The botany of the cannabis plant is a curious one. Although the cannabis leaf is a common and favorite symbol of the drug, the flowering buds are the true goldmine for many. Many terms and phrases are used throughout the cannabis industry, and can get confusing for those unaccustomed to them.
The flower itself is officially called a bud, though it is also referred to as recemes botanically, though bud is the universal standard. The bud is where the female flowers bloom, and are the most desired portion of a harvest. A single marijuana plant can yield anywhere from 20 to 150 flowers, forming into distinct, dense clusters called colas, or foxtails, which are capable of growing a meter or more long. The main cola typically forms at the top of the plant, and is also referred to as the apical cola, while smaller colas form lower on the plant. Special leaves, known as bud leaves or sugar leaves, grow out of the flower and are typically trimmed, or manicured down into the buds we commonly see in dispensaries. Once the bud has been dried and manicured, it is referred to as a nug.
The knobby tangle of leaves that make up the cola, or bud, is called the calyx. Calyxes are tear-shaped nodules containing large numbers of trichomes, which we’ll get to later. The tiny leaves surrounding the cola, also called bud leaves or sugar leaves, can come in many different shapes and sizes. The calyx itself is an important part of the bud, as it allows trichomes to grow aplenty and secrete as much phytocannabinoids as possible.
The marijuana leaf is a prominent symbol of the culture surrounding the plant as a whole. Symbolism aside, these leaves serve an important purpose to the plant. Leaves growing from the flower, known as bud leaves or sugar leaves, secrete phytocannabinoids through their own layer of trichomes. Leaves higher on the plant exude pungent, insect-repelling terpenes, and those lower on the plant exude bitter-tasting terpenes to put off grazing animals.
The trichomes, or the resin glands, can be easy to overlook. Some buds look as though a light snowfall has covered them, or as though sugar was delicately sprinkled over the cola. These are trichomes, tiny concentrations of crystal resin (or kief, when dried) that are secreted from tiny, transparent, mushroom-shaped glands on the leaves themselves. The trichomes’ size and potency are the basis for the strength of the plant, as they contain aromatic terpene oils and all the phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD.
In some strains of bud, you may notice small red-orange hairs. These are called stigmas, and naturally serve to collect pollen from male cannabis plants and deposit them into ovules. They typically begin with a bright white coloration and progressively darken to yellow, orange, red, purple or brown over the course of the plant’s maturation, but the colors of stigmas tend to depend on the time the bud was dried, and more seriously the strain the stigmas come from. Once pollen has been collected by falling on tiny protrusions called papilla, often confused for trichomes or resin glands, the stigma grows a tube through itself and into the ovule to allow the pollen to begin fertilization. Stigmas grow in pairs of two, and a common misconception is that both stigmas need to be pollinated in order for proper fertilization to occur, but this isn’t true. If stigmas have not been pollinated within 4 weeks, they turn a dark brown and die. Once they fall off, it’s typically a good indicator that the plant is ready for harvest.
The pistil is the entire reproductive organ for a female cannabis plant, though this name is commonly misattributed to stigmas. It consists of two stigmas and a single ovule, which will develop into a fertilized seed if enough pollen is collected. There is only 1 pistil per flower on a cannabis plant.
In young female flowers, some leaves are modified into bracts, often misnamed as the calyx. Bracts are protective bulbs that form around the ovules, or the eggs of the cannabis plant, and are connected to two stigmas that grow off of stems. An additional thin, translucent tissue covers about 60 to 90% of the ovule, called the perianth, made up of corolla and calyx cells only about six cells thick. The perianth is one of the few parts of the cannabis plant with no trichomes, or resin glands.
Once the seeds have been pollinated by the stigma, it swells inside the bract pod, which will split when the seed is mature. The signature spots, stripes or random markings on fertilized cannabis seeds are caused by corolla cells.
The stems contain layers of cystolith hairs composed of calcium carbonate. MORE-
Further down the cannabis plant are its roots, which themselves have their own medicinal properties. Trace amounts of phytocannabinoids, though minimal compared to the flowers, can be found in the roots as well. Chinese Emperor Shennong wrote in 2737 BCE that ground cannabis root was an effective pain reliever, mostly used in helping those with broken bones. In 1971, it was discovered that ethanol extract of cannabis roots contain friedelin, a powerful antioxidant believed to have hepatoprotective (liver-protecting) properties. In 2006, choline was detected in small quantities in cannabis root samples. Choline is an essential dietary nutrient and a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is vital to the development and maintenance of healthy cell membranes. In 2013, several pentacyclic triterpene ketones were found in cannabis roots, helping to treat inflammation. These specific ketones are also thought to cause apoptosis in cancer cells. Cannabis root is a very common ingredient in topical applications as well, infused with olive or coconut oil and applied as a soothing, healing paste.
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