When we were told (or discovered by other means) about the “birds and the bees” of life, talk about the “flowers and the trees” was often omitted, and understandably so. Nonetheless, plants do indeed reproduce, but unlike most mammals, there is not always a male of the species and a corollary u. Confusingly though, sometimes there is.
Some species of plants have what botanists refer to as a “perfect” flower. All this means is that both the male and female elements are housed within the same floral structure, so that another flower on the same plant, or a flower on another plant altogether, is not needed.
Some common food crops that have perfect flowers include legumes like peas and beans, and fruit crops such as apples, pears, and cherries. These are sometimes referred to as “self-pollinating” plants.
When a flowering plant does not possess perfect flowers, then it will generally fall into one of two categories: monoecious or dioecious.
What Are Monoecious Plants?
The term “monoecious” is borrowed from Greek and means “one house”. That is to say that monoecious plants have both male and female flowers on the same plant, but not the same blossom.
The two types of flowers are distinct on a monoecious plant. Monoecious plants are also sometimes referred to as hermaphrodites since they have both male and female reproductive organs. This however is only accurate if both are on the same, perfect flower. A classification of “bisexual” is more accurate when the plant produces both male and female flowers separately.
Many common food crops are monoecious. Corn is monecious. The tassel that appears at the top of a corn stalk is the male flower, which produces pollen that then falls down, or is more likely blown onto a neighboring stalk, onto receptive female blossoms that once pollinated develop into ears of corn.
Cucurbits are also monoecious. These include such crops as cucumbers, squashes and pumpkins. Unlike corn however, the flowers are much more similar in appearance and the difference between male and female flowers in generally only determined by the presence or absence in the center of the blossom of a stamen (male flower) or pistil (female flower).
Gardeners who are unaware of this difference may be disappointed when they see that not all of their flowers are developing fruit. Of course, only the female flower will produce fruit. This is also why some people that eat cucurbit blossoms need to tell the difference so that they are only removing male blossoms from their cucurbits.
What Are Dioecious Plants?
Dioecious plants are those that have distinct male and female plants, each with a respective male or female flower. This word too has Greek origins and you guessed it, it means “two houses” relating to the fact that the male flower is on the male plant and the female flower is on a separate female flower.
Fewer food crops are dioecious, but asparagus and spinach are two frequently grown examples. Unless the purpose is to allow them to flower to collect seeds, whether the plant is male or female is relatively unimportant, though male asparagus plants tend to yield more than female ones.
Is Cannabis Monoecious or Dioecious?
Cannabis gets its own category here since it can be either monoecious or dioecious. It has become an important (not that it wasn’t before, just not legally) agricultural and a commercially viable crop and is becoming more of a legitimate commodity almost by the day.
Knowing that there are male and female flowers is important for the cultivation of cannabis. Most cannabis plants are dioecious. Monoecious plants, often called hermaphrodites, though not always classified correctly, do exist, but primarily female plants are grown.
Male plants are typically only grown by breeders attempting to create new strains. Marijuana from male plants, as well as cross-pollinated marijuana with seeds is typically sold as inferior products. The sought after cannabis is almost always that which was derived from purely female plants which were not exposed to any male plants.
If growing cannabis purely from clones, male plants are not needed. Interestingly though, if growing cannabis as hemp for fiber, male plants are generally more sought after as they produce softer fibers than female hemp plants, making them in higher demand for textile production.