What Are Cannabis Pistils and Why Are They Important?


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The cannabis sativa is a fantastical plant with a storied history dating back to 2800 B.C. Early use of cannabis was derived from Western China and Central Asia where the plant was purportedly used for its healing properties by Emperor Shen Nung. Many years later, growers and consumers around the planet are still enjoying some of the beneficial impacts that cannabis can bring into their lives.

Along with advancing our understanding of the benefits of cannabis, we’ve also come a long way toward better understanding the plant in its entirety. This means understanding every intricacy throughout the growing process, including the development of cannabis pistils.

What Are Cannabis Pistils?

The female sex organ of the cannabis plant is known as the pistil. The pistil is a simple hair that seemingly protrudes from the body of a female flower, originating from something known as the calyx

Also known as stigmas, pistillate hair contacts the pollen from a male cannabis plant to pollinate it. The covered pistil receives pollen through its papillae receptors. At this point, the female cannabis plant will begin to develop seeds, becoming less potent, as the seeds begin to form.

Pistils and Intersex Plants

Finally, the presence of pistils can also create a unique variable as it pertains to intersex plants. Heat and lighting can bring about intense stress which can lead a plant to develop both female and male reproductive organs. Due to the plant’s ability to self-pollinate, the pistils will exist but remain unnecessary. 

To reduce the risk of developing an intersex plant, growers should focus on maintaining optimal growing conditions while reducing light leaks during the dark cycle of their plant’s life. Removing any extraneous stress factors will go a long way toward healthy plant development.

What Does the Pistil Say About My Plants?

Pistils are important to your cannabis plants for a variety of reasons outside of the obvious: identifying the sex of the cannabis plant. Aside from identifying the sex of our cannabis plants, we can use the identification of pistils to learn quite a bit about our plant itself.

  1. The Sex of Your Cannabis Plants

First and foremost, the pistil is only present post-germination in that of a female plant. If there are no pistils present, then the plant is male and should be removed from the room. Male plants can begin to cross-pollinate with female plants, leaving your whole room in disarray. 

When identifying the sex of your plants, you might find certain hurdles must be overcome depending on the type of seed that you are growing with.

  1. Autoflowering Seeds – Autoflowering cannabis seeds are easy to sex because the onset to flowering is rapid with a multitude of pistils appearing all at once.
  2. Photoperiod Seeds – Photoperiod cannabis seeds are harder to correlate as far as sexing goes. Photoperiod seeds can develop their pistils at seemingly random times depending on the genetics of the strain and the growing conditions of the plant.

Note: It can take anywhere between three and six weeks of the vegetative cycle before pistils begin to appear, seemingly at random, among the nodes on the stems of your plant. 

Keep in mind that pistil development may be delayed while growing certain strains, so stay up to date on your seed and strain information.

  1. When To Harvest Your Cannabis Plants

Did you know that you can also use pistils as a visual cue for your harvest date? Pistils are slightly easier to see when compared to trichomes and as such can be the perfect guidepost for a savvy harvest. 

Pistils will change from white to some form of orange, brown, or red when they enter the flowering phase. As these changes become more visible, get prepared for the harvest that is soon to come. For individuals struggling to spot trichomes or pistils, consider implementing some form of magnifying device to retain accuracy.

As a general rule of thumb, most cannabis growers and advocates advise harvesting plants when at least 75% of their pistils are brimming with vibrant colors including red, pink, brown, and orange. 

Without the use of the aforementioned magnifying devices, growers will have to rely on these colors as well as the pungent aroma of the plant to know when to progress.

  1. Pistils Are NOT Always A Good Sign

While we can use the presence of pistils to identify the sex of a plant or decide when to harvest one, their presence isn’t always a good sign. The development of pistils can be triggered by excess heat and lighting, even when the plant is deep into its flowering stage. 

New pistil development may look immature because they are present late in the lifespan of the plant. Use the original pistil development as your marker for harvest, ignoring the new development.

To avoid the development of immature pistils, make sure that your growing area is held at a consistent temperature and is covered by consistent lighting. While buds developed by a stressful plant can still be smoked and enjoyed, they are a sign that issues can be addressed.

  1. Pistils Are a Genetic Variable

While we have discussed the presence of pistils as they relate to the ripeness of your plant’s harvest, sometimes their presence is purely circumstantial. Pistils are often present in sativas as a trick or trait of their genetics. You can counteract the presence of unwanted excess pistils by reducing light exposure to speed up the flowering of the plant which will, in turn, lead to a healthier harvest.


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