Curious about cannabis seeds? Leafly tells you everything you need to know in the article below. Read on to learn about seed germination, variations and growing costs.
Cannabis Seeds 101: All You Need to Know and More
By Ryland Derning
What are Cannabis Seeds?
Cannabis is a dioecious plant, meaning its female and male reproductive organs are found on separate individuals. Female cannabis plants are grown in an environment without males to produce what we find in medical and recreational stores: seedless, high potency marijuana flowers, traditionally known as “sinsemilla.”
In order to reproduce, the flower of a female plant must be pollinated by a male plant after which the female flower produces seeds. However, many varieties of cannabis can produce some male flowers alongside female flowers on the same plant, especially if exposed to environmental stressors or left to flower for a longer than normal period. This is known as the hermaphrodite condition, and sometimes these male flowers will produce viable pollen and self-pollinate the surrounding female flowers to create seeds.
Once the seeds are mature, the female plant begins to die, and seeds are either dropped to the ground where they germinate and grow into new cannabis plants the next spring, or they are harvested for processing into hemp seed oil, food products, or to be sown to become the next generation of plants.
What are Feminized Cannabis Seeds?
Feminized cannabis seeds are seeds that are produced by causing the monoecious, or hermaphrodite condition in a female cannabis plant. This is achieved through several methods:
– By spraying the plant with a solution of colloidal silver
– Through a method known as Rodelization
– Spraying gibberellic acid (much less common)
Feminized seeds produce plants that are nearly identical to this self-pollinated (or “selfed”) female parent plant, as only one set of genes is present. This is sometimes referred to as “cloning by seed” and will not produce any male plants. However, most producers of feminized seeds do not go through the lengthy (and costly) process of identifying a completely stable mother plant for seed production. Many, if not most feminized seeds end up being hermaphrodites, which can result in flowers with seeds in them and reduced yields. Most experienced growers will not use feminized seed, and they should never be used for breeding purposes.
What are Auto-Flowering Cannabis Seeds?
Most cannabis plants begin their flowering cycle when the photoperiod, or length of time they are exposed to light each day, is reduced to somewhere between 12 and 14 hours, regardless of the size or age of the plant. The species Cannabis ruderalis, however, will begin flowering once the plant reaches a certain age and does not depend on a change in photoperiod.
Some breeders have crossed the low-THC ruderalis with other more potent varieties to create auto-flowering strains. These strains will produce indica, sativa, or hybrid-like cannabis flowers that start blooming as soon as they reach maturity. This is desirable especially in northern climates where summers are short and cold, and wet weather comes early in the fall. Auto-flowering strains can be started in early spring and will flower during the longest days of summer to take advantage of the highest quality light available. Unlike clone mothers, auto-flowering strains cannot be kept in a vegetative state.
What is the Difference Between Cannabis Seeds and Cannabis Clones?
A clone is a cutting taken from a plant and then placed in some sort of grow medium to induce root production. Once it has rooted, it can be grown into a mature plant that is genetically identical to the one it was cut from.
Seeds carry genetic information from two parent plants that can be expressed in numerous different combinations, some like the mother, some like the father, and many presenting various traits from both. Creating identical cannabis plants using seeds is a very difficult and lengthy process. Generally, cannabis producers will plant many seeds and choose the best plant, and then take clones from that individual to grow their cannabis flowers, or simply start with a proven clone acquired from another grower as their mother plant.
Where Can I Buy Cannabis Seeds?
You can find cannabis seeds for sale from numerous online seed banks, many of which are located in the UK, the Netherlands, Spain, and Canada, where the laws on selling cannabis seeds are much more lax than in other countries. If you are ordering seeds from these companies and live within the United States, there is always a chance that they will be seized by US Customs and Border Protection. In states that have home-grow provisions in their medical marijuana laws, you may purchase seeds at dispensaries. Seed banks are popping up in many of these states and will often ship cannabis seeds anywhere in the US.
What is the Legality of Cannabis Seeds?
Depending on where you live, it may or may not be legal to sell, purchase, or possess cannabis seeds. In the United States, all cannabis seeds are considered illegal at the federal level unless they have been sterilized. Of course, all state laws allowing medical and recreational grows are technically breaking these federal regulations, so if you have a recreational grow license or medical recommendation in one of those states and follow the applicable codes, you can probably consider it legal to possess cannabis seeds.
Seed banks in other countries are allowed to sell their products “for souvenir purposes only” due to the specific wording of the legal codes there. US Customs and Border Protection will seize any cannabis seeds found in packages shipped into the US.
What Makes a Cannabis Seed High Quality?
There are several factors that go into determining whether cannabis seeds are high quality or not. First of all, they must be allowed to fully mature before harvest. Next, they must be properly stored as to not acquire mold or other pathogens that can spoil them. Seeds should be stored in a dark, cool place and used within 16 months, or frozen for future use.
The most important factor in seed quality is genetics. To grow quality cannabis, you need good genetics. Some less scrupulous breeders will simply cross a nice female with a random male and sell the resulting seeds. Other breeders will take their time crossing and backcrossing plants to stabilize the most desirable traits, while still producing an array of different phenotypes. This group represents most of the seeds on the market.
Really dedicated breeders have worked for years to create “inbred lines”, or IBLs, that will produce plants with very little noticeable difference. IBLs represent only a small fraction of the cannabis seed market, as they are generally used by breeders and not by cannabis producers.
How Do Cannabis Seeds Germinate?
In the wild, female cannabis plants drop their seeds as they die in the fall, then when the warmer, wetter weather of spring comes around, these seeds sprout and become new plants. Traditional outdoor methods used for centuries involve simply broadcasting seeds by hand onto cultivated fields.
There are many methods used by modern growers to germinate seeds. The easiest is to put the seed in a light potting soil mix covered by ⅛ to ¼ of an inch of soil. Keep the soil moist and relatively warm (50-70 degrees Fahrenheit) until the seed has sprouted into a seedling. Other techniques involve lightly scuffing the seed coat to ensure the seed is able to crack open, pre-soaking the seeds, and even germinating them in a wet paper towel until the epicotyl emerges and then gently planting them in the grow medium with tweezers. There are also popular products called starter plugs that consist of a small block of growing medium, often compressed peat or coco coir, with a small hole in the middle into which the seed is placed.
What is There to Know About High CBD Seeds?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the chemical components (known collectively as cannabinoids) found in the cannabis plant. Lately much has been made of the potential benefits of CBD for treating the symptoms of many diseases and conditions. Through millennia of human selection for high THC content, cannabis with high levels of CBD has become exceedingly rare, as the genetic pathways through which THC is synthesized by the plant are different than those for CBD production.
Cannabis used for hemp production has been selected for other traits, including very low THC content, so as to comply with various drug laws. Consequently, many varieties of hemp plant produce significant quantities of CBD. As interest in CBD as a medicine has grown, many breeders have been breeding cannabis that has high levels of CBD by crossing drug species with hemp species; some of these hybrids have little or no THC, some have 1:1 ratios, and some that still have high THC contents along with significant amounts of CBD (3% or more).
Seeds for these varieties are now widely available online and through medical dispensaries. It should be noted, however, that any plant that is grown from these seeds is not guaranteed to produce high levels of CBD, as it takes many years to create a seed line that produces consistent results. There are breeders who are currently working on making seed strains with consistent CBD levels, but until these seeds are widely available, a grower who wants to produce cannabis with a certain THC to CBD ratio will need to grow from a tested and proven clone or grow many seeds out to maturity and have samples tested at a lab to determine the cannabinoid levels of each.
Why are Cannabis Seeds So Expensive?
Cannabis seeds generally sell for about $10-$12 each, a far cry from the $3 pack of tomato seeds you can buy at the local nursery. People are often quite taken aback when they find that a pack of 10 cannabis seeds can cost well over $100. It’s not hard to pinpoint the reason for this: prohibition.
The breeding of commercial crop seeds can be done in a relatively short time because of the enormous scale and abundant resources of commercial breeding programs. The general rule is that if you can grow more plants at once, it’s easier to locate and stabilize desired traits and is less expensive to produce massive quantities of seeds. Add to this new scientific methods of testing for desired traits using tissue cultures and lab analyses, and you have a great advantage over your average cannabis breeder.
Even larger scale cannabis grows are miniscule when compared to your average commercial agricultural seed production facilities. Cannabis breeders working under prohibition or strictly regulated legal environments are simply not able to work on this scale, and must take much longer, sometimes as long as decades, to produce a quality seed line. When you combine this restriction with the threat of potential legal consequences for breeders (many have spent time in jail), it becomes easy to see why cannabis seeds are so expensive. It should be noted that high cost does not always equal high quality, as the industry is unregulated.