As the name suggests, autoflowering cannabis plants are a specific type of cannabis variety that automatically begin flowering at a specific age.
Traditionally, cannabis plants flower depending on the amount of light they receive during the day. Most cannabis strains will begin flowering when they start to receive less light. In nature, this usually happens at the end of the summer, beginning of the fall, when the days become “shorter.”
However, in an indoor grow environment, growers will manipulate a plant’s light source in order to “trick” it into flowering. This usually means they switch from a 18/6 (18 hours of light and 6 hours of darkness a day) to a 12/12 regime.
Autoflowering, plants, on the other hand, flower after at a specific age. Autoflowering plants don’t care how much hours of light they get, they will just start to flower at a certain point, usually after 2-3 weeks. They get this characteristic from cannabis ruderalis, a distinct variety of cannabis that, unlike sativa or indica varieties, is naturally autoflowering. All autoflowering strains contain ruderalis genetics which is what gives them their autoflowering characteristic.
There are many advantages to autoflowering cannabis strains:
Thanks to their ruderalis genetics, autoflowering strains are usually smaller, making them ideal for indoor grow ops or “stealth” growing.
Autoflowering cannabis strains have a short lifespan, going from seed to harvest in as little as 8 or 9 weeks.
Unlike photoperiod strains, when growing indoors autoflowering cannabis varieties do not need to be separated during vegetative or flowering phases.
Even when growing outdoors it’s possible to harvest multiple crops per year.
The exact origins of autoflowering cannabis strains are highly debated.
Cannabis ruderalis, the cannabis variety used to give autos their autoflowering characteristics, was first discovered in 1924 by a Russian botanist. The species is native to Central/Eastern Europe and Russia, although it can also be found across North America in Canada and The US.
Ruderalis is traditionally short in nature and fast flowering, although some unique varieties have been shown to grow over 180cm and take over 20 weeks to fully mature. Because they are native to naturally colder climates, they are particularly good at withstanding tough outdoor environments and short, cold summers.
According to some sources, cannabis breeders began experimenting with ruderalis crosses back in the 1970s. One of these breeders was Neville Schoenmaker, founder of ‘The Seed Bank’ which is now known as Sensi Seeds. However, Neville and the other breeders working with ruderalis at the time struggled to create a stable, reliable cross between this new species and both indica or sativa varieties.
But this would all change with the arrival of Lowryder, the first large-scale marketed autoflowering variety in the early 2000s. Bred by The Joint Doctor, Lowryder is a unique hybrid whose history is masked in mystery. Some claim that the strain was inbred for 9 whole generations, finally giving way to the first ever stable ruderalis cross. It is believed to be a cross between a ruderalis variety and Northern Lights #2 and then William’s Wonder.
Lowryder is an extremely short strain, reaching no more than 40cm tall and ready for harvest in as little as 6-7 weeks. It produced a very slow onset high, and was renowned for being able to fight through extremely tough conditions.
Unfortunately, Lowryder received a lot of criticism, being referred to as a substandard strain with a very low potency. This may be due to the fact that ruderalis is naturally low in THC (when compared to sativa or indica varieties), or because the plant’s effects featured a very slow onset. The yields from this plant were also much, much smaller than those of traditional photoperiod strains.
However, much has changed since the initial launch of Lowryder. Very quickly after this launch Lowryder 2 got introduced which was already a lot better. Actually, this Lowryder 2 gave hope to the cannabis community: “We might have something interesting here!”
Today, the market for autoflowering cannabis varieties has blossomed, with expert breeders from the world’s biggest seed banks are using ruderalis genetics to create other autoflowering varieties of many classic photoperiod strains, including Northern Light, Haze varieties, and much more.
Thanks to new experimentation with ruderalis genetics, the original concerns about the potency and yields of autoflowering varieties have been dealt with. Today, top-shelf autoflowering strains from trusted seed producers are considered by many almost as good as regular photoperiod strains.
This has opened up a vast variety of opportunities for growers, allowing them to grow high-quality cannabis in limited spaces, short time frames, or in conditions that previously seemed unfeasible. The launch of new autos is also great for inexperienced growers looking for an easy way to start growing cannabis without having to research photoperiods or invest in expensive lighting equipment.