How to visually identify a marijuana plant

Published Sep 2, 2019 09:00 a.m. ET
iStock / Olena Bondarenko

Whether you've planted some seed that you aren’t quite sure of or have come across a random growth in your garden, it might come in handy to learn how to properly asses a plant’s species. If you are here, then chances are you already have a plant that is assumed to be cannabis, and we are here to help. In this article you will find all of the essential basics including marijuana plant lookalikes, and things to look for that can you to help to confirm whether or not it is, in fact, some type of pot plant.

Other species that look like a marijuana plant

One of the most challenging things about visually identifying any plant species is that mother nature is full of lookalikes. These are just a few types of plants that are often mistaken for cannabis, so be sure to rule them out before taking any action.

  • Japanese Maple
  • Rose Mallow
  • Chaste Tree
  • Hemp
  • Cassava
  • Kenaf
  • Cranberry
  • Hibiscus
  • Coral Plant

5 things to look for to positively identify a marijuana plant

  1. Marijuana leaf points- Every cannabis plant has this one thing in common. If you count a total of seven points, with the middle one being the longest the rest slowly reducing in length, and all of those consist of smooth-edged leaves then the chances are pretty good that you are looking at a marijuana leaf. If there are jagged edges present, then it is most likely a lookalike.

  2. Smell- This one doesn’t require any skill, only a good nose and the ability to get within a few feet of the plant. Cannabis is widely known for it’s potent and pungent smell, but that scent is not only present with smoked, cured, or processed products. It is typically quite noticeable while the marijuana plant is in its prime and developing the terpene filled resins. This smell is often associated with skunk, or cat pee, and is easy to recognize if you know what to look for.

  • Color- The marijuana plant can come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors, but the majority will display bright green fan leaves alongside the more colorful bud. If the plant you are trying to identify has leaves that are any color other than green with minor hints of yellow, then it probably isn’t a marijuana plant.

  • Buds/pistils- These tend to come later in the development of a marijuana plant, so they might not be present or noticeable if it is too early in the season. However, pistils are naturally produced hairs that are either white, orange, or red, and can be found in bountiful quantities throughout the cannabis bud flowers. If the plant you are trying to name does not have pistils or buds, then it is ether incredibly immature, or from some other species.

  • Trichomes- Another indicator that comes later in a marijuana plant’s life are the trichomes. These microscopic plant materials contain and produce the THC that is often sought after for both medicinal and recreational purposes. They appear on the marijuana plant buds, and sometimes even on the smaller fan leaves, and look like tiny shiny crystals that can be broken free with a gentle brushing against the bud. If your plant doesn’t have trichomes, then it is either too immature to show them yet, or another species entirely. In this case, it is better to take a wait and see approach and check in again in a couple of weeks to see if there are any changes.

  • Companion plants for growing marijuana


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