Anatomy of a Cannabis Plant

By Alan Ray
Published: June 22, 2018 | Last updated: May 11, 2021 05:13:17
Key Takeaways

Cannabis is a fascinating plant that people love to talk about. Chat about it with a veteran grower, however, and you may not recognize some of the words they use. Alan Ray provides a brief biology lesson on the cannabis plant to keep you in the loop.

Bract. Calyx. Pistil. Trichome. Together, these sound more like a squad of intergalactic travelers than earthly botanical terms. To savvy cannabis gardeners, however, they are part of their everyday vocabulary. Growers use words to describe the cannabis plant that, to many, may as well be a foreign language. With the following bottom-to-top list of terms, however, you’ll be talking cannabis anatomy with the best of them in no time.


Cannabis Roots

The roots of the cannabis plant are found below ground and serve to anchor the plant to the earth while providing a pathway for the uptake of water and nutrients. The roots also store carbohydrates for use in other functions of the plant.

Cannabis Stalk

The stalk of cannabis is like any other plant stalk. It is the main stem from which branches, leaves, and flowers grow.


Cannabis Plant Nodes

Nodes are found on the stalk of the plant and are the launch pad for leaves and stems. They are what form the little “v” where branches begin to form on the stalk. The term “internodal spacing” refers to the distance between one node and the next. Short and bushy plants have shorter internodal spacing, whereas long and lanky plants have longer distances between nodes.

Fan Leaves

Fan leaves are the largest leaves on the plant and act as solar panels to capture light. This light energy is then converted via photosynthesis into food (sugars), which is stored in the leaves. Fan leaves also serve to shade the plant on hot sunny days.

Sugar Leaves

These are the small leaves generally clustered around the bud. These leaves are dusted with what looks like glistening white sugar crystals, hence their name. This coating contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. They are often used to make edibles or hash.



Calyx is the first part of the cannabis flower to form. It is made of little green leaves called sepals that overlap in small, tight whorls to form the bud where the flower then develops. They act as a covering and protection for the flower.


The cola is the part of the female plant where buds form at the end of any branch. Often people refer to the biggest bud at the top as the cola, but technically it means any buds that appear at the ends of major branches. Botanically, it is the terminal bud. Colas are where the good stuff resides and what gardeners harvest at the end of the growing cycle. Sometimes the cola is referred to as the terminal or main bud on a female plant.



The word trichome is from the Greek trikoma, meaning hair. Trichomes are found on the colas and are essentially the resin glands. It is the trichomes that secrete the THC, appearing as little liquid globules making the bud sticky. During maturation the trichomes change color from clear to white to a dusky orange, then finish as a reddish brown. Harvesting at different trichome stages will produce different effects when smoked. The darker the trichomes, the more mature the flower. The more mature a plant is, the more balanced and potent it will be. Experiment with your harvest window to discover the effects of which stage of maturity you prefer. Just remember trichomes are not the resin itself. They produce the resin.


A bract is part of the plant resembling a small leaf or petal. Its function is to protect the flower from foul weather and insect pests. The floral bracts on a cannabis plant are the sites from which the flowering buds appear in the later stages of cultivation.


The stigma, style, and the ovary comprise the pistil which is the female reproductive organ of the flower. The pistils are the hairs that emerge from the calyx.


Terpenes or aromatic oils are yet another piece in the complex puzzle that is cannabis sativa. Terpenes are a class of organic and often strong-smelling compounds that give marijuana and other plants such as conifers their distinct fragrance. They are responsible for the olfactory fantasia one experiences from the rich, wafting scent of their favorite herb. Terpenes also produce the flavor.


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Written by Alan Ray

Profile Picture of Alan Ray

Alan Ray has written five books and is a New York Times best-selling author. Additionally, he is an award-winning songwriter with awards from BMI and ASCAP respectively. He lives in rural Tennessee with his wife, teenage son, and two dogs: a South African Boerboel (Bore-Bull) and a Pomeranian/Frankenstein mix.

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