Have you ever purchased a new strain of weed that is much brighter and more colourful than your usual buds? Deep purples, reds, oranges, and an array of green shades can make certain cannabis strains beautiful, unique, and popular among smokers. Some may think that these visual characteristics reveal whether a strain comes from an indica or sativa plant. Many assume that cannabis with complex arrays of colour will have stronger effects or a more delicious flavour than simpler-looking strains. In some cases, a colourful strain could be more potent, but the colours don’t contribute to that aspect. They do, however, tell us a lot about the strain’s genetics and can help cannabis growers maintain and harvest their marijuana plants.
The Science Behind Colour
Cannabis plants contain phytochemicals, which are biological compounds found in all plants. Phytochemicals produce the bright and rich colours of your favourite houseplants as well as cannabis. You may remember learning in your high school science class that chlorophyll is a phytochemical that produces green hues in plants.
Other phytochemicals result in different colours, such as anthocyanin (purple and blue), anthoxanthin (white), carotenoids (yellow and orange), and lycopene (red). The genetics of the plant determine which phytochemicals will be released, and the resulting colour can help identify the biological structures of cannabis plants. One structure in particular, the tiny reddish-orange pistils that cover the surface of the buds, is hugely important when growing marijuana.
When you smoke cannabis, you’re smoking the flowers of a female marijuana plant. Only female plants produce buds, thanks to the pistils. Pistils are the plant’s female sex organs. The tiny red and orange hairs that you see on the surface of your nugs are the stigmas, which extend from the pistils within the dense, round buds.
If the pistils of a young plant come into contact with pollen produced by a male plant, it will trigger the production of seeds. However, if a female plant is kept away from male plants and pollination doesn’t occur, the plant will produce flowers that can be harvested later.
Marijuana plants can also be intersex. This typically occurs when a female plant is distressed. The female plants develop pollen sacs along with their pistils and fertilize themselves to produce new seeds.
Cannabis growers often only keep their female plants. They remove the need for male plants for pollination by growing clones, which come from a cutting of the female parent plant.
Using Pistils to Sex Your Plant
So, why are these tiny little red hairs on your nugs so important? If you’re a grower, you need to understand how to identify the different anatomical parts of your plant to grow a successful crop. Male and intersex plants can wreak havoc on the buds of any female plant in the vicinity if they aren’t identified early.
When male and female marijuana plants reach the flowering stage, they start to show either thin, delicate pistils or round pollen sacs. If pollen sacs are identified, the plant is taken away from the flowering females to avoid unwanted pollination. Sometimes, male and intersex cannabis plants are kept in a separate space with a few female plants to produce the seeds of a new generation.
If a grower sees pistils growing instead of pollen sacs, they have another great candidate for harvest several weeks later. Light, water, and soil nutrient levels are carefully monitored over the next several weeks, and once the flowers are large enough, they are ready to be cut, packaged, and distributed.
However, if the sex of the plant is not determined early enough, a cannabis grower may ruin an entire crop of potential flowering females. Once the pollen sacs reach maturity, they burst, releasing pollen into the air. Nearby females will catch the pollen on their pistils, and the flowering process will end so that reproduction can begin. If this happens too soon, the buds will not be developed enough to harvest.
The Pistil Method of Harvesting
Pistils can also be used to determine the best time for harvesting, though the pistil method is not as common as the trichome method. Trichomes are tiny, almost microscopic resin glands that cover the outside of your plant’s buds. With the naked eye, you can only see these as a sticky coating of tiny, whiteish crystals over the bud.
You may also recognize trichomes as the build-up of powder, or kief, at the bottom of your grinder. Many people use kief to add an extra kick to their smoke sesh. That’s because trichomes are an important source of THC that contributes to the potency of your cannabis.
To use the trichome method for harvesting, you will need a handheld microscope to accurately monitor the development of your plant’s trichomes. You’ll know your harvest is ready when the resin glands have a small ball of resin at the tip of them. Under a strong microscope, they will look like mini mushrooms.
However, that’s not the only way to tell when your buds are ready to snip. Pistils, which are much easier to see, will also show signs that it’s time to harvest. When cannabis flowers are young, the pistils (or stigmas) will be white and fairly straight.
Several weeks later, you will probably notice that they start to curl and turn a reddish-brown colour. Don’t cut your buds right away, though. You need to wait until 70% of the pistils darken. This is when the flowers have the highest potency of THC. If you’re wanting something a little less intense, wait until 85% of the pistils have turned. These flowers should offer a calmer effect.
The next time you need to buy, try a mix-and-match selection of high-quality weed. Before you smoke, take your experience to the next level by putting this knowledge to the test. Compare the buds of different strains. Look at the colours, pistils, and trichomes. Can you tell a difference in the taste, potency, or effects when you smoke? Do the strains with more orange pistils offer a relaxing experience? Identifying these characteristics will come in handy when searching for a strain that suits you.