If you’re growing your own cannabis or planning on growing a batch in the near future, you need to learn everything you can about the cannabis flowering stages.
The cannabis flowering stages are where all the action happens and your marijuana plant develops buds that you can then mix into a batch of cannabis oil, grind up and roll in a joint, steep in a cup of weed tea, or whatever strikes your fancy.
In this article, the experts at Honest Marijuana take you on a guided tour of the cannabis flowering stages and give you tips for getting the most out of your precious pot plants.
A Brief History Of The Flowering Cannabis Plant
Before we delve into the cannabis flowering stages themselves, it’s beneficial to learn a bit about the history and the anatomy of the cannabis plant.
That way, you know how the modern cannabis flowers developed and how to locate one on the plant itself.
We’ll focus on the history in this section and the anatomy in the next.
It’s How Old?
Cannabis is old — 12,000 years old to be exact.
Not that cannabis didn’t exist 12,001 years ago and somehow magically appeared one day to our Neolithic ancestors (It was aliens!).
But, like corn and wheat, around this time, humans started using the cannabis plant — and even cultivating it — for a wide array of purposes.
The archaeological record hints that the Chinese culture was aware of the cannabis plant as far back as 10,000 years ago.
As you can imagine, not a lot has survived from the year 8000 B.C.E. and we’re guessing that their methods of recordkeeping weren’t that long-lasting to begin with, so it’s no wonder that we’re not 100% sure what was going on cannabis-wise back then.
Fast forward a couple thousand years and you start to find various legends of Chinese Emperor Shennong who supposedly started putting the cannabis plant to use as a textile, as a recreational drug, and as a medicine.
It’s the recreational and medicinal part that interests us, and we have to wonder if Shennong preferred the blunt or the bong.
Actually, Shennong’s preferred method was probably tea. Archaeologists find mention that Shennong recommended weed or stem tea as a treatment for more than 100 afflictions, including malaria, rheumatism, gout (none of which probably went by those names back then), and even absentmindedness.
We’re not sure how pot could be a cure for absentmindedness, but, hey, maybe marijuana was different back then. Anyway…
However he used it, Shennong is our first link to the cannabis plant’s hazy past.
Cannabis Use Spreads
Historians aren’t sure how cannabis use spread — whether travelers took it with them or whether the plant was growing in lots of different places and cultures finally “discovered” it — but, regardless, as time passes, we start to see more mentions of it in other countries.
The Egyptians of 1500 B.C.E. knew about and used various parts of the cannabis plant to treat all kinds of ills, including hemorrhoids and glaucoma (again, they probably weren’t called by those names, but you get the point).
Then, about 500 years later, we have record of Indians (from India) using flowering cannabis in a drink they call Bhang.
Bhang was the go-to treatment for all sorts of maladies, including:
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- Digestion issues
- Decreased appetite
From Egypt and India, the cannabis plant traveled into the dark heart of Africa, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and Central America, and, more recently, to North and South America.
The hitch in all that is that those original cannabis plants from the Far East — that scientists named landrace strains — were dramatically different from the strains we consume today.
How is that possible?
Because, over the past two hundred years or so, ganja growers bred their plants for certain desirable traits — flavor, aroma, THC and CBD content — that the originals might not have had.
In the process, the landrace strains got lost amongst the newer, flashier strains that we’ve come to know and depend on in recent years.
And, let’s not forget that few growers tracked exactly what they did from start to finish because growing pot was, in many cases, illegal, and records of any kind were just another tool for the prosecution.
Even though we aren’t 100% sure where a given flowering cannabis strain came from, advancements in genetic analysis and manipulation mean that botanists can dive right into the DNA to trace things backs to their roots.
Where Flowering Cannabis Came From
As we mentioned, older varieties of flowering cannabis are called landrace strains.
But what separates a landrace strain from the modern stuff you buy in your local dispensary, and how can you tell the difference?
First of all, there is no way for the average Joe and Jane pot smoker to distinguish between a landrace strain and a modern strain. You’d need an advanced degree and some pretty fancy equipment to recognize one from the other.
The nice thing is, you really don’t need to worry about it at all. No one sells landrace strains anymore (they never really did), and, at this point, the investigation into marijuana’s lineage is purely academic.
It’s like tracing your ancestry back several hundred years — it’s fun to know, but the knowledge doesn’t really change your experience of the present.
That said, with genetic manipulation, scientists may be able to recreate landrace strains in the near future to see where it all started.
But that’s a story for another day.
Let’s get back to the discussion of our landrace strains and what separates them from the modern stuff.
The technical definition of a landrace strain is:
A variety of the marijuana plant that contains less diluted DNA than other strains of cannabis.
What that means for those without advanced degrees and fancy equipment is that landrace strains contain DNA that is much closer to what it was originally when our man Shennong first brewed his ganja tea all those many thousands of years ago.
To help you understand the concept, let’s track the development of a landrace strain through to our modern flowering cannabis varieties.
Going back to the Chinese during the Neolithic period, they likely stumbled on a wild species of the marijuana plant. Seeing the plant’s value, they took seeds and planted them in order to grow their own stash.
They may have planted them in China. They may have planted them in India. It doesn’t really matter.
The plants that grew in those new locations were directly descended from the original species and are known as landrace strains.
From there, pot growers of yore continued to breed the marijuana plant to achieve specific results (shorter growing season, bug resistance, cold resistance, etc.).
As time passed, the original landrace strains developed into what we now call our modern hybrid strains.
As any cannaenthusiast will tell you, those modern hybrid strains are pretty great. There isn’t a lot we’d trade them for.
Still, we have to wonder if the landrace strains were somehow better.
Did Shennong experience something better than what we experience today?
Let’s find out.
Are Landrace Strains Better Than Modern Flowering Cannabis?
First, we can put your mind at rest by letting you know that landrace strains are not necessarily stronger, more potent, or in some other way better than modern flowering cannabis.
They’re just less diluted genetically.
Asking if landrace strains are better than modern flowering cannabis is like asking if the first horseless carriage (that’s a car, boys and girls) is better than a 2020 Rolls-Royce.
Even a staunch, dyed-in-the-wool old-car lover has to admit that they’d probably enjoy the ride in a Rolls more than they would that first horseless carriage.
The Rolls is more comfortable inside, has a smoother ride, is easier to start, handles better, is safer, and gets you where you’re going much faster.
We can make a similar comparison between landrace and modern strains.
If you build a time machine and travel back to Neolithic China, or if you’re the first human to set foot in a hidden valley in Tibet where the original flowering cannabis plant continues to grow, you’ll experience the original plant’s effects when it was closer to begin a wild species.
Compared to a bit of Blue Dream, it might barely get you high or barely relieve your pain.
It would be an interesting experience, for sure (not the least because you just traveled in time or discovered Shangri-La), but if you’re consuming marijuana for specific results — such as a relief from seizures, a righteous high, or a reduction in nausea — you’re almost certainly better off with a modern high-THC or high-CBD strain.
So don’t concern yourself overly much with the difference between a landrace strain and a modern-day strain.
File the knowledge away and whip it out during a trivia-type weed game, but don’t get bent out of shape trying to distinguish the genetics of one strain from another.
Unless you’re a plant scientist, it’s just not worth it.
Having said that, we will take a bit more time now to learn about flowering cannabis anatomy so you can tell a fan leaf from a flower.
Flowering Cannabis Anatomy
Any elementary school biology student can tell you that all plants start with a seed. Once planted, the seed produces roots on the bottom and a stem on the top.
After a period of time, the stem pokes its way through the soil and begins to grow tall and strong.
From there, the plant produces leaves, branches, and eventually flowers. It’s these flowers we’re most concerned about.
But before we focus on the good stuff, let’s briefly examine the other pieces of the plant.
The stalk is the thing off which everything else grows.
For recreational or medicinal purposes, the stalk is of no use to us because it doesn’t contain any THC or CBD.
You could probably figure out something to do with the stalk if you really put your mind to it, but we say compost it to feed the next generation of flowering cannabis.
The Fan Leaves
The fan leaves are the iconic, universal symbol for marijuana that everyone painted on their town’s water tower back in the day.
As a useful bit of flowering cannabis anatomy, they do contain a bit of THC, but not really enough to make using them worthwhile.
The Stem Of The Fan Leaf
The stem of the fan leaf grows between the stalk (or branch) and the fan leaf itself. The stem of the fan leaf does contain a bit more THC than the leaf itself.
Harvest enough fan leaf stems and you can use them to brew your own tinctures, extracts, and concentrates.
The Cannabis Flower
The pièce de résistance of the cannabis flowering stages is the flower (a.k.a. cannabis calyx, bud, or about a gazillion other names).
See that “fluffy” thing at the very top of the plant in the picture above? That’s a cannabis flower.
It’s where all the benefits lie and is what every grower hopes to harvest a lot of at the end of their ganja-growing adventure.
Cannabis flowers have three parts:
- Sugar leaves
The trichomes are where all the action is (they contain the highest concentration of cannabinoids), but the sugar leaves — which don’t look anything like the instantly recognizable fan leaf (or pot leaf) — also contain a fair bit of cannabinoids.
The pistils are the red or orange-colored hairs that protrude from the body of the flower. They don’t contain any usable cannabinoids, so they’re pretty much just decoration.
There’s plenty to learn about the biology of the cannabis flower (we’ll give you plenty of resources later on in this article), and you could probably read about it for the rest of your life.
For now, though, it’s enough just to know what a flower is and the cannabis flowering stages it goes through before reaching maturity.
We’ll discuss those stages in the next section.
Cannabis Flowering Stages
As a general rule, most cannabis flowering stages progress through these general categories:
- Transition and stretch (weeks 1-3)
- Budlets form (weeks 3-4)
- Buds get bigger (weeks 4-6)
- Buds ripen (weeks 6-8)
- Buds ready to harvest (week 8 and beyond)
Let’s break these categories down and take the cannabis flowering stages week by week.
Week one is the transition stage between pre-flowering and full flowering when your plant switches from growing tall to producing buds.
During this transition, some strains will double in height from what they were a week earlier. Because of this rapid growth, week one is commonly known as “the stretch”.
During week two, your cannabis plant redirects more and more of its energy away from growing leaves and stems (i.e., height) toward producing flowers
As such, the stretch will slow and you may spot tiny pistils — white hairs that will later become buds — beginning to grow.
Three weeks into the cannabis flowering stages, your pot plants will continue to slow their upward growth and, eventually, come to a complete halt.
Don’t panic. This is a good thing.
The plant will now direct all of its energy to growing flowers for you and all your friends (or just you if you don’t like to share).
If you look closely, toward the end of week three, you might see the first signs of real buds — not just pistils — developing on your plant.
As week four of the cannabis flowering stages progresses, those budlets will get bigger — not as big as they will be in a few more weeks, of course, but bigger than they were to start.
You’ll know your plant is in the full-flower portion of the cannabis flowering stages during week five as the original buds get bigger and new buds develop along the main cola.
At this stage (or at the end of week four), your plant will also start producing trichomes, so you’ll start to smell a distinct odor. That’s fine (and good). Just make sure you have adequate ventilation if you’re growing your Mary Jane indoors.
Three things happen as week six of the cannabis flowering stages rolls around:
- Buds will continue to grow and progress further toward ripening
- Pistil hairs will start to switch from white to a light brown or amber color
- Trichomes will start to become opaque on their way to milky white
These are all signs that your flowers are not far from being ready to harvest.
Hang in there!
Week seven is all about patience.
Nothing much new happens, but the buds will continue to get bigger, the pistils will get darker, and the trichomes will get whiter.
One more week or so and your marijuana will be ready!
Most cannabis strains will be ready for harvest after eight weeks of development.
Here’s a quick and dirty cheat sheet to help you know when it’s time to move to the next stage. Your pot is ready to harvest when:
- At least half of the pistils turn dark and curl back in toward the flower.
- At least half of the trichomes are cloudy, opaque, and milky white.
Either of the above methods will work for determining when to harvest after the cannabis flowering stages are complete, but your best bet is to use a combination of both.
Sometimes, the trichomes will start to turn cloudy but the pistils will still be white. And sometimes, the pistils will begin to curl but the trichomes will still be clear.
It’s only when both the pistils and the trichomes start to change that the cannabis plant is ready for harvest.
For a more in-depth discussion on reaping what you’ve sown, check out How And When To Harvest Marijuana Plants | The Complete Guide from the experts at Honest Marijuana.
Tips And Tricks For The Cannabis Flowering Stages
1) Read Up On Growing Marijuana
The best way to learn about the cannabis flowering stages is to get some dirt and some weed seeds and to start growing your own plants.
That said, it’s also super valuable to read up on growing marijuana.
Here are some valuable resources from your pals at Honest Marijuana:
- How To Grow Weed: The Organic Way
- Organic Marijuana: The Definitive Guide
- How To Grow Marijuana: The Ultimate Organic Guide
- The Definitive Guide To The Best Soils For Cannabis
2) Prevent Moldy Weed
Moldy weed affects the potency, the smell, and the flavor of your cannabis flowers — and not in a good way.
Plus, moldy weed can cause some rather serious health problems, so it’s vital that you know how to check your bud for rot and what to do if you find it.
The quickest and easiest way to check for mold is to:
- Look for slime, fuzz, dark spots, powder, or cobweb-like material on the flowers
- Smell the flower for any sweat or urine odors (these signal that mold is present)
- Feel the flowers for any damp or spongy textures
We discuss all things mold in our article, The 5 Best Ways To Check For Moldy Weed, Plus How To Avoid It, so give it a quick read today.
3) Trim Your Plant To Keep It Healthy
Trimming your marijuana plant during the cannabis flowering stages may seem counterintuitive — Why would you want to remove leaves that can potentially produce flowers? — but doing so keeps your plant healthy.
Get all the information you’ll need for this important activity from our article Trimming Weed: How To Trim Your Marijuana Plant In 5 Easy Steps
4) Top Your Cannabis For Larger Yields
Topping is pruning the crown of your cannabis plant in order to stop upward growth and promote lateral growth in the lower branches.
More lateral growth means more opportunity for flowers to develop which means that your plant will yield more smokable, bakeable, extractable buds for your recreational and medicinal pleasure.
For more information on how to top your pot correctly, take a few minutes to read this article from Honest Marijuana: Topping Cannabis Plants: The Complete Guide.
5) Try An Autoflowering Strain
Adjusting light exposure for best growth can be a tricky task.
Instead of changing the light to suit your plants, change the plants to suit your light.
Autoflowering strains do not depend on the ratio of light to dark hours to switch from vegetative growth (height) to flowering growth.
For growers, that means that autoflowering seeds and strains don’t require as much work.
There’s still a lot that goes into nursing a cannabis plant to maturity. But you don’t have to worry about varying the amount of light the plants get like you do with regular seeds.