Cannabis Lifecycle and Anatomy

Cannabis Lifecycle and Anatomy Image by Esteban Lopez from Unsplash
Image by Esteban Lopez from Unsplash

Written By Alyssa Sexton

I’m sure if you’re reading this article, you are familiar with the infamous ‘pot leaf’. It is often seen on clothing, album covers, logos, posters, and stickers. But did you know, that leaf is not the part of the cannabis plant that is smoked?


As consumers, sometimes we are disconnected from the products we use. I can promise you that despite wearing clothes every day, I know very little about how the fibers are grown, and no more about how those fibers are processed to create the things I wear! In this article, I will be giving some insight into the life of the cannabis plant and its parts so you can be a more informed consumer, and cannabis supporter.


The image of the ‘pot leaf’ we all know, and love is actually the plant’s fanleaf. It’s the part of the plant that opens up wide and faces up towards the sun (or the lights, for indoor plants). These leaves make the plant easy to identify, hence why its image is so popular. The part of the plant that is sold as flower to smoke are the buds, which don’t grow until the plant is in its maturity.


When a cannabis seed is planted, it’s first sprout is a fanleaf. These sprouts, also known as ‘seedlings’, are delicate. Growers often keep them in a greenhouse, or somewhere their environment can be controlled. They cannot endure light that is too harsh, overwatering, or strong winds. This phase lasts about three weeks. 


Once the seedlings build up some strength, the plants are often referred to in the growing community as ‘starts’. At this stage, a plant has not reached its full maturity, but is at its peak stage to be transplanted into its permanent home. [Plants can still produce successfully even when transplanted in their maturity, however, will run the risk of damage, or reduced yields.]


The next stage of life is called the ‘vegetative’ stage and can last between two to eight weeks. This is when the plant develops its size and shape. The size will depend on the plant’s surroundings and nutrient intake. I’ve seen outdoor plants over 10 feet tall!


The shape of the plant is not only determined by its surroundings, but also by its type. Sativa and Indica strains have different plant shapes, as well as different fanleaf shapes. 


*To learn more about the shapes and other differences between Indica and sativa strains, keep checking back for the next article ‘Sativa vs. Indica’. *


After the vegetative stage is the ‘flowering’ stage. This is when buds start to form. The bud site on the top of the plant is called the ‘cola’, these are often the most potent buds on the plant. All of the buds have what are called ‘trichomes’ on them, which are small resin glands where the desirable cannabinoids are found. They determine how potent each bud will be. These buds are what you see in stores, however at that point they’ve been harvested, dried, and trimmed. 


Flowering usually lasts between six and eight weeks, then the trichomes on the buds turn from a translucent white color to a golden-brown color. When almost all the trichomes have turned is when it is time to harvest. After it’s been harvested, the plant’s lifecycle is over.


An outdoor growing season can be unpredictable in terms of time. Some seasons will last only six or seven months, whereas some can last up to eleven months. This unpredictability can make growing indoors much more appealing. 


Most of what you buy in the store has been grown indoor for that reason. Plants in a controlled environment can be regulated, and their behavior can be predicted. 


There you have it. The lifecycle of the cannabis plant, and some of its most important parts. So, the next time you see a ‘pot leaf’, know what you’re looking at is a fanleaf. Be an educated consumer and feel good about knowing what you’re smoking.