Everyone knows what a cannabis plant looks like, right? Actually, not so fast! Not all cannabis looks the same. With the rise of hybrid experimentation, mutations are increasingly common, if not deliberately bred into strains downstream. Certain strange mutations have actually become the basis for some of the most popular strains out there.
In any grower’s gardens mysterious pot plants may show up featuring surprising mutations. These are unique phenotypes, different from any other usually planted.
WHAT ARE CANNABIS MUTATIONS?
A mutation is nature’s way of shuffling the cards. Sometimes, new and exciting traits happen.
A mutation can be considered as nature’s engine for innovation. Technically though, it is a biological mistake that should not have occurred under normal or ideal circumstances. A mutation is the changing of a DNA sequence during replication that often results in the building of a new protein, or the modification of its current function and expression.
When a mutation produces a variation that thrives in the cannabis plant, through natural selection it is put to the test of survival. If it manages to reproduce and keep going, it becomes viable! Survival of the fittest, according to standard Darwinian theory. This mechanism is responsible for such a wonderful variety of colours, tastes and highs we all appreciate in different strains of weed.
If, on the other hand, a mutation creates a variation that for some reason does not work, it slowly fades away into obscurity. And by slowly, we mean thousands of years of natural selection.
Without getting too technical, some genes are passed along throughout generations without expressing themselves. They are still there, just dormant. The genotype is the entire genetic makeup of a particular strain, while the phenotype is the group of genes that actually “woke up” and expressed themselves physically.
Every once in a while, dormant mutants will pop out of the ground to test themselves against nature. Some are quite common, others very rare. Some are beautiful, others just creepy!
Here, we take a look at a few mutations that are known to exist.
In a seedling’s early vegetative stage, cannabis leaves usually arise in pairs, on opposite sides of the stem at each node. At maturity, and when flowering, it’s common for seedlings to develop an alternating leaf arrangement, with just one leaf at each node, although leaves may continue to arise in pairs. A whorled leaf arrangement (or whorled phyllotaxis) is much less common, but is far from being the rarest of cannabis’s odd displays. Whorls can have three, four or more leaves at each node. This isn’t symptomatic of any infectious disease, and it might actually increase yields. At least one breeder has attempted to stabilize the trait, but we’ve yet to see a commercially available strain bred to consistently produce a whorled leaf arrangement.
This mutation became so popular, we humans decided to keep it going. Through selective breeding, a few seed banks today are able to offer you the possibility of growing this intriguing trait.
“Duckfoot” is cannabis slang for pinnatifidofilla. It is also called simple leaf mutation, palmately lobed or webbed foot. It was first described in The Journal of Heredity in 1922 by Walter Scott Malloch who investigated sex inheritance in species.
This mutation turned into an actual strain when in 1916, Lyster Dewey first isolated this recessive gene. The original strain was named Ferramington after its parents – Kymington (a select Minnesota #8) and a landrace that came all the way from Ferrara, Italy. It is believed that this mutation originated in Ferrara.
This is a genetic mutation, which creates plants with branches that expand through the ground as if they were tentacles, always searching for an anchorage point. It is known as the “creeping phenotype.” At first, they grow as if they were normal plants but, as soon as they reach a meter in height their extremities begin to descend until they touch the ground. Once there, they begin to propagate and expand throughout the garden. And, most peculiarly, if there is substrate, they take root. It is a mutation that was developed in forests, to allow cannabis to better reach the light.
The branches of these “creeping” plants can take root if they find a humid substrate. Once they create their own root system, they begin to grow upwards, as if they had their own identity as plants. This, of course, creates phenotypes boasting much greater yields. This puzzling mutation only happens in sativa plants and features very thin leaves and stems, like a grapevine.
Variegation or Albinism
Also known as albinism, variegation is one of the most beautiful mutations of cannabis. This can occur either fully or partially. This mutation results from a plant’s inability to produce chlorophyll. It can occur on leaves, the heads of buds, or can wash out the entire plant in white.
In the most extreme cases, plants will not live very long as chlorophyll is necessary in the production of sugars for plant energy and development.
Variegation also means lower yields. A lessened ability to photosynthesise equates to slower growing plants. That said, some variegated plants can grow to be quite tall.
Most flower sites on cannabis plants occur at the nodes, where the stalks originate. However, leaf buds occur at the base of the leaves themselves. This is an unusual (if pretty) mutation. It can also be advantageous to yield because the plant grows more bud sites. However, experienced growers tend to remove them as they form; they take up nutrients that can otherwise nourish the main flower sites.
Polyploid is a mutation organism that requires twice as many chromosomes as needed. The polyploidy phenomenon of cannabis occurs when there is a problem in the cellular processes of the plant during the growth phase. Apart from a slight change in appearance, it has no other effect.
This mutation is very common. Polyembryonic seeds contain more than one seedling. Once germinated, it will produce two taproots instead of one. If carefully handled, these seedlings can be successfully separated into two plants.
Strangely, one of the two plants will be a normal offspring of both mother and father. The other plant will only be a clone of the mother.
Three-seedling polyembryonic seeds have also been reported.
Despite its interesting biological marker and outcome, there is no real advantage to breeding plants with this trait. No effort has been made thus far to develop a true-breed with these characteristics.
Australian Bastard Cannabis
The case of Australian Bastard Cannabis (ABC) is the perfect example of mutant genes that have gradually stabilized until they have come to constitute their own strain. Its appearance is so radically different that some have mistaken it for another species in the world of cannabis. It was first “discovered” near Sydney in the 70’s. This strange anomaly grows more like an herb than a shrub. The leaves are not serrated; instead they’re smooth and shiny, growing no more than 5cm in length.
The original ABC was more like hemp and was low in all cannabinoids. However, underground breeders managed to boost the THC levels. This mutation made ripples about a decade ago. No strains have (yet) been made commercially available.
Is it a true breed or just an extension of ABC? Nobody really knows. But Aussie breeders claim that ABC crosses can produce vine-like mutations in the plant. This includes the ability to form stems that wrap in a pattern around each other.
The mutation is extremely rare. It may only exist because of deliberate breeding to trigger this effect. While this trait is interesting, it is not advantageous to yield or cannabinoid concentration. No commercial strains currently incorporate this mutation.
Weed was purportedly discovered growing under the sea off the coast of Chile. It was found by fishermen when they hauled up their nets to discover a kind of plant which had never been seen before. It was Cannabis sativa (marijuana); that was the ‘official’ conclusion of the Chilean Institute of Aquaculture after analysing samples of this underwater weed. The discovery was made in Chile in 2016, and the strain was named “Amiga de Pescador” in honor of the fisherman that found it. Not much else is known about this mutation, so it might be a hoax or maybe not, we can only guess.
Researchers believe that the appearance of a mutant gene, the proximity of thermal waters, and their epipelagic locationare the three key factors that, combined, created this underwater ganja, which even yields buds! Its tetrahydrocannabinol content is however low. “Its THC levels are not particularly high, but it is true that these plants produce feminine flowers,” reported Camila Rojas, a marine biologist involved in the investigation. An investigation that is nothing more than an elaborate daydream, as ?this underwater marijuana is, indeed, not of this world.