How Seeds Are Made
The most natural example of how breeders make seeds replicate a strain requires both a female and male plant of the exact same genotype. In this scenario, breeders choose both a female and a male plant that possess all of the desired phenotypes they want. In most cases, the breeders are selecting from large populations of both male and female plants.
The breeders will first determine what traits (phenotypes) they want to be expressed in the offspring such as color, odor, and plant height. Then they will try and find a male and female that both exhibit these traits. It is important to remember that phenotypes are simply how characteristics of that strain are expressed in the growing environment. Then breeders will try to match up both a male and female plant as best they can, hoping that these traits will be dominantly expressed in their offspring (i.e., seeds).
At this point, advanced breeders need to use less guess work and instead employ proven, scientific methods to deduce what traits are dominant versus which are recessive, thus giving them an idea of what percentages of the offspring will possess each phenotype. Using a simple mathematical tool known as the Punnett square, breeders can map out the frequency at which certain traits will appear in offspring. To do this, however, requires that the breeder has worked extensively with a particular line and in a consistent growing environment and they need to have largely identified those traits which are dominant and recessive in that particular genotype. This can take several years to accomplish before the real selection and breeding even begins.
The selection process itself for choosing a male and female plant can take several cycles and a few years to nail down. During this time, breeders will grow dozens, if not hundreds, of seeds and closely examine every plant for the desired traits they want to be expressed. The longer a breeder has worked with a strain and the more variations they have seen, the better chance they have at identifying and isolating plants that are stable and true to that specific phenotype being sought.
Once a breeder has properly selected a mother and father plant, the real fun begins — sex. Plant sex is quite literally the old story of the birds and the bees, except in this situation the breeder acts a bee, spreading the pollen from the male plant to the female mother. To do this, both the male and female plant must be a few weeks into the flowering stage. Generally, the male will be ready before the female, but once the female is two-to-three weeks into flower and has developed tiny buds, she can be pollinated.
There are many ways that breeders can pollinate a female. Most breeders grow and flower the male and female plants in separate chambers. Once they reach sexual maturation, they can either manually pollinate the mother or move the male into her room and let nature take its course (sometimes with the aid of a fan or two). Some breeders will collect the pollen from the male’s pollen sacs then, using a brush, will paint the female buds with pollen. Other breeders will wait for the male’s sacs to naturally open and then put him in the center of the room, gently shaking him over the females for a few days. The number of seeds a breeder is trying to produce will usually affect the pollination method chosen. Larger amounts of pollen obviously turn into larger amounts of seeds. And as we all know, more seeds can only mean one thing; more plants and more bud!
Notes on Offspring
It is important for growers and seed consumers to understand that this type of breeding means offspring will never be 100 percent uniform. There will always be some variation when seeds are created naturally, using pollen from a male to pollinate a female. In fact, once plant traits are identified as dominant or recessive, breeders can calculate the odds of what each cross will produce in terms of uniformity.
Once the female counterpart is chosen, she is grown into a mother plant that can produce cuttings. The only way to ensure 100 percent identical offspring from one mother is to turn cuttings into clones.
The cuttings from the mother plant are turned into many clones over an extended period of time. After six to eight months of taking clones from a mother, most breeders choose a new mother. It is possible to turn a clone from one mother into a new mother for clones, but doing this for a prolonged period of time will cause what is known as “genetic drift,” whereby the offspring start to lose vigor, become weaker and the desired phenotypes those genetics were originally selected for begin to falter.
Breeders’ Terminology: A Quick Reference
The total sum of all genes from the parents of a given offspring; the complete and total genetic makeup of an organism in reference to its entire complex of traits.
The appearance and characteristics of a plant that are a result of the interaction between the genotype and the growing environment.
Also known as a “cross,” a hybrid is the offspring of two plants of differing genotypes. Hybrids are most often produced through human manipulation rather than nature.
A female plant grown large and bushy, whose ultimate purpose is to provide cuttings for clone production. Mother cannabis plants are kept in perpetual vegetation with cutting taken daily or weekly. The cuttings will become exact replicas of that mother plant, and can be flowered for either smoking or seed production.
A plant that produces pollen. Cannabis male plants are generally taller and faster growers than their female counterparts. When male pollen lands on female flowers, it is secreted and seeds begin to form.
A plant that produces both male and female sex organs (both flowers and pollen sacs).
The ability for one plant to produce seeds without the presence of another plant. This process refers to hermaphroditic plants that can therefore self-pollinate. This can occur naturally due to genetics or plant stress, or be unnaturally forced upon plants by breeders by use of chemical additives.