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The Pros and Cons of Clones and Seeds

In the rapidly growing worldwide cannabis industry, clones play a huge role. When images of huge grows flash across your television screen, you’re nearly always looking at hundreds of clones that were created for their high yield, potency, and market appeal. Cloning specific strains provides cannabis companies with consistency of product that the industry demands.

All of this would be impossible, however, without seeds, which these days play a less visible role, but are just as important—or more important—than clones. Let’s examine the role each plays in today’s cannabis space and learn about the vital importance of both. Each plays a significant role in the commercial and private sectors and drive the market in very different ways. Without seeds, of course, there could never be clones, but the relationship goes well beyond that. Both clones and seeds are relevant from a financial perspective in today’s evolving cannabis world.

Let’s take a deeper look at the relevance and differences of each.


When you walk into any dispensary or adult-use cannabis store, you will see rows of flower for sale, usually in large jars so you can visually examine and appreciate some of the individual traits of the separate strains. The coating of sticky trichomes, the hues of green and/or purple colors of each, the size and shape of flower structure, and most of all, the smell of each is distinctly different. Sometimes the differences are subtle and sometimes they’re dramatic.

While the contents of each different jar were initially the result of a plant that was created from seed, the jar contents all came from clones of a select phenotype (the mother plant) that best expressed the most desirable qualities of the strain genotype. Since the mother plant for each separate strain can produce a vast host of clones, there will be an abundant supply of each strain, all with the same consistency, for the dispensary in the future. Dispensary customers purchase and consume various strains, and some of the strains become personal favorites of those people. When these customers revisit the dispensary to purchase their newfound favorite strains, they want to be able to purchase the exact same thing and have the same experience with those strains as they did the first time they bought them. The consistency that results from these cloned strains makes that expected experience a reality. The customers purchase their favorite strains again with confidence that they will re-experience what they enjoyed the first time.

Something entirely different would occur if the dispensary sold strains produced from seed. All strains have phenotypes that vary as far as traits go. Some of the most stable strains have a very limited amount of known and expected phenotypes. Other strains may have several phenotypes. Since seeds from a given strain can include numerous different phenotypes that vary in traits and quality, seeds are not used for commercial propagation of that strain that’s intended for consumption by the masses. People want and expect consistency when they buy a strain, and that simply wouldn’t occur if dispensaries sold flower produced from seed. Consumers desire and demand consistency and can become dissatisfied when they don’t get it.

This is a similar situation as a wine enthusiast buying a specific vintage (year) of their favorite varietal that was produced by a specific winery. If the person takes the bottle home and enjoy it, returning the next day to buy the same vintage of the same varietal from the same winery, he or she will enjoy the same wine experience. If, however, they buy the same varietal from a different vintage from the winery or a different winery, or the same varietal from a different vineyard the winery owns, the wine will vary, and the wine experience will be different. Although wine can age and gain complexity so the same vintage varies depending on the time and year it was consumed, the analogy between wine and cannabis has some remarkable similarities. The science behind both wine and cannabis production is fascinating.

Do Cloned Strains Change?

This question can lead to lively debate and discussion wherever a group of cannabis aficionados assemble. Valid arguments can be made on both sides of the discussion, as well as much beard-stroking and pontificating. While the cannabis world is full of know-it-alls who stand firm with their beliefs, this question is relevant to anyone involved in the industry, since clones play such a big role.

Theoretically—and scientifically—clones should never change. They should remain the same genetic copy as the mother plant from which they were created. In reality, though, cloned strains do change, from a variety of factors. Whether it’s repeated clones from clones, that over time leads to loss of plant vigor, or degradation and declined health of a once vibrant mother plant, clones can change, often from environmental factors and varying cultivation practices. The varying potency among the same batch of clones due to environmental factors defines a lack of consistency—and clones are all about consistency. The topic of genetic drift can also hold answers as to why some cloned strains can and sometimes do change. For the modern cannabis industry, however, clones are essential and cloned strains should have a long and potent future.


As impractical and useless as seeds can be for many commercial cannabis endeavors, home growers and cannabis research and development departments love them—and for very good reasons. Each unsprouted seed has the untapped potential for greatness.

Obviously, seed banks love seeds, too, and make a business out of creating them and selling them worldwide. Cannabis genetics in seed form travel across and between continents on a regular basis. Although cannabis companies sometimes purchase seeds and have limited use for them, seed banks cater to a huge and growing number of home cultivators. The best seed companies are a good source for a massive number of top-drawer cannabis strains. Even strains that were initially clone-only strains have a seed version that’s a very similar reproduction of the clone version—enough similarities to pass for the same, at least.

When seed banks create new strains, they usually grow a lot of plants as part of the process, selecting only the finest male and female plants from which to use in the breeding process. The most potent plants are bred selectively as part of the strain creation process. Through this selective breeding, the goal is to produce seeds that are stable enough to have consistent traits with regards to potency, plant structure, and terpenes. Although there are stable strains in seed form with a very limited number of phenotypes, some very good ones have several—Sensi Seeds’ Jack Herer quickly comes to mind. Other strains have consistently stable seeds but have a rare, elusive—but unique and special—phenotype that occurs infrequently, usually to the delight of the grower (the rare wild cherry phenotype of Serious Seeds’ AK-47 serves as a good example).

Seed banks have done a lot to make things easier for home cultivators. Through the production of feminized seed and auto-flowering strains sold in seed form, many novice growers have an easier time harvesting a successful crop. While there is still a big market for “normal” seed, particularly for growers who want to breed new strains, both feminized seed and auto-flowering seeds are commanding increasingly larger share of the overall seed market. Feminized seed is seed that’s produced from specialized breeding procedures to produce seeds that will only grow female plants, while auto-flowering seeds are produced using breeding techniques that cross Cannabis indica and C. sativa strains with C. ruderalis, a low-THC, high-CBD cannabis species native to central and eastern Europe and Russia. These auto-flowering strains are often 80-percent sativa or indica and 20-percent ruderalis. Through selective breeding, they can be quite potent, and they differ from other cannabis seeds by flowering regardless of the photo-period.

If a home grower or commercial cannabis company wants clones of a strain, they will either find a source for a good cut (clone), which they will either grow to maturity or use to create additional clones—or they will grow a number of examples of the strain from seed. They will then select the best example with regard to plant structure, cannabinoid profile, and pleasing terpenes; clone that example; and use it as the mother plant for additional clones.

How Long Do Seeds Last?

Seeds become less viable with age. The germination rate will lower over time until they are eventually useless. The overall vigor of some plants created from old seed may be less than ideal, too, at least in the seedling stage. Some strains that are sold in seed form have been heavily inbred, and may also have a lack of overall vigor during the early stages of growth. Plants grown from old seed or inbred strains, however, will get stronger as they grow and soon become healthy, vibrant plants.

Typically, new strains that are the result of crossing older, well-known strains will have a great deal of hybrid vigor and will grow quickly and strong during both the entire vegetative and flower stages of growth. New strains in seed form—especially if they are potent and unique—are always a welcome addition to the cannabis space. Strong genetics are part of what helps the industry grow and evolve. The cannabis plant is an amazing thing, and the constant reshuffling of old, known genetics can sometimes produce something entirely new and different.

Cannabis cultivators can accomplish excellent results growing from either seeds or clones. Both have a special place and purpose in the age of modern cannabis propagation. Depending on the goal of the individual grow, one or the other will provide the best result.

Written By: Phil Samuelson

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