make pure hashish.   The male plant will grow little buds that will open and expel a fine dust of yellow pollen.  This pollen is carried by the wind and pollenates the female when the pollen adheres to the sticky resin.  The instant this happens the female goes into birthing mode.  The resin dries up and the cola is studded with thousands of seeds.  This is seriously bad news for the grower.  Later I will teach you how to identify male and female plants.  The instant you see a male plant you will want to yank it out of the ground and turn it into mulch.  It is the resin filled female cola free of seeds that you want.  In nature a pollenated female will drop its seeds to the ground where it will be spread by hungry birds to begin life anew.  This is where we pick up our story.

Cannabis, of course, begins its life as a seed.  Once germination occurs, the seed will crack and an exploratory root known as a radicle will start to work its way down the soil.   This radicle will begin to grow wispy filament like whiskers.  These are what absorb water and nutrients from the surrounding soil.   As this proto root grows down it will push the seed head out of the soil.   When it first breaks ground, two small tongue shaped leafs known as cotyledon appear.  There will also be the first true leafs vaguely cannabis looking leafs growing in the opposite direction.

From here the magic begins.  The stem will grow slowly at first.  At the center of this plant is the apical tip.  This is where the stem will grow.  As leaves appear they will form in the opposite direction from the ones below it.  Before long the stem will begin to branch out with this back and forth pattern of leaf development continuing along the branches.  The branches themselves are known as lateral branches and the leaves are called fan leaves.   As the plant grows it continues to spread out new branches and new leafs.  With each new set of leafs it will grow faster and faster.  While it seems agonizingly slow at first, have faith.  At its most rapid the plant will grow one to two inches a day.  Under optimum conditions it can grow up to six inches a day.

Soon the plant will show itself to be either a male or female plant.  Once you know what to look for they are quite easy to distinguish.

At the intersection of the stem and branches little nodes will appear.  The males are known as staminate primordial and the females as calyx or pistillate primordial.  The males will not only lack these stigmas but will grow a flower like structure.

While you can isolate male plants and gather the pollen without it dispersing I would highly recommend you not do this.  Male pollen is nasty stuff that can find its way out of the most ambitious of prophylactic measures.  If you wish to reproduce a plant, a far better method is to make cuttings and use these for future generations.  Once you know a plant to be a male, yank it out and get rid of it.  The guys are nothing but trouble.  Once in a rare while you will notice an oddball plant.  Cannabis can also be both a male and a female.  These hermaphrodites are fun to look at but it is best you yank them out on sight as well.  Remember, the merest whisper of pollen will literally cause your crop to go to seed and that is a major bummer.

The next stage of growth is known as the photoperiod.  If you are an indoor grower it is of utmost importance that you time your lights to mimic conditions found outside.  This I will explain later on.  For now it is enough to say that cannabis follows the sun.  Following the winter solstice the days grow longer.  The longest day of the year is the summer solstice on June 21st.  Once the summer solstice has passed and the days grow shorter.  The cannabis plant will sense this and kick into reproductive mode.  The females are thick and full of resin.  The male flower will break open and disperse a fine mist of yellow pollen that is carried by the wind.  A female, if pollenated, will immediately withdraw and begin to produce seeds.  As a grower, this is the time to harvest and dry the buds we crave and love.  In the wild these seeded buds will fall to the ground.  Birds love them and will eagerly eat them.  Riding in their stomachs, these birds can disperse seeds a considerable distance away where they will wait for the sun to signal it is time to start this process all over again.