You might not be aware of this weird idiosyncrasy about growing cannabis: even when plants are grown from precisely the same seed, under precisely the same conditions, every single plant usually ends up looking a little bit different. A strain you've known and loved a million times could be present at one dispensary as a chunky, Christmas-tree-shaped bud, and at another retailer as a conical or even a banana-shaped one. What gives?
To understand the reason some iterations of a strain end up with spindly, skinny leaves, and others with stubby, fat ones, you first need a basic primer on plant biology: specifically, the oft-misused terms "genotype" and "phenotype."
"Every living organism is the result of evolution that works by the same basic principle," according to Royal Queen Seeds. "The genotype or genetic code carries all the genetic information regarding growth, appearance, and all the characteristics we can later observe."
"It's crucial to understand that a genotype or genetic code is not something that is set in stone but rather defines a certain range of possibilities. It mainly depends on the environment the organism lives in what specific bits and pieces of the genotype will be activated."
Cannabis plant is shaped by its environment
So far, so good. What the plant ends up looking like has to do with a combination of genotype and environment: that end results is known as phenotype - aka, the physical expression of certain genes triggered by the environment in which the plant is grown.
That last part is key, according to Leafly's guide to cannabis genetics, which advises that "everything from color, shape, smell, and resin production are affected by the environment." Factors including (but not limited to) the nutrients a grower feeds a plant, to room temperature, to the the amount and angle of light, the soil type, and time of harvest, all affect the phenotype, as "certain conditions [coax out] sativa- or indica-like traits."
As if there weren't enough variables to consider: each seed even has its unique genotype, a fact that many buyers don't realize.
"When you purchase seeds of a certain strain, you'll receive "family members" of this strain that share a large percentage of genetics with thousands of (inbred) siblings, yet they're not identical twins," according to Royal Queen Seeds. "The genotype is usually very close to identical, but there are still differences, comparable to fraternal twins if you will."
So, for fans of cookie-cutter, utterly predictable cannabis: we hate to tell you this, you may just have to accept that variety is the spice of life.