by Seshata on 24/04/2013 | Cultivation

Everything you ever needed to know about cannabis leaves

Cannabis leaves The leaves are the most recognisable and well-known aspect of the cannabis plant, and have featured in our artwork for thousands of years, from regions as disparate as Japan to Egypt. Despite the great degree of variation found naturally in local populations of cannabis, the leaves do not alter greatly in appearance between varieties.

Cannabis leaf phyllotaxy

According to the standard phyllotaxy (the arrangement of leaves on a plant stem), cannabis leaves are compound (with multiple leaflets, as opposed to simple, where a single leaf grows from the stem) and decussate-opposite rather than alternate. Opposite leaves emerge in pairs, one each side of the stem, with a clear vertical space between the leaf pairs. Decussate leaves are opposite, but each new leaf pair is at a right-angle to the last pair. Alternate leaves emerge from the stem singly, swapping sides as the vertical height increases.

A Japanese cave painting depicting the hemp plant. It also features human figures, what appear to be horses, as well as waves. Its technique is simple.

Although cannabis leaves are usually decussate, as the plant prepares to flower the leaves may begin to emerge in an alternate pattern. Interestingly, rejuvenated cannabis plants demonstrate alternate phyllotaxy. Experiments with hemp showed that early-planted specimens, which flowered in low light conditions but did not die, began to put out new alternate leaf growth when hours of sunlight increased. The initial new growth was simple rather than compound, and as new growth continued, the number of leaflets gradually increased.

There is some evidence that this phenomenon leads to vegetative growth of greatly increased vigour, although the genetic processes responsible are not fully understood. It is thought that the evolution of opposite-decussate phyllotaxy occurred comparatively recently, from an alternate-leaved ancestor, and that the genes controlling the decussate phyllotaxy ‘switch off’ around the time of inflorescence.

A diagram showing leaves arranged along the stem in pairs. Below each stem is written in order from left to right: alternate spiral, alternate distichous, opposite decussate, and whorled. These describe the leaf arrangements.

Leaf differences between the three main subspecies

Putting aside the eccentricities of cannabis leaf growth for a moment, let us take a look at the differences between the three main subspecies of cannabis. C. sativa leaves are long and slender, often with pronounced serrations, giving the leaves a jagged, almost spiky appearance. The coloration of sativa leaves ranges from bright, lime green to blackish-green at the darkest. The largest leaves can often have up to thirteen leaflets.

A diagram displaying the different types of cannabis plants arranged vertically. Sativa is drawn light green with long and slender leaves. Indica is drawn dark green with wider leaves. Ruderalis is drawn medium green with smaller narrower leaves.

C. indica leaves are much wider, and the largest leaves usually have fewer leaflets than the largest sativa leaves, at seven to nine leaflets. Indica leaves are commonly deep olive-green; very light green leaves are rare and often a sign of deficiency.

C. ruderalis leaves are generally smaller than the other subspecies’, as the mature plant is much smaller overall, and the largest leaves may contain anything from five to thirteen leaflets. Ruderalis leaves are usually closer to the indica in terms of width, although they can be much narrower than any indica leaf would normally be.

Mutated patterns seen in cannabis leaves

The incredible variation in cannabis morphology throughout the world has led to some very unusual leaf patterns occasionally occurring. Many of these traits are seen as highly desirable due to their visual dissimilarity to “normal” cannabis, as they can serve to disguise a crop from the unwelcome attention of law enforcement in areas where cultivation is illegal.

Webbed leaves

Webbed leaves are a common mutation, and one which various breeders have attempted to stabilise. Such efforts have unfortunately not prevailed to the point where webbed varieties are now commercially available, although in the past it was possible to source webbed varieties such as Ducksfoot in seed form.

A photograph showing a close up of webbed cannabis leaves.

Whorled phyllotaxy

Whorled phyllotaxy is another common mutation, although this is less desirable as a concealment trait as the plants still definitely resemble cannabis. However, many growers find the trait desirable for cosmetic purposes, and some believe that such plants yield flowers of higher potency, although this has not been demonstrably proven.

 A top down photograph of a young cannabis plant in soil displaying whorled phyllotaxy leaves.

Australian Bastard Cannabis

Australian Bastard Cannabis is perhaps the most striking mutation yet seen in cannabis. It is believed that this mutation was first seen in escaped populations around Sydney, and breeders have attempted to stabilise the trait, although without commercial success. This mutation takes the form of hairless, succulent leaflets, usually with no more than five leaflets to a leaf. The individual leaflets usually do not exceed a few centimetres in length.

A photograph of a large bushel of the Australian Bastard Cannabis plant. It features hairless, succulent leaflets of only a few centimetres.

Despite the allure of cannabis that does not resemble cannabis, most attempts to breed viable strains using these genetics have ended in failure. Not unsurprisingly, the best results will usually be gained from healthy plants that exhibit normal characteristics. However, the success of breeding ruderalis genetics (which are poor in cannabinoids) with higher-potency varieties indicates that further research may yield improved results.

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it was of great help thanks!!! :)



very helpful! thanx



is there a difference in potency of the 3 variaties?



cow says moo tasty



Yes there is a big difference in potency between the 3 sub species. Sativa normally has the highest THC content, Indica is higher in CBDs and ruderalis is almost none existent.



Are the same thc and cbd percentage the same in leaves as in flowers?



I need suggestion for my plant


Richard Benson

Its really amazing thing you had discussed..



Very informative all the years of growing this was great to see that someone took the time to post this.. thank you


Prana Seeds

Hey Seshata. Good work.



this year while cultivating a strain i acquired in 79 i encountered something i have never seen on the plants that i believe are of Lebanese decent had 13 leaflets but not the standard pattern 12 and 13 came out in the #2 and 3 positions with the tips in the same direction as #2 and 3 the size was correct being the smallest they were just piggy backing 2 and 3 what do you think this occurred on several plants all from seed i am having the product tested Monday so i will let you know the results i am 50 and have cultivated since the curious age of 12 only in the past ten years have been trying to pull out the individual strains that were from the triangle year of 78 or 79 given to me by my bro by way of Darrell trip i believe



can you help me out please? ive just accidentally knocked off one of my leafs in its first step of seeding, the seed had just fallen off but one the leafs went with it, will my plant survive



info to know



if the leaves start to have brown patches on them,and crisping on the edge,why is that plz



It's most likely nitrogen burn. Stop feeding it for 3-5 days and give it straight water the start feeding again at about 2/3rds what you were feeding before.


Leon Panwaskar

Okay, so i've bought a house that was previously used to grow cannabis plants. In the loft there are approximately 8 bags of cannabis leaves, just the leaves, is there any value in these? can they still be smoked after being in there for over a year?



Doubtful. I wouldn't recommend smoking them, for sure. But you could try to extract any remaining cannabinoids using solvent/ice-water extraction. Depending on how they were stored, and at what temperature, there may still be something left in there. I wouldn't spend too much time on it as you're unlikely to get much out of it.


Thomas Lazarus

Can one suffering from Brain cancer directly ingest the calyx/Trichomes, from the plant. The procurement of cannabis oil is difficult and the production of oil at home is cumbersome and may not be produced in the desirable fashion. Does the Rudrallis variety of Cannabis plant have the same ingredients in its flowers as the Sativa or Indica? Thanks.



I have a og plant that has fan leafs (all) have 13 points and are almost 9" wide & long
I can't find anything tells me why



I believe I have one of the whorled phyllotaxy. .... 4 cotyledons on it, pics on rollitup look for mutant cannabis


Ronnie D.

Have new grow some R 5 leaf some have a little 6th leaf not a full one..I can send a photo if you need.



I asm appalled that mutations are being discussed as an option to breed and stabilize. All mutations are caused by man made ionizing, carbon life destroying isotopes. Why would I want to use such a crippled and broken DNA to breed with ???


Chris walther

having trouble with outdoor plants I have some yellow & brown spot on my leaves and don't no what it is ???



Hi Chris,
check out the Sensi Seeds forum for valuable information:

Good luck -





Sharon Hanna

How do you infuse in coconut oil?



I have a plant right now with the weirdest mutation ive ever seen. Its growing all started leaves kind of looks like a palm tree. Im still wondering whether the mutation will wffect its potency.


Harvest Day

I have a plant that's only growing starter leaves looks kind of like a fern



My plant leaves is not ragged on the ends it look like oval-shaped the ends is smoothly not ragged my plant is 3week old marijuana plants (cannabis plants I would like to know what kind is it thank boleiy



very very helpful thankyou very much



Do the number of leaves on a indica plant change the quality of the plant?



No it doesnt not really the best way to change the qaulity of the plant is to make sure you feed it excactly what it needs to be fed everytime and if its flowering it must have a 12 hour light cycle and when its in the dark the plant cannot get any light for 12 hours then it needs 12 hours of light and repeat until harvest


daki m

Are indin plant pholotaxy ke example do na


john pitie

sativa is the best.



I have a medical plant that has budded I think its about ready but now there is different leaves growing all off a sudden... Looks like a different plant is growing out of the systems can anyone help harvest now or leave it with is othe plant growing on the systems



Stoned! Awesome piece, stoned piece! ;-)


Nasstradamus. A.K.A. Nass.

Knowledge is power. Actually, what you people sells to us is the great information that allow me to know the basis of marejuana, canabis, sativa, indeca and rudrallis. But what l dont understand here is which one is best for smoking with rolling paper, becouse mutulation is man made it may be conterdeminated in one process or the other. While smoking it naturally will be the best way of using it? Please help me the more couse we only smoke it. Thanks to you all over there. #One Love.



I have a plant with 3 milk leaves I have never seen this trait it's also whirling leaf pattern



I have a 6 leave plant still waiting to see if its a male or female its 2 1/2 weeks. but never see all 6 leaves before. could it be a hybrid?


Summer time

I would like to know how to tell if my plants are male or female by the leafs any answers ? Thank you


Scarlet Palmer

Hello Summer, thank you for your comment.

It is not possible to tell what sex a plant is from its leaves, only from the flowers, which will not appear until a couple of weeks (usually) after the flowering cycle begins. This post on the Sensi Seeds forum has tips on how to recognize males from females, and this blog post has good photos and also handy tips for what you can do with males.

With best wishes,




How can u tell the difference between a hemp plant and marijuana plant that's growning wild?



This is a great post; it was very edifying. I look ahead in reading more of your work.


Simon Young

If anyone is wondering what to do with the leaves.

Dry them in an oven, turn the leaves into a powder and mix those in clarfied butter, use this to make your edibles with.



I started my plant outdoors as a clone. It had a handful of 7 prong fan leafs, then the new growth went to having 5 prongs, and new everything new only has 3. Any rhym or reason why?


Scarlet Palmer

Hello Ted,

Thank you for your comment ? Unfortunately we cannot respond to grow questions on the blog, but we do have the Sensi Seeds Forum where you can ask a thriving community of gardening fans for advice, share your experiences, and see if your question has already been covered. I hope this helps.

With best wishes




Ive just started to plant a few seeds in my south africa garden... so do both males and females bud or am I just hoping for females



This info was very helpful but I have a question how do I tell which is female an male kinda having a hard time telling


Dave van leeve

Having been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer of the prostrate, bones and glands and told I had 2 months, I have been taking cannabis for 6 months and continued doing gym under strict supervision. All of my vital signs have come back to normal and I am in remission. PSA was 2391, now 0.4 bone density is now above normal. I am a believer.


Lynne price

Hi Dave van Leeve
That is fantastic news. I hope it continues to help.
How are you using the cannabis. Eating raw or smoking?
I have just started growing my own and have read about how good the leaves sre for juicing and smoothies for health purposes. I also want to try it to see if it helps my bone marrow disease.
Kind regards


Jeremy foran

I hope to see it's decriminalization in Ireland in the next decade.



I think Im spoiled. I had one great crop of Ghost Train. Last two crops have grown tall and wispy. Nodes of white hairs intermittent along stem to top. No bulk happening. And leaf deformities. single and triple leaf leaves sprouting along stem. Hiars on nodes not turning yet so I am assuming there not ready yet. Have not looked at trycombes yet but to naked eye have not yet turned amber. Hairs still white and tricombs white ,, weather clear or cloudy still white.
My problem is ,,, why are my buds not bulking up. Scronny stems.. Getting frustrated. Wish I could post a pic. If someone is willing to help me with this I would be forever grateful as I have some Purple trainwreck in route and if I cant get bud ,, Im going to wrap up this 3000.00 dollar Ebb n Flo suystem and give up. PLZ HELP

Thank You Whomever!!!!!



If there is no bulking in about a day then you have to start harvesting instantly



My plant has just started to kinda look dry an there are dark grey to black "stains" on my leaves. Started it from a seed I found. Any idea what's wrong? I also changed my lighting recently and have now gone back to what it almost was before.


Scarlet Palmer

Hello Susan

Thank you for your comment 🙂 Unfortunately, for legal reasons we cannot respond to grow questions on the blog, but we do have the Sensi Seeds Forum where you can ask a thriving community of gardening fans for advice, share your experiences, and see if your question has already been covered. I hope this helps.

With best wishes




Thank you, this was very informative for me. Keep up the good work 👍



one of my plants during its seedling stage has lost 1 of its 2 very first leafs, will my plant survive ?


Scarlet Palmer

Hi kaleb,

Thank you for your comment 🙂 Unfortunately, for legal reasons we cannot respond to grow questions on the blog, but we do have the Sensi Seeds Forum where you can ask a thriving community of gardening fans for advice, share your experiences, and see if your question has already been covered. I hope this helps.

With best wishes



Sandra Trask

I would like to know if marijauna leaves have a sweet perfume smell if rubbed together. I found a plant that looks like marijauna but I am quite ignorant on the subject. what part of the plant is smoked? Thanks for your insight Older Wannabe


Scarlet Palmer

Hi Sandra,

Thanks for your comment. Cannabis definitely has a distinctive smell, but it varies between strains, so is not always sweet. The flowers are the part which is smoked or otherwise consumed for its psychoactive properties; the leaves can also be juiced and even eaten, but this is usually for health reasons, not to achieve a psychoactive effect. There are a few plants that are similar in appearance to cannabis, so it is wise to make sure that you know what it is before you start experimenting with it! Please have a look at this post on growing cannabis outdoors which has some good pictures of different outdoor cannabis plants, and check out the Sensi Seeds Forum for tons of useful information.

With best wishes,



dandy don

what do you do with a plant that only produce leaves ?



Thank you!! My leaves have 7-9 lobes and now I know why!! Awesome ;)



I started growing an plant. And originally I had it planted outside for 100% natural growth. I come back weeks later from a trip and a friend change the plant settings where I was explained half of the roots of the plant is ripped off. And place new soil for "weed enhancement". The German weed soil company says it is the " best" on the market. Now what I see with my own eyes, black and brown spots forming, coloration went from nice dark colored green to now, well, faded green. I have lost four leaves where it turned yellow on me. And the smell is also gone, it smells like a normal plant of any.
This is what's being used....
Alega Grow by Plagron,
and Growthmix also by Plagron.
Ive done research on these products and says its good,but the results I see I completely the opposite.
All the instructions is being followed, but not getting the results, why?


Scarlet Palmer

Hi Daniel,

Thank you for your comment 🙂 Unfortunately, for legal reasons we cannot respond to grow questions on the blog, but we do have the Sensi Seeds Forum where you can ask a thriving community of gardening fans for advice, share your experiences, and see if your question has already been covered. I hope this helps.

With best wishes



Dani M.

Thanks for the information. I almost tossed my crop because I thought they were deformed. I am new to growing. So thank you very much. Any suggestions from other reader's would be accepted with open arms. Thank you.


Dawn Mcnay

I have a plant that has went from three leaf to one leaf on wondering what is going on can you please tell me somebody


Scarlet Palmer

Hello Dawn,

Thank you for your comment 🙂 Unfortunately, for legal reasons we cannot respond to grow questions on the blog, but we do have the Sensi Seeds Forum where you can ask a thriving community of gardening fans for advice, share your experiences, and see if your question has already been covered. There is also this post on mutations, perhaps you recognise something here? I hope this helps.

With best wishes




Need help have some out door clones they started off perfect and not have shot a heap of singular leaves :/ never seen this before anyone have and info for me?


Scarlet Palmer

Hi Zeunz,

Thank you for your comment 🙂 Unfortunately, for legal reasons we cannot respond to grow questions on the blog, but we do have the Sensi Seeds Forum where you can ask a thriving community of gardening fans for advice, share your experiences, and see if your question has already been covered. I hope this helps.

With best wishes




I think this guide was pretty "dope" and better understood my learning in this stuff


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