Once upon a time the range of medicinal cannabis seeds available consisted substantially of landrace strains – i.e. strains well suited for growing in their native environment with little or no need for intervention, but not necessarily suited to other climates, modern cultivation techniques, indoor growing, high yield production, etc.
Over the last few decades these landrace strains have been interbred in countless combinations, drawing out and combining particular characteristics of various indica and sativa strains to give us everything from heavy yielding, strong, compact plants suited for cultivation in confined spaces, to early flowering outdoor varieties and colorful highly flavored psychedelic delights.
More recently, breeders have mastered the techniques required to produce feminized seeds, that is, seeds that when germinated will grow into female plants. This has been a huge boon for medical growers who have limited time and/or space, and simply want to plant some beans and grow sensimilla without having to be concerned with spotting and removing male plants from the crop. With regular seeds it is quite possible to germinate five seeds and for them all to turn out to be males once the flowering stage begins – a small disaster – but with feminized seeds this is extremely unlikely. The introduction of feminized seeds is arguable the most significant development in cannabis culture in the past twenty years.
However, things seldom stay still for long in the world of medicinal marijuana, and over the last few years a new type of cannabis plant has slowly but surely been creating a fresh revolution in the world of cannabis cultivation.
Traditionally, most if not all varieties of cannabis are either indica, sativa or a combination of sativa and indica genetics. However, there is a third sub-species of cannabis known as ruderalis. Cannabis ruderalis, or wild hemp, differs from sativa and indica varieties it two significant ways. Firstly, it contains little if any THC, and secondly, ruderalis plants reach maturity (i.e. flower) a set time after germination – flowering is not induced by changes in the light period.
As cannabis ruderalis is not reliant on day length shortening to induce flowering, it can be grown from seed to harvest under a constant 16 hour or even 24 hour lighting regime if desired. This can be convenient for indoor cultivation, as autos can be grown to maturity in a traditional vegging room alongside ‘traditional’ varieties if required. When grown outdoors, as the plants are reliant on plant age rather than day length to trigger flowering, automatic strains can be ready to harvest in the middle of the summer, with the possibility of even getting two crops in a season depending on latitude. No more struggling with frost, damp and mold as the days draw in!
Of course this is all good news and makes the autoflowering strains of cannabis very versatile and potentially useable in situations where standard sativas and indicas might not fare very well.
The flip side to all of this added versatility and increased pace of life cycle (i.e. quicker finishing plants), is that cannabis ruderalis is normally a smaller plant than an indica or a sativa, and as already mentioned, ruderalis has very little THC in it.
With regards to the smaller plant size produced by ruderalis genetics, this can be an advantage, particularly in situations where space is at a premium or there is a height restriction.
Of course this still leaves the matter of the THC content, which in a pure ruderalis strain is pretty much non existent, which has led people to dismiss automatic strains as not being worth bothering with. However, with careful selective crossing and interbreeding, cannabis breeders continue to improve the qualities of autoflowering varieties.
By carefully retaining the element of ruderalis genetics that gives the plant its auto-flowering behaviour, whilst at the same time incorporating various genetic traits from hazes, skunks, kushes and other highly desirable varieties, the medicinal properties of autoflowering cannabis varieties are improved upon year after year.
There is now a wide range of autoflowering cannabis varieties available from many of the long established seed breeders, as well as new breeders who specialize specifically in automatic varieties. There are now automatic hazes, automatic AKs, automatic Northern Lights, automatic cheeses, automatic criticals and blueberries, and so on.
Whilst automatic strains are not necessarily a direct substitute for ‘traditional’ varieties, there are many potential uses for such seeds and their ever increasing popularity is surely testament to their quality and versatility.