In cannabis culture, the term “bud” typically refers to the dried, cured, and consumable parts of the flower. It’s the part that’s displayed in your local dispensary or hidden in your closet away from prying eyes right now. However, there isn’t always a lot of talk about the anatomy of the cannabis bud itself by non-growers. Today, I want to dive into the structure of the cannabis bud. It’s one of the most distinctive parts of the plant, and one of the most visually recognizable, but there’s still plenty to learn about the characteristics of this part of the plant.
We call cannabis “flower” because, well, it is one. The bud is just another name for the flower of a mature cannabis plant. Cannabis reproduces through pollination, which is the fertilization process that reproduces more plants. The transfer of pollen occurs from the plants, which produce the nutrients, to the pollinating insects that feed off the nectar. It’s basically the same as a rosebud, but the result is a flower that can go up in smoke. Well, you could try smoking a rose to see what happens, but why?
When the cannabis plant is about six weeks old, it starts to develop buds, which take between two to five weeks to fully mature. The start of the bud growth cycle is marked by two white hairs that emerge from the cola, which is where the buds form. The main cola, or apical bud, forms at the top and is usually the biggest in size due to light exposure, while smaller colas grow on the sides. The hairs on the buds, called pistils, develop on the main stems where the branches meet, and the bud produces the resin that attracts pollinators. The white hairs that appear on the cola early in the growth stage mature to shades of red, brown, or tan, but the color depends largely on the variety, which is why some pistils show red and pink hues.
Buds are prized for the richness of their terpenes and trichomes, which give cannabis its potency. During the growth cycle, they play a dual purpose: to attract insects to help the pollination process, and to repel herbivores who would eat the buds otherwise. The calyx are specialized leaves that can be as colorful and vivid as any flower’s petals, and thus attract pollinating insects. However, its purpose is to protect the flowers because once pollination begins it becomes an ovary which carries seed. If this happens too soon, the flowers don’t reach their full potential, the resulting in either compact, overly hard clusters comprised of many calyxes or larger calyxes grouped in clusters that aren’t compact enough. When the plant matures, sugar leaves, which are so called because they are covered in a dense coat of trichomes that look like sugar, are typically discarded. Despite their high trichome content, they have an astringent taste so no one wants to smoke them, but they get a second life in concentrates and hash production.
Cannabis plants can be male, female, or both, but female plants are the only ones which produce the resin needed to attract pollinating insects. That is because female buds contain the highest concentrations of cannabinoids in the plant, especially tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. So most of the cannabis plants consumed are female, because only the female marijuana plant develops buds that contain high levels of cannabinoids. Once the female bud is fertilized, it puts all of its energy into developing seeds instead of more buds. Male plants only have sacs that are used to fertilize the female plants, which is fine in the wild, but not desirable under controlled growing conditions because it creates genetic diversity. If male plants are allowed to grow and pollinate as they normally would, it becomes hard to grow exact strains and to control the quality of those strains. Due to this difference, many growers discard male plants in order to control the genetic fate of the plants, and to speed up the growing process. Expert growers can tell when it’s time to harvest by the look of the trichomes, which start as tiny light globes, and get progressively taller, changing from translucent to a rich amber color in the process. Amber trichomes indicate the richest possible flavor and potency.