The Mother of Genetics
By Micheal Govender
As a cannabis grower, consumer and breeder, I’m always amazed when I see unique strains with mind blowing traits. Ground-breaking achievements have taken place over the last decade with regards to genetics and in particular, botanical genetics. Cannabis seeds are extremely easy to find, but if you don’t know the basics of genetics it can make for a difficult choice. Financial loss and feelings of dismay are things we all want to avoid.
Rule #1 – Never select strains based solely on the fancy name it was given, look at the genetic lineage of the plant and specifically the breeder’s reputation.
Rule #2 – Pure genetics are what breeders worldwide search for. Endemic strains have adapted and developed certain genetic characteristics unique to that geographic location. If you are growing outdoors, then be sure to choose strains most suitable for your climate.
Research has led us to believe that cannabis first originated in the Hindu Kush mountains of Pakistan, as well as tropical areas along the equator. These species of cannabis grew on their own in the wild with no human influence, adapting and evolving over thousands of years. We call these very special plants Landrace strains. There are two main varieties or phenotypes, namely Indica and Sativa.
As cannabis became illegal in most countries, cultivators were forced to move from outdoor to indoor growing. This drastic change in habitat paved the way for a number of genetic adaptations in cannabis plants due to human-environmental manipulation. It may seem simple, but consider the drastic change that fluctuations in soil type, amount of light as well as the angle of light create for food crops. The photoperiod length and distance between plant and light source have also resulted in many adaptations.
As indoor cultivation became common, hybridization of the popular Indica and Sativa strains began. This was a defining moment in the evolution of cannabis as growers increasingly experimented with the cross breeding of resin-coated Indica buds and Sativa buds. Sativa’s are known for their uplifting effects. This hybridization has resulted in a virtually endless variety of genetically variant cannabis strains, each with their own unique flavour, appearance and effect.
Rule #3 – Knowledge is power, and even more so when choosing the right strains for your grow.
Cannabis strains can be categorized into two main phenotypes, pure cannabis strains which are 100% Indica, Sativa or Ruderalis, and hybrid varieties, which are a combination in varying degrees of these three. Created to enhance characteristics of a plant, breeding has become an exact science with top honours awarded to some of our South African masters.
Cannabis Sativa is believed to have originated in the equatorial countries of Colombia, Mexico, Thailand and South East Asia – all of which are relatively warm so the plants thrive in warmer climates. Sativa plants can be identified by their extremely sharp pungent smell which ranges from sweet and fruity, to pepper-like and earthy, with hints of diesel fuel. Sativa plants can grow relatively tall with heights reaching up to 4.5 meters. They have long internodes and branches, and large, narrow-bladed leaves. Sativa plants have long vegetation periods, growing and flowering can take up to six months. This results in a higher yield compared to Indica strains; however, the percentage of THC is lower than Indica strains on average. Since the vegetation period is longer, it is difficult to cultivate pure Sativa indoors. Sativa strains are recognized by their uplifting and energizing properties, and they tend to have a steady onset. Some other common notes about Sativa strains include:
- A deep sense of creativity
- Increased focus
- Reduced nausea
- Increased appetite
- Headache and migraine relief
- Muscle relaxation and pain relief.
Cannabis Indica plants are short with fat and wide leaf blades. The average THC content is typically more than Sativa strains. The short height of Indica plants means that they can be grown indoors quite easily. Flowering periods of Indica strains are typically between eight to twelve weeks. Flavours and aromas of Cannabis Indica varieties can range from pine, skunk, earth, from harsh to a sweet and sugary flavour. An Indica high is known by users as a “body buzz”. It has strong pain and muscle relaxation properties in addition to its recreational use. Some of the common uses of Indica strains in medicine include the treatment of:
- Chronic pain
- Muscle spasms
- Nausea, Appetite
- Insomnia, Fibromyalgia and Lupus.
The major difference between Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica can be defined by their different height, vegetation period, intermodal length, leaf size, leaf shape, bud size, bud density, odour, smoke, THC levels, CBD levels and their effects.
The most distinctive feature of the Ruderalis species is its flowering cycle. This is induced according to its maturity as opposed to being affected by light exposure. Auto flowering occurs between 21 and 30 days of vegetation regardless of the light cycle, and the plant is ready for harvest in 70 to 110 days from seeding. The Ruderalis strain does not have a high enough THC level to make it worthwhile for growers, but when combined with other strains from indica or sativa species, they can be used to create exotic auto-flowering hybrids. These hybrids contain unique potency and aromatic features of their genetic partners and have become very common in recent times.
Hybrid Cannabis Strains
When the three basic genetic types of cannabis strains are combined interchangeably, hybrid varieties with special traits can be cultivated. Hybrid varieties contain varying ratios of these three types of strains.
Types of hybrids
Inbred Line- also known as IBL. This hybrid strain is achieved by selective inbreeding. This preserves or stabilizes certain features in a strain. This does not mean that there won’t be any variation between seedlings, but they will share a number of characteristic traits with no phenotype variation.
F1 Hybrid – When two separate Inbred Lines are crossed, the result is an F1 hybrid. F1 hybrids are usually fast growers and high yielders outperforming either of their parents. IBLs also have a greater degree of variation between seedlings.
F2, F3, F4 Hybrids – F2 hybrids are the result of crossing two separate F1 hybrids. F3 and F4, similarly, are a crossing of F2 and F3 hybrid parents.
Types of Cannabis seeds
Regular Seeds – Regular cannabis seeds operate exactly how nature intended. They have a 50% chance of emerging as either male or female. As such, they allow breeders to create new cultivars and produce better-quality clones.
Feminised Seeds – Feminized cannabis seeds are genetically engineered to only develop female plants and they almost always do so (99.9% success rate). By eliminating the game of chance, this advancement has made growing cannabis much easier, as well as more economical.
How to Select Mother Plants
There’s nothing quite like preserving your own mother plant in all her glory. But how exactly do you choose which plant to call mom? Here are 5 simple tips when choosing the right mother plant:
Always use Regular Seeds – The main concern with using feminized plants is the increased risk of hermaphroditism. Remember, mother plants are kept in the vegetative phase for a long time and undergo regular pruning. This results in a lot of stress for the plant which in some feminized varieties can trigger the sudden production of male flowers.
Use F1 Hybrids – F1 plants are generally considered the best of both parents, usually making for a very strong set of genetics.
Filter out the Males – First, you’ll need to germinate your seeds as you would usually. Then, take cuttings from your plants before they enter pre-flowering. Most growers take cuttings in the third week of vegetative growth. This is because clones have the same biological age as their donors, and cuttings from a flowering plant will continue to flower. Remember to label all your cuttings clearly and note which donors they came from, then continue growing them under your regular vegetative growth light cycle (most growers opt for 18/6 hours light/dark). In the meantime, you can flower your donors (keeping in mind to do so in a different grow space, obviously). Pay close attention to each plant and remove any males as quickly as possible. You would also need to take their corresponding clones and dispose of them as well to avoid pollinating any of your females.
- Yield and aroma
- Flavour and potency
Remember, picking the right mother plant depends mainly on your preference as a grower or smoker. You will want to pay close attention to both your donors and cuttings. Filter out the plants you are not happy with and remember that discretion is key.