Pheno Hunting from Cannabis Seed Genetics

How To Hunt for Phenotypes from Cannabis Seeds

Pheno hunting is about finding the perfect physical traits in a cannabis plant for your needs from a pack of regular cannabis seeds. Plants from feminized seeds tend to have identical or near identical physical characteristics.  With regular seeds, besides looking for male vs female plants, growers may see variation from plant to plant.  These physical traits can include potency, aroma, flavor, yield, height, branching, flowering times, resistance to pests, rooting times and more.

In F1 generation hybrids grown from regular seed the variation may be minimal although noticeable.  In multiple hybrid crosses, plants grown from regular seed may show a very wide range of characteristics–even to the point that you may wonder how they are even related, coming from the same pack of seeds.

When embarking on pheno hunting it helps to have a clear list of traits that you desire in mind.  Growers may find it hard to pick a favorite particular plant after spending time caring for each and every plant in the garden.  However, if you can narrow it down to a single plant that meets all your criteria, you can grow this out as a mother plant for propagating your future gardens by rooting cuttings.  This way your quality, growing times, potency, growth habits, etc will be 100% uniform.

We recommend replacing mother plants annually with fresh stock grown from regular seed–cannabis is an annual plant, and was not intended to be live forever, hence it makes seeds. Genetics can drift over time and nutrient imbalances, pest pressures, etc can diminish your results when crops are grown from cuttings that were rooted from tired old mother stock.

THC : CBD Ratios

If you are looking for a particular ratio of THC:CBD in your harvests for medicinal purposes, these ratios should be at the top of your list in pheno hunting selection criteria–anything you like after that is a bonus. From a pack of regular high CBD cannabis seeds, you can expect about 25% of the seed offspring to show a higher level of CBD versus THC.  Another 25% of the offspring will show higher THC levels versus CBD and the remaining 50% of plants will likely have near equal ratios.  A higher percentage of high CBD plants can be created through multiple crosses, however, at the expense of other growing traits.

Yields

Even when growing for your own personal stash, yield is usually an important criteria—who doesn’t want to have more tasty buds to smoke for their efforts and expense?

However, when you select for yield as your number one pheno hunting criteria you may be sacrificing other important qualities like potency–is it a real gain if you have to smoke twice as much for the same effects?  Typically, the most potent strains are not the biggest yielders and vice versa.

Potency

As above, with yield, when you look for the most potent plants you typically are not going to be picking the highest yielders in the pack–but that’s OK with most growers.  Smoking less for the same effects and having a nicer bag appeal can sometimes outweigh harvesting heavier buds.  More often than not, a good balance can be found between yield and potency when pheno hunting from a high quality pack of regular cannabis seeds.

Flowering Time

If growing outdoors in shorter growing seasons this might be your number one criteria in selecting a phenotype to keep and propagate for future crops. If your plants don’t finish before the first kill frost, a lot of good great potency and yields will do you as traits. Indoors, time to maturity may not be as great an issue.  However, if you have a specimen that you like that finishes in 6 weeks instead of 9 weeks, you may gain an extra crop a year if your run a tight cropping schedule.

Growth Habits

If you aren’t allowed to grow many cannabis plants, having a specimen that can fill out quickly or that is well suited to ScrOG methods can help to make your cannabis cropping more rewarding. With higher plant counts you can put more plants in the same space and flower sooner. Looking for specimens that don’t require lots of staking, trellising or leaf pruning may be part of your pheno hunting criteria, although isn’t likely to be at the top of your list.

Flavor & Aroma

Most growers will put a fair amount of emphasis on these traits when pheno hunting–these traits often characterize a strain with tokers and growers alike, “oh, that one–smells exactly like peach candy and milk!”. Cannabis has a remarkable range of tastes and aromas.  Arguably the most diverse in any type of plant on the planet. There can be a fairly wide range or terpine profiles from plants grown out from a regular pack of seed.  Terps (the aromatic compounds) actually have some influence on the effects too; it’s not just the THC, CBD, CBG, etc.  The combination of compounds and the influence it has for the effects of cannabis is sometimes referred to as “the entourage effect”.