Seeds vs Clones

One of the most frequent questions we get at NBS is: why we are developing seed-based varieties, when most producers use clones?

Why not? Seeds are...

  • Portable (1000 seeds weigh about an ounce)
  • Storable (seeds can be kept for many years under good conditions)
  • Affordable (production costs are lower than cuttings or tissue culture)
  • Cleaner (seeds are less likely to carry disease)
  • Easier to handle (no propagation equipment or facilities; just put them in some soil!)

Is there any biological or genetic reason not to produce seeds? The short answer is no; the longer answer is that if you look across modern crops, those that are propagated by clones have one of the following features:

  • They have a long life cycle, which makes it difficult to produce stable varieties (fruit trees)
  • They have complex genomes - same story (strawberry)
  • They are weak seed producers (banana)

In contrast, cannabis is a annual plant with a (relatively) simple genome and is a prolific seed producer.

So, let's turn the question around and ask why do so many current growers depend on cuttings for propagation?

In my view, this is a result of the (historically) underground nature of cannabis cultivation. Producing a stable seed-based variety takes a large number of plants, which is something most cannabis growers have not had. The lack of stable varieties, combined with the limited space available for growing lead growers to maximize productivity by finding one superior plant and propagating it via cuttings. Cuttings produce a highly uniform crop, but come at a cost of labor and potential for spreading diseases.

So, the choice between seeds and clones might depend on the societal context in which they are cultivated, and we are all happy to say that context is shifting rapidly.