Like every other living thing, cannabis undergoes the occasional genetic mutation. While this might sound somewhat undesirable, the truth is that these random alterations are vital for the survival of the species, by allowing it to develop new traits and enhancing its adaptability to changing environments. That said, many of the mutations that cannabis growers come across are just plain weird.
Cannabis is a diploid species, which means each of its cells has a total of two chromosomes, one of which is inherited from each parent. However, every now and then, a mutation occurs whereby these chromosomes are duplicated, leaving a plant with double or even triple the number of chromosomes it would otherwise have.
According to PharmaSeeds plant scientist research associate Dr Gary Yates, this particular cannabis mutation can be excellent news for growers. “When you increase the chromosome number, it causes all the cells descendent from that cell line to be larger,” he told Seedsman. “So, in a flowering plant you can end up with enormous buds. Experimentally, induced polyploidy has even been shown to increase CBD content by about ten percent.”
Just as one human ovum can produce twins, so too can a single cannabis seed give rise to two seedlings. Growers who notice two embryonic plants sprouting from the same seed often try to separate them in order to ensure they don’t compete with one another for nutrients, although teasing them apart can be a little fiddly. When doing so, it’s particularly important not to damage the taproot of either plant.
The obvious advantage here is that you end up with an extra plant for free. Interestingly, though, the two twins tend not to be identical, as one will usually be a clone of the mother.
Buds Sprouting From Leaves
On most cannabis plants, buds emerge from the nodes where the leaf petioles diverge from the stem. However, a fairly common cannabis mutation causes extra buds to grow from the base of the leaves.
These buds typically remain small, but they develop trichomes and produce resin. However, there is some debate over how beneficial this is, as while these strange mutant buds provide extra cannabinoids, their growth also requires a lot of energy, which means they divert resources away from the main buds.
The appearance of unexpected colours on a cannabis plant isn’t always an indication of a mutation, although you might notice some gnarly colours in just one or two of the leaves every now and then. This is due to variegation, a mutation that affects localised areas of a cannabis plant rather than the entire individual.
“The two types of mutation you get in plants are somatic mutations and germline mutations,” explains Yates. Somatic mutations occur in the differentiated cells of a cannabis plant, while germline mutations affect the pollen and ovum. As such, the latter are passed on to future generations.
“If you have a germline mutation, the entire plant offspring will have that mutation,” says Yates. “Whereas with variegation, the mutation occurs sporadically in the somatic cell line. That’s why it’s localised, and not happening all over the plant.”
More specifically, variegation is caused by a mutation that prevents the formation of chlorophyll in parts of a cannabis plant. The affected area therefore loses its green colouration, allowing other pigments to shine through.
In some cases, the affected area of a plant can appear white, making it an albino. However, while this may look super trippy, it generally spells bad news. Plants that lack chlorophyll are unable to photosynthesise, and can’t therefore produce the energy that is needed for growth.
It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that unusual coloration can sometimes be a sign of nutrient deficiency. Similarly, parts of a plant can also turn white if they are too close to a strong source of heat.
The term phyllotaxy refers to the spatial arrangement of a plant’s leaves. While two leaves will typically grow from each node on a cannabis plant, some plants have three leaves per node.
Plants that express this phenotype develop a beautiful, spiralling arrangement which is quite something to look at. The extra greenery also allows for more photosynthesis, giving the plant an energy boost and helping it grow.
The major downside to this particular cannabis mutation, however, is that it often produces more male or hermaphrodite plants. This obviously isn’t great if your goal is to produce as much bud as possible.
Australian Bastard Cannabis
Known as ABC, this cannabis mutation is very unusual. It causes a plant to develop small and highly unusual leaves that are not serrated. Supposedly, it was first seen somewhere around Sydney (hence the name) at some point in the 1970s, and while it initially yielded very low amounts of THC, breeding efforts have since boosted the cannabinoid content of this odd variety.
The leaves’ unusual shape, size and texture makes ABC a great option for anyone attempting to grow weed in secret, as passers-by are unlikely to recognise it. Unfortunately, however, the leaf anatomy seems to be produced by highly recessive genes, and all attempts to stabilise this trait have failed.
Fortunately, another leaf-related mutation has been stabilised within certain cannabis strains, so if you’re looking to disguise your weed, you might want to consider a cultivar like Frisian Duck. The leaves of this strain are unlike those found on most cannabis plants and instead have a webbed appearance. This cannabis mutation has therefore been termed ‘ducksfoot’, and is of great help to anyone who needs to keep their grow operation stealthy.