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Cannabis Basics: Phenotypes

By Danyal Swan May 31, 2023

Cannabis is a complex yet fascinating plant. One of the most interesting aspects of cannabis is its diverse range of observable characteristics or phenotypes. A complex interplay of genetics and environmental factors influence the formation of a marijuana phenotype.

Cannabis phenotypes significantly impact the effect and overall experience of a given cultivar. They determine a plant's physical traits, such as height and flower structure, and chemical qualities, such as CBD, THC, aroma, and terpene profiles. 

Dig in as we explore the world of cannabis genetics, including what cannabis phenotypes are, why they matter, and how they're instrumental in creating fun and exciting cannabis strains.  

What are Cannabis Phenotypes?

Cannabis cultivars comprise male and female plants, and they reproduce through pollination. Mature male plants release pollen that pollinates the flowers of the female plants and produces seeds. 

Each resultant seed produces a different genetic strain or a cannabis phenotype that combines the genetic materials from the parent plants. Once the seeds from mature females are mature, they're harvested and planted to produce a new cannabis cultivar. The resultant cannabis plants will have a distinct genetic combination from the original male and female cannabis plants. 

Cannabis cultivars feature different phenotypic traits, such as high THC or CBD content. Breeders selectively cross different cultivars to create new phenotypes with desirable traits. For instance, you might cross a high-THC strain with a cultivar with a fruity aroma to create a pleasant and high-potency phenotype. 

Cannabis breeders use this process to control lineage and create new and exciting cannabis cultivars. Selective cross-breeding produces plants with different observable physical characteristics. These characteristics include plant height, leaf shape, color, flower structure, and aroma. 

Subjecting a cannabis plant to different growth environments influences its dominant physical characteristics. It also allows you to create different cannabis phenotypes with diverse flavors, highs, and aromas.

How are Phenotypes Selected?

Cannabis plants are diploid—they contain genetic materials from mother and father plants. Genetic materials, environmental, and growth factors influence gene expression and determine the plant's dominant characteristic. Through selective breeding and controlling the growth factors such as climate, water, nutrition, sunlight, and more, breeders can trigger cannabis plants to express desirable traits. 

Phenohunting is the process of searching for specific, desirable qualities in cannabis cultivars. Phenohunting helps breeders identify and isolate specific phenotypes with desirable traits. 

The phenotype hunting process entails growing a large batch of cannabis plants from the same genetic lineage and eliminating the male plants. They then observe and test each female plant to identify the ones with specific desirable traits. 

Growers selectively breed the best plants to create new cultivars with desirable traits. The top desirable traits in a cannabis cultivar include unique flavor profiles, high potency, and resistance to pests and diseases. The ultimate goal of phenotype hunting is to identify the most potent and flavorful cannabis plant from a batch of seeds. The process helps cannabis growers identify plants with exceptional traits to meet varied customer needs and produce quality yields. 

Ultimately, phenotype hunting is a tedious, resource-intensive process that entails growing and testing hundreds or thousands of cannabis plants. However, it's a valuable tool for creating new and exciting cannabis cultivars to meet specific market demands. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Cannabis Phenotypes

Genetics are a heavy and confusing topic, whether discussing animal or plant genetics. Dive into some of the most common questions specific to cannabis phenotypes.

How are Phenotypes Made?

Phenotype describes a cannabis plant's physical characteristics, biochemistry, physical appearance, developmental growth, and behavior. A cannabis cultivar's phenotype results from a complex interplay of its genetic code (genotype) and external factors. 

The genotype—inherited genes—provides a blueprint for the plant's physical characteristics and development. However, various environmental factors, including nutrition, temperature, and exposure to toxins, influence the expressions of those genes. 

During a cannabis plant's growth and development, genes may be turned on or off in a specific pattern in response to specific environmental cues. The growing environment plays a significant role in determining the size, aromas, resin production, and overall quality of your cannabis plant. 

Subjecting cultivars to specific environmental cues triggers gene regulation. Gene regulation is the process by which genes are turned on and off. While some genes are always turned on, others only activate in response to specific environmental cues. Skilled growers subject cultivars to specific growing conditions to trigger the desired qualities and create specific phenotypes. 

What is the Difference Between Genotype and Phenotype?

Genotype is the genetic makeup of a cannabis plant or the genes inherited from its parents. Phenotype is the observable expression of these genes through the plant's physical appearance. Genotype describes the genes in a cannabis plant, whereas phenotype describes their physical manifestation.  

What is an F1 Phenotype? F2?

An F1 phenotype is the first generation offspring of two distinct but genetically stable cannabis parent plants. Crossing two parent strains with unique genotypes and phenotypes creates an F1 hybrid cannabis strain. The resultant hybrid cultivar expresses a combination of traits from both parent strains and exhibits a unique set of observable characteristics or phenotypes. 

However, F1 hybrids aren't stable and may produce a diverse range of phenotypes in subsequent generations. Further breeding and selection of desirable traits over multiple generations are necessary to create a stable hybrid cultivar with a consistent and predictable phenotype. 

F2 generation or second filial generation is an offspring from crossing two F1 cannabis plants. F2 generation shows a wider range of genetic variations than F1 plants. Typically, genetic traits hidden in F1 plants may appear in F2 generations. 

F1 individuals may carry two different versions of each gene and some gene versions aren't expressed in F1 generation due to dominance and other factors. When hidden genes are expressed in F2 generation, they produce a wider range of genetic traits and phenotypic characteristics. 

Why Do Phenotypes Matter?

Phenotypes are important to all parties—growers, breeders, and consumers—because they determine the observable characteristics of a cannabis plant. Phenotypes are core to the pheno hunting process as they allow breeders to create cultivars that meet the needs of the consumers. 

Selective breeding allows growers to cultivate buds and flowers with various potency, flavors, and aromas. Besides identifying the strongest options for consumers, growers can combine various characteristics to achieve a specific effect or high. 

Phenotypes matter because they influence the overall effect of a given marijuana cultivar. Through careful breeding, growers produce phenotypes that meet specific consumer needs. For instance, some cultivars are ideal for high-energy activities, others are more therapeutic, and some are ideal for bedtimes because of their calming and body-settling effects. 

Keep Learning About the Cannabis Plant

Learn About Cannabis At MUV FL

The world is only discovering the exciting world of the cannabis plant following its legalization. Breeders and growers are increasingly developing a diverse range of marijuana phenotypes for medicinal or recreational use. Learning more about the cannabis plant can help you make informed choices when using cannabis for recreational or medicinal purposes. 

At MÜV, we curate high-quality information about cannabis and stock superior quality to meet your varied needs. Take a look at our Strain Guide page for more educational content and to stash a wealth of cannabis knowledge. We'll help reduce your learning curve and make you a cannabis connoisseur in record time!

Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Contributor for Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.

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