Originally, in the wild, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica are photoperiod plants. Put simply, this means that these plants can sense the days grow shorter as the seasons change and begin their flowering phases accordingly.
When grown indoors, growers have to use their lighting systems to mimic the changing of seasons, causing their plants to flower at the appropriate time.
However, that changed in the late 1990s when a cannabis breeder known as the Joint Doctor bred the first strain of autoflowering cannabis.
Autoflowering cannabis does exactly what the name suggests – it flowers automatically when it reaches maturity, regardless of the influence of natural or artificial lighting changes.
This is great for growers because it makes the whole growing process much, much simpler, as well as faster.
Where do Autoflowering Strains Come From?
I mentioned that the Joint Doctor was the first person to create an autoflowering cannabis strain, but how did he do it? Well, we don’t know all of the specifics for sure, but we do know that that auto-flowering trait itself came from a strain of Cannabis ruderalis.
C. ruderalis is a strain of cannabis that is native to Central and Eastern Europe. Due to living in colder, less hospitable climates than C. indica and C. sativa, ruderalis evolved to be auto-flowering so that the plant would have the opportunity to reproduce before adverse weather conditions killed it.
Ruderalis grows plentifully in ditches and elsewhere in its native environment – it is a weed, after all – but unfortunately, it doesn’t contain nearly as much THC as other varieties of cannabis.
By selectively breeding several generations of plants, the Joint Doctor was able to create hybrid strains that had features of indica and sativa as well as ruderalis’ auto-flowering trait.
In the early generations of his breeding experiments, this produced cannabis that grew quickly and without requiring as much care and attention, but wasn’t quite as potent as pure indica or sativa.
Today, there are more than 200 strains of autoflowering cannabis that are just as THC-heavy as their photoperiod alternatives.
Pros and Cons of Autoflowering Cannabis
Autoflowering cannabis is easier to grow than photoperiod cannabis, which makes it a great choice for less experienced growers. Because of their ruderalis genetics, autoflowering cannabis strains usually grow to a maximum height of around two feet. T
his means that their entire life cycle is relatively very short, and they can be grown in smaller spaces. That’s handy for people who don’t have access to a larger growing space, but there are downsides to autoflowering cannabis too.
Due to their small size, yields from autoflowering strains are often smaller than they are from a fully mature photoperiod strain.
Since autoflowering strains grow faster, many growers who use autoflower cannabis choose to replant immediately after harvest, continuing to plant and harvest in a continuous cycle to increase the total amount of bud they produce.
Another potential issue with autoflowering strains is that while they can be cloned, they can’t be cloned effectively.
You can take a cutting from a plant and use it to grow another plant, but the clone will still be at the same point in its life as the parent. The result is that the clone will only live as long as the parent plant does, which isn’t long enough for the clone to produce its own yield.
This means that growers need to start each autoflowering plant from a seed, which can become expensive.
Both photoperiod and autoflowering strains have their pros and cons. Which one is superior depends on the situation, and on the needs of the grower. But, it’s great to live at a time when we can grow good, quality bud without all the equipment and knowledge necessary to grow a photoperiod strain. Happy growing!
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Elijah Petty is a writer in the cannabis industry. He aims to use his platform to help educate people about cannabis and dispel some of the myths and misinformation that surround the plant.