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Genotypes, Phenotypes, and Hemp

If you are a grower, you have probably had a moment when you realized your batch of Blue Dreams (or your favorite strain) looked different. The leaf shape and length might look totally different than another plant from the same seed supplier. What’s going on to produce the variability?

What Are Genotypes and Phenotypes?

Two things impact the structure of your cannabis plants: genetic and environmental influences. The genotype represents the genetic makeup, which supplies the blueprint for how your hemp plants will grow. There is a wide array of physical variations. The environmental factors under which you grow the plants impact which physical characteristics your plants will exhibit.

The outcome of the genotype plus the environment results in the phenotype: the traits the environment coaxes out of the plant’s genetic code. Phenotype characteristics include shape, smell, color and resin production.

Many growers wonder how the phenotype of two plants from the same supplier grown in the same environment can vary drastically.

How Hemp Changes Based on Genotypes and Phenotypes

Every cannabis seed has a unique genotype. So, no matter how hard the supplier tries to maintain consistency, each plant can vary. However, there are things you can do to help minimize the variation in your plants to ensure a consistent harvest.

Even seeds from the same strain will not contain identical genetic coding — much to the frustration of growers counting on homogeneous growth. The variation of plants from the same seed strain comes from different genotypes. As a grower, you cannot control the genotype unless you switch suppliers. However, you control the environment, which results in unique phenotypes.

The seeds you purchase from a specific strain share a majority of genetics from inbred “siblings” rather than identical twins. Most genotypes are genetically close, more like fraternal twins than siblings. This means every plant you grow has slight variations in height, yield, flavor and other characteristics.

Hybrid Phenotypes

If you grow hybrids, you will have more diverse phenotypes than with Sativa or Indica cannabis seeds. For example, K-Train is a hybrid of Train Wreck and O.G. Kush. Some plants will exhibit O.G. Kush dominant traits such as size, leaf shape, stem size and smell. Other plants will grow larger, thinner and lankier, expressing characteristics of the Train Wreck strain. Flowering plants will vary in the calyx (sepals that protect the bud) to leaf ratio.

Seeds vs. Clone

If you want a homogenous crop, you have two options. First, germinate more seeds than you want to grow and select the ones with the best traits to nurture. Second, for maximum consistency, select a desirable mother plant to make clones from.

Clones are genetic copies of the mother plant and ensure consistent genotype. Grown in an identical environment, clones should yield consistent plants. However, if you grow one clone in a hydro set-up and another in soil, you may get different phenotypes.

Finding Different Phenotypes

Here are some tips for spotting phenotypes with the characteristics you want:

  • Stand back and examine your plants to determine which ones stand out. Then, take a closer look, comparing different plants. Get hands-on with the stem and leaves, measure trichome production and leaf patterns. See which plants handle stress well by cropping the stems and observing recovery time and quality.
  • Next, examine the roots to determine which plants have stronger root balls. Some plants look hale and hardy but have weak root systems.
  • Smell the plants. Rub your finger on the stems and under the leaves to find out which plants have the right smell. If the cannabis plant has great aroma in the early growth stages, it will typically stand out when it comes time to harvest your crop.
  • Once the buds appear, you can evaluate which plants ended up with the best smell. During flowering, interesting differences can occur, making this a time of discovery for interpreting growers.
  • Take clones from different plants and label them appropriately. Then, you can make notes so that you know which clone resulted in the best phenotypes.
  • Here is the most important tip: choose the most aromatic cannabis plants to ensure that you maintain the phenotype. It’s relatively easy to increase yield by experimenting with breeding and growing methods. However, it’s hard to recreate a special aroma or flavor if you don’t preserve it carefully.


Understanding how genotypes and phenotypes affect the hemp plant is the first step in producing your own popular strains that can set cannabis forums on fire. Make your mark as a grower by developing careful observation skills and learning to recognize stand out plants that can result in a pleasant experience for customers.

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