Albino weed and other types of ‘weird weed’ can be found in nature and in the greenhouse, but do these genetic mutations any benefit?
Cannabis is far from ordinary. While most strains and varieties adhere to a common genetic blueprint, occasional mutants crop up among the regular population. These mutations create new forms of cannabis, which can affect the plant’s appearance, growth, bud yield and psychoactive properties. Some mutations are so beneficial, that breeders try to replicate the error, translating it into a new strain of cannabis. Others, however, just cause growing and medicinal headaches, or like albino weed, are downright lethal to the plant.
Below is a list of five of the most common genetic mutations common to cannabis and what those mutations can mean to growers, breeders and connoisseurs.
5. Albino Weed
Just like humans, cannabis plants can give birth to albino offspring. For humans, albinism is caused by a lack of skin pigment, but in cannabis, it’s a lack of chlorophyll. A plant without chlorophyll is in for a bad time, as any middle school biology teacher can tell you, is responsible for causing photosynthesis. Without it, the plant not only lacks a green color, it also loses its ability to convert sunlight into energy. Plants with this mutation, technically called variegation, don’t live long, but they make for stunning photos. Sometimes plants are born white, other times they turn white as they age.
Benefits: There are no proven benefits to albino cannabis, but there is a legend. Because of the plant’s weak genetics, it often dies before full maturity. And when it does produce buds, they tend to have weaker concentrations of TCH and CBD. Despite that, some say that the lack of chlorophyll makes for a smoother, more enjoyable smoking experience.
4. Weird Leaves
A mutation called “ducksfoot” causes a change in the leaves of cannabis plants. Instead of sporting the familiar star-shaped pattern, plants with ducksfoot have longer, webbed leaves that seem more likely to be from a fern than cannabis. The leaves seem as though their ends have been fused together instead of branching out. While the mutations can be seen in infancy, sometimes the leaf edges will begin to spread in later maturity, leading to a more typical-looking cannabis plant
Benefits: This mutation causes no harm to the plant, and has even been selectively bred by at least one cannabis company with the selling feature of being able to hide amongst other plants. The flowers of the ducksfoot can be quite colorful, with no other side effects than coming from a different looking plant. The biggest benefit of the ducksfoot mutation may be camouflage but the Frsian Duck strain can withstand harsher growing conditions (like Northern Ontario) than other plants.
These leaves will be symmetrical in their color change – from dark green to light green. The mutation generally only affects one or two leaves on the plant, or more rarely, an entire stem. It’s not to be confused with a nutrient deficiency, which can be detrimental to the plant. The way to tell the difference is the line of symmetry between the two color changes:
Benefits: for this genetic mutation, there may be no benefit at all. Green leafed foliage needs the least amount of sun exposure as these are rich in chloroplasts to convert sun energy into food for the plant. This means that the two-toned leaves are at a disadvantage for absorbing energy from the sun.
3. Double Seeds
Technically referred to as “polyembric” (literally “many seeds”) this condition is essentially what happens when a cannabis has twins. Instead of leaving behind a single seed, the plant produces a double-embroyed egg. In practice, the seeds operate are more like conjoined twins than identical twins, which means they can be hard to separate.
Benefits: None. Technically, this mutation does not affect the ability of the seeds to grow or flower, but in practice it’s difficult for two seeds that close together to thrive because they compete for resources. In the artificial conditions of greenhouses and grow operations, this can be corrected for as well as transplanted when the seedling grows.
2. Extra Genes
Typical cannabis cells have complementary sets of chromosomes, which means a set from the female plant and a set from the male plant for each gene pair. And each gene pair codes for a different trait in the plant. Sometimes, however, mutations can cause extra codes or genes to be formed along certain chromosomes, or even extra whole chromosome. This can happen in humans too, such as with trisomy 21 where there is an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. This results in a set of traits we call Down’s Syndrome. The condition of “extra” genetic material is call polylpoidy whether it occurs in a plant or an animal.
Benefits: In cannabis plants, extra genes can lead to several different outcomes, such as higher yields and above-average THC content. It also tends to result in gigantism, resulting in very large leaves and buds. While no one has yet been able to consistently breed a polypoidal variety of cannabis, there have been many attempts to harness the genetic benefits of a massive, high-producing cannabis plant.
1. Popcorn Buds in Low Places
In normal, healthy cannabis plants, new buds sprout forth from the petiole – also known as that part where the stalk meets the leaf. But certain mutations can cause flowers to bud at the base of the leaves. This happens in addition to the petiole, resulting in more buds than an average cannabis plant. The problem, however, is that these buds are usually quite small (called popcorn buds) in comparison and, just like everything in nature, they compete for the same resources as the larger buds.
Benefits: Extra buds. While most growers advise aficionados to pluck these buds early and discard them, there’s nothing wrong with using the tiny buds while they’re around. You can press them or use to increase potency of edibles.
Genetic mutations tend to have a bad rap, when really these are the reason any species evolves. Changes come into the gene pool due to mistakes, and if that change is beneficial for the individual, it survives and passes on its changed genes. Then the mutation amplifies within the population….and there is a gradual genetic shift. One day there may be great benefit to have popcorn buds, for example. Seems like a cute marketing scheme target for movie goers, no?