Cannabis Plant Anatomy

Nearly everyone recognizes the iconic shape of a marijuana leaf, as its image has been circulating throughout popular culture for decades. But attempting to identify the remaining cannabis plant anatomy is a bit more difficult.

The structure of cannabis is similar to any other flowering species; long stems dividing into nodes, from which buds sprout into leaves.  Where cannabis plant anatomy starts to differ from your average house plant, however, is in the complexity of its flowers.

Below is a brief guide to understanding the basic cannabis plant anatomy and processes of a cannabis and its unique flowers.


Cola refers to a plant’s bud site; this is where its flowers will form. The main cola grows at the very top of the plant with the highest concentration of flowers and buds. Through a variety of growing techniques, it’s possible to increase the size and number of a plant’s colas in hopes of generating a higher yield.


The “flower” of a female cannabis plant is actually called a calyx. These tear-shaped nodules grow in a variety of colors and sizes. Colors can range from yellow and green to deep purple, depending on the strain.

Generally, growers look for a high calyx-to-leaf ratio, which occurs more commonly in sativa strains rather than indicas. The leaves contain higher levels of chlorophyll which makes for harsh smoke and a bitter taste. Calyxes, on the other hand, are where most of a plant’s THC and cannabinoids are contained.


The tiny hairs found near a calyx are called pistils. These hairs also appear in a variety of colors starting off as white then slowly change to their final coloration of reddish brown. The sole purpose of these hairs is to catch pollen from the males and create seeds.

While pistils are critical to plant reproduction, they don’t lend anything in terms of a final product, save for their remaining presence in the dried crop. Pistils don’t affect the taste or potency of the strain.


Covering the cannabis stem, leaves, and calyxes are resin-filled glands called trichomes. Trichomes contain the vast majority of a plant’s terpenes and cannabinoids with the mushroom-shaped head being the most potent.

Much like pistils, trichomes change color during a plant’s growth cycle. The bulbous heads start off clear then become cloudy. If left to mature longer, the plant will develop gold, amber, and eventually black trichome heads. The pigmentation of heads delineates the type of cannabinoid cultured, THC or CBN (cannabinol).