There are a number of mutations that can occur in cannabis, some very minor effect other than slight cosmetic differences, such as variegation or trifoliation, and yet others will exhibit more pronounced physical alterations to leaf and stem structure like what is seen in the Freakshow, Ducksfoot, and Dr. Grinspoon strains (look those up if you haven’t seen them - wacky stuff). These differences are very interesting to behold, but genetic alterations that modify the chromosomal makeup, called Polyploidy, can dramatically alter the chemical expression of the plant in addition to odd structural anomalies.
Cannabis, like humans, are diploid, with two sets of chromosomes. However, in polyploidy, a very interesting and potentially beneficial alteration to the genetic makeup of the plant occurs; it contains extra sets of chromosomes. Triploids will have three sets of chromosomes, tetraploids have four, and onward. It just so happens at this moment here at Lucky 13 Seed Co., we’ve got a few different polyploid plants growing in our garden, so let’s take a closer look.
The first give-away that you have polyploid is an alteration to the stem growth. Polyploids will often develop a flattened stem. This is how you can identify a true polyploid from a simple trifoliate plant. Trifoliates develop leaves in sets of threes (from the same node) as opposed to sets of two, but they do not contain an extra chromosome, and no additional mutation will occur other than this minor alteration to the leaf pattern. Our Skunk #1 female in the video above began life with trifoliate leaf pattern but soon developed the flattened stem characteristic of a polyploid.
Triploids will initially reveal themselves by developing three sets of leaves from each node, but as they mature the stem will flatten and bifurcate, splitting into multiple terminal shoots, and the leaf pattern and nodes will developing haphazardly from this point on. Multiple tops will form, sometimes creating an entire cluster of terminal shoots emerging from one single stem, and very often a contorted and twisted stem will also occur, as seen in the video below of our Sweet Pink Grapefruit.
Another trait I see quite often with polyploidy is pre-flowering under long daylight hours with heavy pistil growth that borderlines on full flower emergence (considering the variety is NOT an auto flower). The plant will look like it’s beginning to bloom, although it often will not go past this point until the light cycle is reduced. It is also common to see mutated leaf growth patterns in a polyploid, with oddly shaped swirls or upside down leaves.
When taken into flowering that is when things can get even weirder. Multiple bud sites can form in the same location, and once pistil growth reaches peak development, the buds can begin to look quite alien with an absolute plethora of white stigmas resembling a sea anemone (see photo below). Buds may form directly on the stem, or even on the leaf petioles themselves.
The Benefits of Polyploid Mutants
The extra set of chromosomes contained within the genetic structure of polyploid cannabis plants can have some very exciting benefits; one of them being extreme vigour. As you can see with this Triploid Skunk #1 plant, it is growing at easily double the rate of these of the other Skunk #1 plants that surround it.
In fact this plant was growing at such a rapid rate that it was chewing through nutrients so fast that it depleted the soil just two weeks into flowering. Heavy top dressing of organic nutrients and frequent compost tea applications were required just to keep it from becoming deficient. Compared to all the other plants grown from the same batch of seed, bud set was far more rapid, resin production began 10 days sooner, and essential oil production was vastly more pungent; completely enveloping the room with powerful aromas of sharp citrus and pine. Even though the stems developed thick and strong, the sheer heft of the swelling buds began bending the branches over at week 5 of bloom. Significant staking was required to keep them from snapping under their own weight.
Rapid growth, vigour, and increased yields are all fantastic benefits of a polyploid cannabis plant, but the really exciting difference is seen in the potential potency of the cannabinoid profile. Polyploids are very often known to produce absolutely stratospheric levels of cannabinoids. It is thought that the plant actually gets ‘double-coded’ for potency with the extra set of chromosomes, setting up the plant to produce THC levels over 30%, with some freaks cracking the 40% mark.
Downfalls of Polyploids
Polyploids aren’t all fun and games. These mutants can be very unpredictable in their growth habits, and can, at times, become downright unmanageable. The bud density can become so uncontrollable that it’s nearly impossible to get adequate airflow into the core of the plant, leading to inevitable bud rot and mold. If you discover such a freak plant, humidity levels will need to be extremely tightly controlled to prevent such a disaster, and airflow must be maximized both above, below, and within the canopy.
Polyploids are also notorious for producing male and female flowers on the same plant. In some cases you can actually end up with multiple branches that are entirely female, and others that are completely male. Often times these traits develop very early in flowering making it easy to remove the plant before it contaminates your crop with pollen, but I’ve seen this happen very late into flower as well so it’s necessary to keep a very close eye on your plants as they develop.
Another tricky aspect of polyploids is their tendency to resist cloning. You would think they would clone exceptionally fast due to their enhanced vigour, and for some this is the case, but others will simply refuse to sprout new roots once severed from the mother.
Making matters even more tricky is the fact that some of these elite specimens will not remain in the vegetative state long term. I had a pair of polyploid Grapefruit clones under 18 hours of light for many months when all of sudden they just began to flower without any change to the light cycle. Thankfully I had enough advance warning that I was able to pollenate them with a male Sweet Tooth (Blueberry x Sweet Pink Grapefruit - another line that is known to have a high incidence of chromosomal anomalies) to capture those genetics in seed form.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
If you do discover a mutant polyploid cannabis plant in your garden, it is extremely important to keep a very close eye on it at all times. Daily inspections for mold, mildew, and male flowers become essential, especially as flowering progresses. Due to the accelerated growth rate, dramatic changes to the plant can happen almost overnight. If at all possible, it is recommended to flower a polyploid in an isolated tent, away from the rest of your crop, until you’ve adequately assessed it’s growth habits. And if you do manage to clone one, don’t expect it to stay in the vegetative state for long. Plan ahead and have some pollen in storage in case it begins to flower without warning.
What Causes the Mutation?
There are two ways polyploids come to be in cannabis. The first and most common is just natural mutation. The second is done intentionally by chemically treating cannabis seed with the substance Colchicine. The latter method is being used by cannabis researchers in an attempt to breed polyploid cannabis seed, although the results thus far have not been reliably consistent. Organic growers and medical cannabis users are advised to avoid such chemically altered plants, as there has been very little research into what, if any, long term consequences may result from ingesting plants that have been genetically modified in this way.
How do I get some?
If you’re enticed by the possibility of extreme levels of THC, turbo charged growth rates, and freakish yields, and are unfazed by the potential challenges that may result from dabbling in mutant weed, here are the strains that I’ve personally found to produce the greatest liklihood of mutant marijuana:
Sweet Pink Grapefruit
Island Sweet Skunk
I cannot guarantee that you'll find a mutant plant in the list above. You could germinate over a hundred seeds and never find a single one, or you could get three in a single pack; it's a total crap shoot. However, in every one of these strains I have found polyploids on more than one occasion.
P.S. The Skunk #1 seen in the video at the beginning of this post was successfully pollenated with our Sweet Pink Grapefruit male to restore the classic Island Sweet Skunk strain to it's former glory. The offspring of these two legends will give you an excellent chance at obtaining a high quality polyploid if you're up for the hunt. Seeds drop fall 2020.