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Marijuana Phenotypes and Genotypes

What are Marijuana Phenotypes and Genotypes and Why Do They Matter?

Historic accounts place marijuana’s discovery anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 years ago. Even in the very beginning, healers recognized its medicinal benefits and therapeutic properties. Over the centuries since this powerful plant first came to light, an estimated 800 strains have been identified or developed via hybridization.

Exploring Some of the Differences of Cannabis Strains

Each strain of cannabis is unique and offers its own list of health benefits, recreational advantages, flavors, and aroma profiles. Some grow from seedling to harvest quickly whereas others take several months to produce ripe buds. Certain varieties are tall and spindly while others are short and bushy.

On top of all those differences, some factors can even create variations among strains in the same family. The amounts of heat, light, water, and oxygen plants get might cause members of the same strain to have very different potencies, tastes, and scents. Something as minor as changes in mineral concentrations in the soil can even cause disparities.

Though each of those factors has a distinct bearing on how your gorilla glue 4 plants grow and mature, their intrinsic genes truly make all the difference. In cannabis, as is the case in all living things, DNA and the traits it generates are broken down into two important classifications: genotype and phenotype. Those elements determine what the plant should ultimately be and how its genetic traits are presented.

Explaining Genotype and Phenotype

Genotype refers to the genes within a living organism. This aspect determines whether a cannabis plant is a member of the sativa, indica, or ruderalis family. It decides how much CBD and THC the plant’s buds contain as well as how they will smell and taste. It also defines how the buds will affect users when consumed. Of course, when hybrids come into play, they carry the genes of more than one strain.

Phenotype is the outward expression of the genotype. It’s the physical manifestations of a plant’s inner genotype. Genotype determines a plant’s phenotype, but its phenotype is simply a result of its genotype and other factors.

Ruderalis’ specific genotype evolved in areas with short days, little sunlight, and a minimal growing season. Because of this, its phenotype includes being shorter than other strains, having fewer blades on its leaves, having sparser branches, and producing fewer buds. It’s also an autoflowering strain, meaning it produces buds based on the plant’s age rather than the number of light and dark hours it receives each day. Male versions will of course produce autoflowering seeds, and continue this advantageous trait to its offspring.


Indica’s genotype developed in harsh climates as well, but it adapted over time to varied growing conditions. It’s originally a photoperiodic strain as opposed to an autoflowering one because its native regions experience long days and short nights that balance out a bit over the course of the growing season. Its phenotype manifests as shorter, stockier plants with wider leaves and thicker growth than its ruderalis cousin. It also produces greater volumes of buds with higher levels of CBD.

Sativa, on the other hand, has a genotype born of regions with long, hot, sunny days and short, warm nights. Plants of this strain usually fall under high thc seeds, with lower CBD levels programmed into their DNA. Of course there are rare exceptions to this like the high CBD sativa seeds for cbd jack herer. The Sativa phenotype often presents a greater height than other strains. In fact, some plants grow as tall as 12 feet. Sativa plants also exhibit a spindlier appearance and thinner leaves with more abundant buds.

Digging Deeper

Indica, sativa, and ruderalis are the three primary cannabis strains that arose naturally in various corners of the globe. Several variations of these strains also evolved due to different environmental factors in their specific regions. Each new strain developed its own unique genotype and resulting phenotype. Some research even indicates viruses from ages long past infected early marijuana plants and helped shape their DNA as well as their visible outer traits.

Now, let’s further discuss hybrid marijuana seeds for a moment. Each marijuana strain has its own set of desirable innate traits, but no one strain offers everything all growers and partakers want. Because of this, scientists began to play around with the genotypes of those strains to breed interesting new combinations.

Those inventive and adventurous minds discovered numerous ways to combine and manipulate the genotypes of marijuana plants. They experimented with merging sativa and indica DNA to produce varying cannabinoid levels and combinations. They brought together the potency of sativa with the smaller stature of indica to give growers stronger effects despite having minimal growing spaces. Growers can also benefit from the shorter growing cycles of indica without sacrificing the potency of sativa.

Of course, ruderalis can’t be ignored, either. It’s the underdog of the cannabis world because of its sparse bud production, weaker potency, and lack of THC. Still, its genotype and phenotype have certain positive elements. Since ruderalis adapted to some of the harshest growing conditions on the planet, it’s naturally a hardy strain. Plenty can be said for its shorter growth cycles and autoflowering capacity as well.

Most hybridization takes place in a lab or on a cannabis farm. Experienced growers and experts in the field of plant genetics choose which strains to work with to achieve the desired new strain with all the right genes to serve their purposes.

This doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with breeding some of your favorite strains at home. Keep in mind, though, it’s not exactly a straightforward process. Without a certain level of knowledge and a highly controlled environment, you may not be able to achieve the results you’re looking for.

Why Does All This Matter?

Many of you may be reading this with a raised eyebrow wondering why any of this information is important. After all, you’re probably not looking for a degree in horticultural genetics. You just want to grow a healthy cannabis crop and reap the rewards of a bountiful harvest. In truth, genotype and phenotype matter greatly for several reasons.

First off, let’s take a look at genotype’s significance for your marijuana garden. As mentioned, genetics determine how potent your buds will be, their innate levels of THC and CBD, how well the plants will hold up under various growing conditions and every other aspect imaginable. All the DNA each of your plants will ever have is packed tightly into a tiny seed.

Because of that, the type and quality of the marijuana seeds you plant will ultimately play into the end results. Without strong, high-quality DNA, of all the time and effort you devote to your crop will be in vain. Getting your seeds from a trusted cannabis seed bank offering an extensive selection to choose from is the first and, possibly, the most important factor in the growing process. From there, the matter branches out a bit.

Altering the Course of Your Cannabis Crop

Nothing you do during the lifecycle of your marijuana plants will change their genotypes. Their DNA either evolved over centuries of natural selection or was carefully modified through human intervention. You’ll have certain slight variations even in seeds of the same strain, but their genes are present and fixed from the beginning.

That said, everything you do from the moment the seeds reach your hands could affect which genetic traits come forward and which ones get lost in the mix, or the plants’ phenotypes. From the care you put into germination to the environment your plants sprout and grow in, every detail will impact the size and quality of your harvest.

That’s why providing everything your blue dream plants need and paying close attention to signs of stress is so vital to the overall outcome. Many experts insist plants grown outdoors offer larger, higher-quality yields because that’s the way marijuana evolved in nature. Nutrient-rich soil, sunlight, rainwater, fresh air, and all the other advantages of the great outdoors bring out the best of the plants’ ingrained DNA. In turn, this ensures all the right phenotypes come forward.

Others are quick to point out quite a few modern strains of cannabis were specifically bred to thrive indoors. Making the most of their genotypes simply means putting extra care and effort into the growing process. Even something as seemingly minor as failing to monitor soil pH or forgetting to change out your grow lights as plants reach the flowering stage could greatly hamper the physical expression of their inner DNA.

Getting Consistent Results

It’s also only fair to point out giving your plants all the light, heat, humidity, nutrients, and air they need to flourish may not generate consistent phenotypical results. As we mentioned, DNA is bound to vary slightly among seeds of the same strain or even from the same plant. You might notice small idiosyncrasies throughout your garden in spite of your best efforts.

One of the most surefire ways of getting consistent results from your marijuana crops is cloning. If you find that you have fallen in love with a few specific strains, simply cut pieces from the parent plants and grow new crops from them. You can clone basically any type of strain (kush seeds, diesel seeds, or cookie seeds). Still, variations in the environment and other factors could alter the phenotypes of the cloned plants. Feel free to follow our helpful cloning guide for further information and advice on this topic.

Bottom Line

Genotype is the inherent DNA of your cannabis plants. It’s permanent and unchanging, but this isn’t always evident among members of the same strain. Phenotype, on the other hand, is the physical manifestations of the ingrained DNA of your crop. Every aspect of the growing environment could change the appearance of your plants as well as the size, quality, potency, flavor, aroma, and effects of the buds you harvest.

Start off with good genes when growing cannabis at home. The most foolproof way of doing this is by getting your seeds from a reliable USA seed bank. From there, pay close attention to your crop, and be sure you’re giving it everything it needs to thrive. You may not get identical results from each crop or even each plant in a single crop, but you’re guaranteed to enjoy greater consistency as well as all the benefits hiding deep within the plant’s DNA.