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How are new varieties of cannabis created?

Every year, dozens of new cannabis strains are created, each combining the flavors, aromas, and effects of two or more strains. Tastes and trends are constantly changing and cannabis breeders are constantly creating new varieties to suit the interests of cannabis consumers.

Marijuana is perhaps one of the most cultivated plants (we have been growing it for at least 5,000 years) and growers can control the selection and cultivation processes to select and improve the plant according to different desires and needs.

To explain how new weed strains are created, we need to start with the sex of the plants.

Marijuana selection:
A cannabis plant can be both female and male - this trait is called bisexual and is rare in the plant world. Only female plants produce the buds we all know and love. If you see a cannabis field covered in buds, these are all female plants.

The female plants also grow seeds, while the male plants grow pollen sacs. When male plants reach maturity, their pollen sacs open and release pollen into the air, which can land on a neighboring female plant and pollinate it.

When the pollinated female reaches maturity, seeds grow from her buds that carry the genetics of both the female and the pollinating male. When new plants grow from these seeds, they will become a new variety that combines the features of a male and a female.

In nature, cannabis plants reproduce naturally. The male cannabis plant may accidentally grow next to the female, and when it releases pollen, the wind will carry it to the female. When the female plant matures and then dies, its seeds will fall to the ground and grow into a new variety of plants the following year.

Cannabis breeding: How are new varieties created?
How to create a hybrid cannabis strain:
Selection can be carried out artificially and deliberately in commercial or domestic settings. To begin with, cannabis breeders select two strains to combine based on traits such as taste, aroma, potency, effect, yield, ease of cultivation, and other factors. They choose a female of one variety and a male of another.

The cannabis breeder usually places the male and several female plants together in an enclosed space called a breeding chamber to conserve pollen and ensure successful pollination. Pollination can also be done outdoors by keeping the plants close together.

After the female plant is pollinated and reaches maturity, its seeds will be collected and then plants will grow from them. These new plants will contain both female and male genes and are called a cross or hybrid of the parent plants.

Anatomy and life cycles of marijuana plants

What is a phenotype?
Simplified, new seeds on a female plant are called phenotypes - these are the children of two parent plants that look like each other like siblings. One pollinated female plant can produce dozens of seeds, or phenotypes.

Two things influence the structure of the cannabis plant: genetics and the environment. The genetic structure of a plant, also called the genotype, is the blueprint for growth. It allows you to realize a whole range of physical possibilities. But genes can turn their expression on and off in response to environmental influences.

The interaction between a plant's genotype, or blueprint, and its environment affects its phenotype, which is the physical expression of its genetic code. The observable traits of cannabis plants, such as color, shape, smell and resin production, are shaped by environmental influences.

Here is a comparative example with dogs to illustrate the phenotypes:

If a Golden Retriever and a Poodle mate and have a litter of puppies, these will be Golden Poodle puppies that will have traits from both their mother and father. Some of the puppies will look more like a poodle (perhaps having a curly coat and being tall and lanky), some more like a golden retriever (perhaps a shaggy coat and shorter stature), and some will have a mixture of characteristics from both parents.

The same thing happens when crossing varieties of marijuana. For example, if you cross a Lemon Skunk and a Super Silver Haze, you will get Super Lemon Haze seeds. All resulting Super Lemon Haze seeds will be different when they grow into plants: Some will be smelly, tall and lanky like Lemon Skunk, some will be shorter and more trichomes like Super Silver Haze, and some will have a mix of both parent strains.

Just as a litter of golden doodles produces puppies that display different traits from two parents, cannabis seeds or phenotypes express different traits from parental strains. These traits may include plant size and structure (tall, short, bushy, thin), color (purple, orange, light green, dark green), smell (fruity, stingy, sweet, gassy), effect (energetic, soothing, brain, exciting) and much more.

All traits will be derived from the parental strains, and each phenotype will be unique in terms of the combination of traits inherited from the parents.

What is phenohunt?
When creating a new weed variety, breeders often pollinate multiple females, resulting in dozens, if not hundreds, of different seeds or phenotypes. So which phenotype will be the best?

Now the task of the breeder is to grow from the seeds of a new variety of plants and choose the best of them for sale - this is called fenohunting. The breeder is looking for the best version, or the best expression, of the new variety.

Some of the phenotypes may smell great but not look great; some may taste and look great, but not very potent; some may be susceptible to bugs or not produce much, and so on. The breeder wants to find that particular phenotype that combines all the best features of the new variety.

Fenohunting often takes several generations to select the best variety variant. For example, a breeder may start by growing ten seeds into plants and select the top five; then these five seeds are grown again and reduced to three; these seeds are then grown and cut down to the final phenotype. Growing each generation can take several months, so fenohunting and breeding of a new variety generally takes several months or even years.

Once the breeder selects the phenotype with the best characteristics, he begins to mass-produce it, and this version of the new variety enters the market and ends up on the dispensary shelf.

Market launch of other phenotypes
Sometimes a variety becomes so popular that breeders sell a "side" version to capitalize on that variety's popularity and also to bring another version of the variety to market.

This explains why you may see two versions of the variety, usually with a number after it, such as Gelato and Gelato #33, Bruce Banner and Bruce Banner #3, Northern Lights and Northern Lights #5. The numbered variety is a different phenotype.

For example, initially the Gelato variety came to the market and became popular, and then one of the growers liked another Gelato phenotype, in this case #33, and mass-produced this version and sent it to the market as well. (In phenohunting, breeders usually number each phenotype, and in this case, the 33rd version of Gelato was also the winner).

These two versions are different flavors of Gelato, if you will. They share the same parent strain and are similar, but they are also unique in the combination of traits they have inherited from their parent strains.