Life doesn’t always go according to plan; this is as true for cultivating cannabis as when you’re stoned and hungry, head for the kitchen, and immediately forget what you came to the kitchen for in the first place.
When genetics start doing wonky things, we get wonky results. Its not uncommon that a cannabis seedling will pop out of the ground expressing a mutation. Sometimes, these mutations show up later in the plants life, and sometimes they are instigated purposefully. Often they don’t have much of an impact on flower and cannabinoid production, but of course sometimes they do! There are even mutations that disrupt the growth of cannabis so much as to cause it virtually look nothing like what you’ve come expect from a cannabis plant while still producing smokable flower.
In this article we’re going to take a look at some of the most common mutations you might find being expressed by the plants in your garden.
In the simplest possible terms, cannabis mutation refers to “errors” in genetic code which cause the plant to grow differently than expected. These sort of errors in genetic code are issues that humans and animals deal with as well – Down Syndrome is an example of a common genetic mutation found in humans.
Mutations can be incredibly harmful to typical maturation and development of a cannabis plant, just as it can be in a human. On the other hand, genetic mutations can be beneficial as well, or even go completely unnoticed. Some mutations effect simple things such as the leaf shape, or colour, where as other mutations might lead to sterility or more vigorous plant growth.
Let’s take a look at a few common mutations and identify which ones might be useful and for what reasons.
Just like gorillas, humans, dogs, and any other animal you can think of, plants can express albinism as well. Variegation is a mutation which causes parts of cannabis plants to not produce chlorophyll and to appear albino. This mutation usually expresses itself as only affecting part of the leaf, however all of the leaves have the exact same affectation. If the mutation were to affect the entirety of the leaf and plant, it wouldn’t be able to survive and wouldn’t grow! This is because, of course, chlorophyll is an essential part of plant life and without it, plant life simply doesn’t happen.
This mutation is a sought after aesthetic for some collectors, and during the earlier years of CBD breeding, it was a very common mutation to find in CBD strains. This is because variegation and CBD production are both recessive genetic traits which are difficult to isolate from each other in selective breeding. This said, it is as rare today to find variegation in CBD varieties as it is in THC varieties.
In general, this sort of mutation will most likely cause a reduced yield and produce a weaker plant.
Like humans, cannabis is a diploid organism. This means that it has two sets of chromosomes, one from each of its parents. Unlike humans, however, cannabis has the capacity to have more than just two sets of chromosomes and continue to live and even thrive. Polyploids have more than two sets of chromosomes, and cannabis can be found as tetraploid (4 sets) and as triploid (3 sets) in addition to its commonly found diploid version. While this can occur naturally just after germination it is extremely rare, and this is usually induced artificially by using a chemical called colchicine. This chemical is incredibly toxic and should not be handled by individuals who are not thoroughly educated in its risks and safe-use.
Polyploids are really cool genetic mutations that can be beneficial, depending on your goals. Triploid cannabis plants produce no seeds, or very very few, and are sterile. On the other hand, tetraploid plants tend to be incredibly vigorous and more productive than diploid plants.
In order to create tetraploid plants, this toxic chemical – colchicine – is used on the living plants. In order to produce triploid plants, a tetraploid is crossed with a diploid plant.
This mutation is one of the more common mutations. Cultivators usually get a bit giddy to see this mutation because it just looks so interesting. Leaf buds are just what they sound like – buds that grow directly from the middle of the leaf instead of out of a node as they usually do. These buds rarely gain any real volume or weight, and in fact many cultivators will remove these leaves knowing that the plant will direct the energy of bud production towards nodes which have the capacity for more and better production. This being said, it’s very pretty and won’t affect the normal maturation of your cannabis plant.
Have you ever cracked an egg to find two egg yolks in the same egg? This is called polymbryony and its something that – you guessed it – can happen in cannabis seed as well. Although its rare, its not entirely uncommon either and there is some benefit to be had to finding two seedlings in the same seed during germination.
One of the seedlings that sprouts from the seed will be the normal progeny of the crossing of its parent genetics. In other words, it will be the expected seedling from the seed. The other seedling will actually be an identical clone of its mother! It’s very possible to separate these two seedlings and for both of them to grow out and have normal growth and development. Depending on the seed stock, it could really be your lucky day to end up with a seedling that is a clone of the mother used to create the seed in the first place.
Australian Bastard Cannabis (ABC) is one of the craziest mutations that exists. At some point in Australia in the last two hundred years, a mutated form of cannabis was found which appears very different than any other cannabis around the world. Producing primarily leaves and stems, this bushy, ditch-weed like cannabis was painstakingly bred into what we know today as ABC. Originally, there was very little cannabinoid content to this plant, but the selective breeding for this recessive mutation means that today THC potency has been boosted dramatically while still maintaining the alien like look that is so characteristic of this mutation.
Some cultivators might find this particular mutation to be incredibly useful for stealth cultivation and guerrilla grows because it would be very difficult to tell that it was cannabis if you didn’t know exactly what you were looking at. The draw backs of this particular mutation are diminished yield and lower potency compared to many of the modern varieties without the mutation which are available on the market at seed banks like Seedstockers.
Have you ever seen a plant that is producing more than two sets of leaves or nodes at each site? This mutation is another beneficial mutation. It results in bushier, bigger plants, even if it can result in some pretty odd looking buds and leaves. Unlike other mutations, this mutation is not passed down to the offspring, so it is not a trait that can be selected for in breeding.
The future of cannabis will definitely involve polyploid genetics, as commercial production continues to be motivated by big yields of potent buds. Genetics like Australian Bastard Cannabis are great examples of mutations which have been selected for through breeding in such a way that we’ve created entirely new varieties of cannabis.
While these are just a few of the most common mutations that are found in cannabis, the reality is that there are many more, and its a lot of fun to discover and identify mutations you didn’t know about before or had maybe only read about.