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What are Phenotypes in Cannabis?


This physical manifestation in the cannabis plant is greatly responsible for several characteristics of the plant. In addition to producing a wide array of secondary metabolite cannabinoids, the cannabis sativa plant also shows a lot of variations in the phenotypic traits. 

This post on cannabis phenotypes breaks down this scientific term, so you get a better understanding of the cannabis plant in all its entirety.

What are Phenotypes?

The physical characteristics exhibited by the cannabis plant are called the phenotypes or, simply, pheno. The physical expressions include the shape of the cannabis flower, colour, potency, flavour, and more. 

The genetic blueprint and the environmental factors determine the phenotype or the physical expression of the cannabis plant. The genetic information of the cannabis plant is the internally coded and inheritable information that comes from both the male and the female plant. 

The environmental factors that influence the cannabis phenotype include:

  • Nutrient levels in the soil
  • Temperature 
  • Humidity 
  • Type of the soil 
  • The amount and the angle of the light 
  • Distance between the light source and the cannabis plant
  • Photoperiod length 
  • Time of the harvest 

Genetically identical cannabis plants can show different phenotypes in different harvests. This is particularly true when the cannabis is harvested simultaneously and is sown in an outdoor and indoor environment. 

Everything from the weed’s flavour, smell, potency, and resin production is greatly affected by the environment. In fact, when the seeds of the same cannabis harvest exhibit completely different physical differences due to growing in distinct environmental factors, it can result in a condition called phenotypic plasticity. 

Interestingly, some genotypes of the cannabis plant only manifest in the phenotype under very specific conditions. For instance, the purple colouration of the cannabis buds/flower only manifests in cooler climates. 

But the over phenotype of the cannabis plant can be hugely affected when the genotype interacts with the environment

Why Do Cannabis Phenotypes Matter?

The phenotypes of cannabis are of great importance to breeders, growers, and researchers in the cannabis industry. 

For cannabis breeders and growers, the plant phenotype is the key to selecting the best strain of cannabis. Since phenotypes are responsible for various features, breeders typically choose the plant with the best colour, bud density, and yields. Cannabis with these phenotypes also delivers the best flavour, taste, and potency. 

Cannabis breeders typically grow several strains of the plant to determine which plant has the best phenotypes. The seeds are cloned for mass production after identifying the cannabis plant with the most desired phenotypes.

The cannabinoid molecules stored in the trichomes of the female flower determine its potency. Among all the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, THC holds the most intrigue for most breeders, sellers, and weed enthusiasts in the industry for its psychoactive properties. CBD falls very closely behind due to its anti-inflammatory and other medicinal properties. 

Choosing the cannabis plant with the best phenotypes is paramount because the morphological differences greatly influence the cannabinoid content of the plant. These differences include the size of the inflorescence, leaf shape and size, plant size, internode length, branching, and flowering time. 

Phenotypes in the Different Cannabis Plant Lineage

Experts in the cannabis industry agree that there are three to four distinct lineage/classifications in the cannabis plants. These are – Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, hybrids, and hemp.

Cannabis Sativa 

These cannabis plants are instantly recognizable by their narrow leaf, tall stems with lighter bud density. The Sativa plants are known to have the highest levels of THCA, which converts to THC when heated. 

Because of the high levels of THCA, Sativa plants are the best for producing psychedelic and uplifting effects after consumption. Sativas usually prefer a natural environment in equatorial regions of about 30o latitudes and grow rather slower than the Indicas. 

Cannabis Indica 

These cannabis plants are identified by their broader leaves, shorter stem, and denser buds. Unlike the Sativa plants, Indica plants are known to have high levels of both CBDA and THCA, making them a great choice for producing relaxation effects rather than psychoactive results. 

Indicas typically produce the most resin, prefer a natural environment between 30 to 50o latitudes, and grow quicker than their counterparts grow. This is why most breeders love to work with cannabis Indica. 


Cannabis plants that are a cross between the C. Sativa and the C. Indica are called hybrids. Hybrid cannabis is a relatively new phenomenon inspired by the anti-cannabis movements that drove cannabis cultivation to the underground. 

Crossing the sativa with the indica introduced new, previously unimaginable phenotypes when cannabis was grown in the wild. Because of hybridization, breeders and growers have limitless selections of cannabis strains with desirable phenotypes. 

But regardless of their variable phenotypes, hybrid cannabis always exhibit phenotypes that are intermediate to the parent plants. 


Hemp includes any domesticated or wild cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC by weight. It is usually preferred for its oil and fibre production since the olden days. 

Final thoughts

The phenotypic expression of the cannabis plant is a result of the interaction between its genetic information and environmental conditions. However, neither component in isolation is solely responsible for the phenotype in a cannabis plant. 

Experienced cannabis breeders understand that planting high-yielding strains of cannabis plants in a substandard environment will not give the plant an opportunity for full potential and vice versa. 

The cannabis plant is very resilient but is also greatly influenced by the environment it grows. Small differences in the soil content, humidity, and temperature can result in two different looking and performing plants and this is an issue even experienced breeders struggle with. 

Professionally grown cannabis using genetically stabilized seeds grown in optimized and temperature-controlled rooms can still show variations in their phenotypes. However, this might not mean that the cannabis strains have underperformed and are substandard in quality. In fact, growing and harvesting cannabis plants with variations in their phenotypes is the key to discovering new cannabis strains with unexpected but great results. 

Tier1 can be your one-stop shop for cannabis products. Speak with one of our representatives today!


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