Cannabis Genetics: Genotypes and Phenotypes

Cannabis Genetics, what makes a strain unique? For most cannabis uses, you have days when a particular batch of smoke stands out. You might be surprised by your “regular” Swazi as it might look and smell completely different to the last. Even from the same supply. Buds may be long, slender and smell earthy one day and be chunky and fruity on another. It’s the same strain, so what gives?

This cannabis genetics guide will carry you through all you need to know about the evolution of the cannabis plant. From its humble beginning to today’s modern and very advanced cultivation. At the end of this post I hope you will have a better understanding that not only does each strain have its own unique characteristics but also that each plant is as special as a golden egg. Each plant will express its unique genes not only according to the strain type but also the environment it’s grown in.

Genotypes & Phenotypes

The genetics and the environment that we grow our cannabis in will most influence the physical foundation of our plants. The plants genetic makeup that we call the genotype is like the blueprints for a new building. The genotype allows the range of physical possibilities the plant has but the environment needs certain characteristics to promote these.

The physical traits the plant may present are called phenotypes. Basically, the phenotypes are the physical traits found in the genetic code of the plant and are seen based on certain influences. Everything we see and smell from our cannabis is a result of that strains special genetic makeup. Shape, colour and resin production all result from the particular strain but also the environment we choose to grow our cannabis in.


Early Cannabis

Cannabis is undoubtedly an ancient plant with roots going back thousands of years. One of the earliest species said to have been grown in the middle east is Hindu Kush. This strain is as old as they get and originated from the mountainous region of Pakistan. These earliest strains are known as “landrace strains” and are the stepping stones for today’s powerful hybrids. Thousands of years of evolution have allowed these strains to express their very best traits for a specific growing environment. These areas that a landrace strain originates from and so will grow here with these very best traits are called “sweet spots”.

The short, extremely dense and resin-filled indicas originate from latitudes between 30 and 50 degrees and the slender and slower growing sativas are usually found around 30 degrees latitude. Such diverse environments have allowed a very colourful range of cannabis varieties. Each of these very different plants have their own unique and long-standing history.

The Great Indoors

In the USA during the 70s and 80s, Cannabis cultivation and breeding had a major shift thanks to anti-cannabis laws. Cannabis cultivation was driven from the great outdoors and pushed into underground growing. Indoor gardens and artificial lighting was now the name of the game. In today’s world, hydroponics and indoor weed produce the majority of the world’s supply. Now we can’t disagree that expertly grown indoor strains can produce amazing cannabis, however this unnatural environment can only bring out a certain amount of the plants potential.

During this early days, the new generation of indoor growing was mainly focused on THC content and so they chose this trait in plants over important cannabinoid content like CBD. One of the main advantages that indoor growing gives us is being able to control the growing environment.

We can see great variability in the plants physical traits by manipulating the following:

  • Nutrients and Temperature.
  • Angle and amount of light.
  • Soil type.
  • Photoperiod and harvest time.
  • Distance between lights and plants.

These along with many other changes in the growing environment can affect the plants traits. Certain conditions may “trick” the plant to show indica or sativa-like traits so we have to accept that some strains traits are not necessarily set in stone.

Cannabis Genetics

The Dawn of Hybrids

Along with the great indoor revolution came the dawn of hybrid cannabis strains. Hybrid strains are the result of “mixing” different global varieties. This is when sativa and indica were first introduced to each other and gave birth to a never-ending tree of hybrid babies. For the commercial growers, they favoured indicas for their shorter size and flowering period as well as their dense and highly resinous buds.

When we think of sativas and indicas being opposites in terms of the genetic range, then we can imagine the huge amount of varieties when crossing them to create a hybrid. Take White Widow for example: this is a 60/40 cross between a Brazilian sativa and a South Indian indica. White Widow may show traits anywhere on the range between its parents, depending on how it is grown. This is why we may see a White Widow plant with more sativa-like traits even though it is a indica-dominant strain. Now I’m not saying that strains are unpredictable, we just mustn’t be surprised if a certain strain doesn’t look like the picture on the seedbanks site.

Genetics as a Whole

Cannabis has come a long way thanks to revolutionary changes from indoor growing and hybrid strains. We now have an endless selection of strains to choose from. If you are a strain collector you will always have one to chase. True connoisseurs will definitely mourn the loss of some original landrace strains. However, they can try to resurrect some of them through breeding. Not only could these landrace strains be very beneficial for the medical industry but it would also enhance the recreational market too. I certainly hope that as social stigma and political road blocks fall. It will create a domino effect and the fantastic horticultural art of cannabis cultivation with flower again.

~ Seedly Team


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