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What is Cannabis Phenotype and Genotype?

What are Cannabis Genotypes and Phenotypes 1

When you grow a strain for the first time, you might end up admiring the many different properties it has to offer. Because of the beauty, resilience, and even its pungency, you cannot help but start growing some more of its seeds. But to your surprise, the next batch might look entirely different from the first ones! Sometimes, they might even carry different terpene profiles and flavors from what you were expecting. How in the world is this possible? That is where cannabis phenotype and genotype comes in.

A lot of people tend to blame the weed seed suppliers for this phenomenon. As such, it is quite understandable for them to assume that something is wrong with the products that they buy! However, there is actually so much more behind it aside from it being your supplier’s fault. In order to understand why this happens, you must familiarize yourself with the genotype and phenotype of cannabis plants.

Cannabis Phenotype and Genotype

As we have stated, it is very common for growers to feel confuse about how their cannabis seeds of the same strain look and behave so differently from one another. Some may chalk this up as human error, but that is not the case. Instead, this phenomenon has more to do with the genetic code and environmental conditions of your weed plants.


First, let us talk about what the genotype of a cannabis plant is and what it means with regards to the behavior of your gardens. The very first form that a cannabis plant takes is a seed. Within this seed, you will find all the genetic makeup and chemical structure of a cannabis plant known as the genotype. The genotype acts as a blueprint or framework for what the specific weed strain will eventually turn out to be. Phenotype on the other hand refers to the physical manifestation.

Cannabis and Genetics

This genetic code influences the way that a marijuana plant grows in terms of its taste, smells, effects. And also, the other characteristics that are inherent by the genetics of the plant. However, it is important to remember that the genotype does not contain just one specific set of qualities for certain strains.

Instead, it carries numerous genetic DNA that may deliver all sorts of traits as the plant grows! For example, one seed of some delicious Kali Mist may display a brighter color of green in one plant. In another plant of the same strain, it may display slightly taller heights than others!


Of course, the genetic code and DNA structure of a cannabis plant isn’t the only thing to factor in when observing a marijuana strain’s unusual growth. When the DNA or genotype of a cannabis plant comes into contact with environmental factors, you can also expect the strain to react based on those conditions. This is what we call the phenotype, which basically refers to the qualities that manifest themselves as a result of the genotype interacting with environmental factors.

Phenotype = The Physical Aspect

The phenotype is a physical manifestation of how your growing area can affect the way a plant develops regardless of the DNA present. For example, growing your cannabis plants in a concealed and tight space will undoubtedly sprout short plants. Moreover, keeping indica strains in cooler weathers will lead to the development of streaks of purple hues all across the plant.

While the characteristics that the genotype offers cannot be controlled, the phenotype is much more adjustable. No matter how resinous or pungent a strain may be (genotype), growing it under certain conditions (phenotype) can lead it to experiencing drastic changes. 

Phenotype and common misconceptions:

As we have said, many growers get pretty shocked when their marijuana strains will display various properties from one another. Many people also consider this as the doing of the environmental conditions surrounding their gardens. As such, it is often common for growers to use the term “phenotype” when referring to different versions of the same strain. But keep in mind that these versions are completely separate strains from one another!

Keeping it Simple

To keep things simple, let us use an example. We have the Gelato strain, a well-balanced hybrid that is famous for its sweet and fruity aromas. But from the Gelato strain comes a phenotype known as the Larry Bird Kush, another hybrid that leans more towards a piney and skunky profile. 

These two very distinct strains come from the same genetics yet they produce some fairly different tastes and aromas! This boils down to how the environmental factors from where they breed affect the development of these two strains. 

How does Phenotype and Genotype affect the way your cannabis looks? 

The understanding of phenotypes explains why there are some marijuana strains that have varying outlines and depictions. However, this does not explain why they would still look different regardless of growing in the same environmental conditions!

The answer to that is, of course, the genotype. People are quick to assume that the growing conditions of a marijuana strain is the only thing that plays a role in how marijuana develops. But the genetic code and DNA structure provide just as much of an influence to this! Remember, we cannot know which qualities the genotype of the cannabis plant will choose to manifest! 

Origins of Cannabis Genetics

The understanding that we have of cannabis genetics and how they interact with the environment is the result of thousands and thousands of years with the said plant. Along with bamboo, wheat, and other crops, cannabis and hemp are one of the oldest plants use in our history. 

Of course, the early settlers who made use of these plants were unfamiliar with how the phenotype and genotype of a cannabis plant works. But regardless, these factors were undoubtedly present during their times.

Cannabis Classifications

It was only until the 16th to 17th century when civilizations and certain botanists started classifying the different species of cannabis based on their genetic structure and physical qualities. With the extensive research that botanists conducted during these times, they were able to conclude that the cannabis plant first originated from places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India

What are marijuana Landrace Strains?

Today, most growers and smokers are familiar with marijuana hybrid strains (which we will discuss later). However, during the earlier years like the 60s and 70s, the only strains available were landrace genetics. This refers to pure and natural strains that we usually know today as the pioneers of what we have today. 

The original landrace genetics usually carry the names of the places in which they were first discovered. We have the Afghani, Thai, Durban Poison, Colombia, Hindu Kush, Acapulco Gold, and many more. 

Indicas vs. Sativas: Comparing the Two

Landrace strains often come in pure genetics of either Indica or Sativa varieties. Indica and sativa plants are known as the two main kinds of marijuana that is use for consumption. 

While they are both part of the cannabis family, indica and sativa plants are very different from one another in every aspect possible! 

Cannabis Sativa:

Sativas were used much earlier as they were believed to be the very first type of cannabis utilized by early civilizations. Sativas, along with the Cannabis Sativa L. or Hemp, were only classified as such in the year 1753 by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus

Sativa plants grow fairly tall and lanky plants. The slender structure is capable of reaching heights of anywhere between 8 to 16 feet tall. The finger-like leaves and buds of this strain emit a very bright and vibrant hue of green. Sometimes, yellowish streaks also form part of the plant’s overall color profile. 

Sativa Euphoria

From sativa strains, you can get some very big and round buds. They grow from each of the colas that scatter across the long body of the plants. Sativa strains induce a particularly uplifting and euphoric high. Their effects lean more towards feeling cerebral and trippy. It also makes the user feel happy and sociable. 

When consumed in large doses, sativa plants tend to feel very psychedelic and mind-altering. These types of strains are great for enhancing a person’s mood and providing strong sensations of energy. As a result, sativa strains are best as daytime strains

Cannabis Indica:

Indica strains, on the other hand, weren’t discovered up until the year 1785. French botanist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck first took a hold of this species during one of his expeditions to the Indian subcontinent. As further studies were performed on it, health departments and research facilities agreed to classify the substance as Cannabis Indica in order to avoid any confusion with sativa and hemp varieties.

As a contrast to sativa strains, the cannabis indica produces a much shorter and stocky plant. It is often characterized as being very bushy and shrub-like, growing only up to a height of 3 to 6 feet. An indica plant is usually very dense and tightly-knit together, with the broad and wide leaves appearing very distinguishable. Indicas are known to have deep green hues that often develop some shades of purple, a feature that many growers love. 

Night Cap

The highs and effects of indica strains are also opposite from the ones you get with sativas. Instead of being energizing and uplifting, indicas produce a more physical body stone. This gets users feeling sleepy and lazy as they tend to get more and more unmotivated throughout the whole high. As such, many people refer to indica strains as “nighttime companions” due to the very downing effects that it induces. 

Cannabis Hybrids:

It is also rather common for people to refer to the indica and sativa composition of a cannabis strain as the genotype. This is technically correct as indica and sativa strains each contain unique genetic codes and DNA structures that allow them to be different from one another.

When you crossbreed various strains, you get what we call cannabis hybrids. Basically, hybrids refer to strains that contain the genetic code (genotype) of both its parent strains! This allows for much wider and vast possibilities with regards to how the cannabis plants will eventually turn out!

The Rise of Hybrid

Today, hybrid marijuana strains are use by almost every grower and smoker out there! Whether it is for personal or commercial uses, hybrids have surely taken over the market. 

When breeding hybrids, seed developers also heavily consider the genotype and phenotype of the strains. Certain hybrids are a result of the phenotype impact such as the Gelato and Larry Bird Kush strains. 

The Phenotype and Genotype of Cannabis Clones

One instance where growers can forego the consideration of the genotype and phenotype of the cannabis plants is when they use cannabis clones. But how exactly does the use of cannabis clones and cuttings affect the genetic structure of the plants? Why do clones look exactly the same as one another while cannabis plants from weed seeds do not?

You see, clones are usually cultivated by using the cuttings obtained from a mother plant. Once these cuttings are planted into a growing medium, they basically start growing from the vegetative stage or flowering stage, depending on when you cut them! This means that you are generally continuing the cultivation process of the mother plant by using a separate unit. 

Cannabis DNA

So how does this translate to the genotype and phenotype of the clones? Well, it is given that clones carry over all the qualities and characteristics of their parents, including the DNA! Unless you cultivate them in a different environment (Which could lead to them growing differently based on the phenotype), they will develop in exactly the same way as the mothers. Instead of having unique genetic structures from one another, clones are copies of each other.

Conclusion: Understanding Phenotype and Genotype

Now that you have a general idea of how cannabis plants operate, you can surely tell why your weed plants behave the way they do! While this might seem like a minor thing to know about weed, it is actually a great way of expanding your understanding about your marijuana gardens.  We hope that this comprehensive guide helps enlighten your mind about the genotype and phenotype of the cannabis plants. For more articles about all things cannabis, feel free to browse our different libraries and contents! They are sure to help you if you are a cannabis grower or smoker!

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