Marijuana leaves: Discover their variety, shapes, colors and uses

The marijuana leaf is undoubtedly one of the most iconic symbols of cannabis culture. This green, spiky leaf has become recognized around the world, even by those unfamiliar with cannabis.

For the most knowledgeable, the cannabis leaf presents unique characteristics, such as its diversity of shapes and colors, sizes, and presence of structures such as trichomes and compounds in its resin. In this post, we will explain the characteristics of the marijuana leaf, its uses and benefits, as well as discuss some of the cultural and symbolic aspects associated with it.

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Characteristics of marijuana leaves

What is the shape of the marijuana leaf like?

The marijuana plant has palmatic compound leaves with leaflets almost always of odd number (5-7 leaflets), lanceolate, acuminate and serrated margins, and have bilateral symmetry.

Did you know that two marijuana plants can have very different leaves?

The Cannabis sativa plant has a multitude of uses; hemp varieties can be used to extract fiber for fabrics and paper, and the oil generated from the seeds is edible, as are the seeds. The plant can also be used for biofuel, biodegradable plastic, building and insulating material, personal care products and of course, one of its most well-known and controversial uses is its therapeutic possibilities [1].

In other words: Marijuana leaves are no exception to the variation found in the Cannabis sativa plant . As I mentioned in writing about the Cannabis sativa plant,“we could build our homes and cars, run them, clean ourselves, dress ourselves, eat and smoke from the same plant.”

This serves to explain that the cannabis plant has a great variety in its genome [2, 3] and phenotype [4, 5] including secondary metabolites (e.g., different types of cannabinoids and terpenes) and also leaf shape [6].

Different marijuana leaves showing differences in size and color.
Different marijuana leaves showing differences in size, number of leaflets. They may also present differences in color. Credit: Dr. Daniela Vergara.

Perhaps this great genomic and phenotypic variation is why the plant can be put to so many uses. And, for the same reason, marijuana leaves can be very varied in terms of their characteristics.

What does the shape of the marijuana leaf indicate?

Leaf shape in the plant has been of great importance to the industry, as it is used to describe the phenotype “broad-leafed plant” or “narrow-leafed plant”, and these characteristics have been associated with the possible effects of consuming certain varieties.

And although we know that these associations are incorrect, and that there is no correlation between leaf shape and other phenotypic characteristics, such as the amount or type of cannabinoids, height, or sex [6], the diversity of the marijuana plant is undoubtedly very interesting.

The shape of the marijuana leaf is independent of the amount or type of cannabinoids contained in the plant.

This is why the shape of the leaf or even of the plant cannot give us information about the cannabinoid and terpene compounds that the plant produces. In other words, plants with broad leaves can produce low or high cannabinoid contents, as these phenotypes have no association with each other. It is like dogs: they can be large or small and have white fur, since there is no association between fur color and size.

Does the shape of the leaf indicate whether it is sativa or indica?

Although many associate “sativa” groupings with narrow, light green leaves and “indica” type plants with broad, dark leaves, as I mentioned above, these associations have no correlation to the groupings. Furthermore, the groupings, “indica” or “sativa” are also not informative and do not mean much [4, 6]. If you are interested in the subject, you can read more about it in our post about the differences between indica and sativa marijuana. .

Types of marijuana leaves

How many types of marijuana leaves are there?

Each marijuana plant has two types of leaves: the bracts, which are the ones inside the inflorescence and can also have many trichomes, and the main leaves, whose main function is photosynthesis.

Sugar leaves or bracts

There are several types of leaves of the marijuana plant. There are the bracts or sugar leaves (known as sugar leaves, in English), which are those found between the inflorescence.

These bracts can have many trichomes, which are the plant organs where cannabinoid compounds and terpenes are produced. Precisely, they are called sugar leaves because they have a layer of tiny whitish trichomes, which mimic the appearance of sugar.

Cannabis sugar leaves
Detail of the sugar leaves of cannabis, with the appearance of sugar, due to the presence of trichomes.

Main sheets

There are also thefan leaves, which are important for photosynthesis.

The bracts are those leaves found inside the bud, while the main leaves are large and responsible for photosynthesis.

Marijuana plant showing the main leaves and the bracts or leaves closest to the bud. In addition, the leaves may have different colors.
Marijuana plant showing the main leaves and the bracts or leaves closest to the bud. In addition, the leaves may have different colors.

Marijuana leaf colors

The leaves of the Cannabis sativa plant can also vary in color, as can the rest of the plant.

The different colors of the marijuana leaf can be due to different causes. In the purple marijuana the lilac or red color is due to the production of anthocyanins; the yellow color is usually due to the presence of carotenoids, and the green color is due to chlorophyll.

In addition, such color changes may be related to plant senescence, diseases and growing conditions, such as the lack or presence of certain nutrients, or soil pH.

The leaves can have many colors due to the anthocyanins produced by the plant.

Uses of marijuana leaves

Trim or cannabis sting

The leaves that are harvested from marijuana are the bracts, known as sugar leaves. The selection of those plants with many trichomes in their bracts allows them to be processed and used for the elaboration of products like CBD trim mix and the CBD buds preliados .

The bracts of the plant of Cannabis sativa can have many trichomes, the organs where cannabinoids and terpenes are produced.

In reality, trim is a by-product of the manicuring of the CBD buds It contains both sugar leaves and small pieces of flowers.

On the other hand, the main leaves of the plant are never used, due to their scarce presence of trichomes, and therefore, of aromas and effects. They are usually discarded or used as hemp biomass.

You can tell me, my consumer friends, if you liked this monograph on the most famous leaf in cannabis culture, the protagonist of T-shirt designs, purses with marijuana leaves, stickers and various objects.

  1. Ahmed, A.F., et al., Hemp as a potential raw material toward a sustainable world: A review. Heliyon, 2022: p. e08753.
  2. Pisupati, R., D. Vergara, and N.C. Kane, Diversity and evolution of the repetitive genomic content in Cannabis sativa. BMC genomics, 2018. 19(1): p. 156.
  3. Vergara, D., et al., Genomic evidence that governmentally produced Cannabis sativa poorly represents genetic variation available in state markets. Frontiers in plant science, 2021: p. 1502.
  4. Smith, C.J., et al., The phytochemical diversity of commercial cannabis in the United States. PLoS one, 2022. 17(5): p. e0267498.
  5. Stack, G.M., et al., Season-longcharacterization ofhigh-cannabinoidhemp (Cannabis sativa L.) reveals variation in cannabinoid accumulation, flowering time, and disease resistance. GCB Bioenergy, 2021. 13(4): p. 546-561.
  6. Vergara, D., et al., Widely assumed phenotypic associations in Cannabis sativa lack a shared genetic basis. PeerJ, 2021. 9.

Dra. Daniela Vergara
Investigadora y catedrática | Especialista en cultivos emergentes y consultora de cannabis

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