Where Have All the Seeds Gone?
If your history with cannabis is anything like mine, finding seeds in your bag of weed wasn’t uncommon. There are still times that a particular batch that I get my hands on is hiding a seedy secret. Growing quality cannabis takes time, skill and resources, and if you’re one of the people who has those things, finding some seeds in your cannabis could be pretty lucky. Depending on the quality of the flower and the seeds themselves, you may have just gotten a chance to grow a pretty good plant.
Finding a seed in my bag is not my favorite; I don’t have the skills, dedication or resources to grow a cannabis plant and often, I’ll miss a seed, it will end up in the bowl, and the taste of a burning seed is just downright unpleasant for me. I’ve been known to save seeds for people that are experienced growers or sometimes a novice that’s looking to learn, but not all found seeds are viable. Living in a prohibition state, I’ve heard of people seeking out particularly seedy batches in an effort to do… perfectly legal things with them, I’m sure.
In the era of rapidly growing medical and adult-use cannabis markets, you may have noticed that it’s much less common to find seeds in your cannabis these days. Even though I still find them, I have to admit that it’s also less common in the “less than legal” market. So, where have all the seeds gone? They didn’t just disappear, right? And because we’re talking about cannabis it’s going to be super straightforward and easy to understand? This time, yes! Instead of factoring in human brains and the complexities of the endocannabinoid system that we don’t fully understand yet, seed development is pretty basic plant science that we seem to have nailed down pretty well.
Where do Seeds Come From?
First, let’s talk about where those seeds come from in the first place. Cannabis plants are dioecious, meaning plants come in male and female varieties, and determining the sex of a plant is an important step for growers. This can be done about 8-10 weeks in a cannabis plant’s germination cycle, when they develop their sex organs, often referred to as “pre-flowers”. The pre-flowers develop where the branch meets the stem, with male plants producing round pollen sacs and female plants developing pistils; similarly round but with what might be familiar looking fuzzy little tendrils, called stigma, that will develop into the flower.
The male cannabis plant will release its pollen into the air so the fuzzy stigma of the female plant’s pistils can catch it. Once a female plant is fertilized, it will begin to develop seeds inside of the buds, developing inside of what’s called the hairy bract, a protective casing true to its name that can hide them from you when you’re loading your grinder. Once the seeds reach maturity, a female plant will start to die, and in an uncontrolled environment the seeds will drop off of the plant and the cycle will begin again. Having spent a good chunk of my adult life witnessing a large-scale grow of medical cannabis plants, I forget that they are still plants that can - and do - exist out in the wild.
Although cannabis plants are dioecious, when exposed to certain environmental stressors, they may develop male and female reproductive organs, fertilizing themself and female plants around them. The pollen sacs may be small and hidden among the pistils of a female plant, making this sometimes difficult to spot until seeds begin to develop.
If the intent of the grow is to produce more potent cannabis for medical or adult-use consumption, growers will typically remove male plants from a growing area immediately. Female plants that are developing seeds will spend most of their energy on bringing those seeds to maturity, compared to an unfertilized female plant that can focus on developing a high quality flower.
Immediate removal of a male plant from a controlled grow seems a little harsh, is it really that serious? Well, that depends on what your goal is. I would imagine that most people that venture into cannabis cultivation are looking for a potent, consumable bud, in which case you probably want to avoid fertilization of your female plants. Not only will the female plant spend all of that precious light and nutrition on developing mature seeds, overall, you’re just going to get less yield from those seeds taking up space.
“But Kelly, the cannabis seed market was valued at $1.3 billion in 2021, and is expected to reach $6.5 billion by 2031! Somebody must want them!” You’re absolutely right! Growing cannabis from seed to flower is still one of the best ways to start a small grow, and using a resource like feminized seeds, or learning how to feminize seeds on your own, may be a great way to sustain a personal grow.
First and foremost, because cannabis is a dioecious plant, seeds have an equal chance of developing into male or female plants. This means that out of your handful of seeds, around half will be female and able to produce consumable buds. Not only are male plants usually discarded once identified to avoid fertilizing a grow, it can be difficult and maybe tedious to correctly identify the sex of your plant. Fortunately, humans are nothing if not creatively influencing the natural cycles of things and we’ve found some ways around this.
Don’t want to spend your day trying to differentiate plant genitals? Try feminized seeds! Feminized seeds are cannabis seeds that have been manipulated, either environmentally or chemically, to produce female plants at a much higher rate than your normal fifty-fifty chance. The general consensus is that a batch of feminized seeds isn’t guaranteed to be all female, but can produce up to 99% female plants, which is much better than having to get rid of half of a crop.
The most common method of creating feminized seeds is with a chemical solution, most commonly colloidal silver, to change the hormonal balance of female plants. When sprayed on the forming buds, it induces a hormonal change that causes pollen sacs to develop. These pollen sacs can then be harvested and used to pollinate your female plants.
When a female cannabis plant is pushed past maturity, in a last ditch effort to reproduce, it will begin to develop pollen sacs in order to pollinate itself. This process is called rodelization, and depending on where you are on the internet, it’s either the best, easiest and most natural way to feminize seeds yourself, or the least common and most difficult. They do seem to agree that this method may be tricky in that not all plants will self-pollinate, and though you can use the pollen that is produced on other female plants, you may have lower pollen yields.
Buying feminized seeds or learning how to grow your own from one of the countless internet tutorials can be a great tool for small, personal grows. Being able to guarantee that a majority of your plants will produce usable flower is a pretty good deal, but the plants from feminized seeds can be genetically unstable. This genetic instability may increase the likelihood of a plant becoming monoecious, or developing both male and female reproductive organs, also known as hermaphrodites or “hermies” colloquially. A monoecious plant can fertilize the rest of your female plants just like a male, causing a seedy batch of buds. This is also why cloning from feminized seeds isn’t recommended.
It should come as no surprise that cannabis is supposed to have seeds. That’s how it survives. But through human ingenuity, we’ve engineered methods to be able to harvest seed-free, high potency nugs. No seeds in your buds means more room for the development of the trichomes and cannabinoids that consumers are seeking, but no seeds ever means no cannabis.
If you’re ready to take a crack at growing your own cannabis - where the law allows, of course - maybe hold on to the next dark brown, striped seed you find in your bag. Make sure it’s matured by giving it a little squeeze; no cracking and you're good to go! That little brown seed could be the beginning of a really cool journey.