Some of you may have just asked yourselves, “what in the world is a triploid”? While most people may not be familiar with the term triploid, almost every one of us encounters triploids on a daily basis. If you have ever eaten a seedless watermelon, you have, in fact, eaten a triploid watermelon. And it’s not just watermelons — we eat plenty of triploid crops everyday including bananas, citrus, and grapes. As you have probably guessed, one trait that ties all of these triploid plants together is the fact that they are seedless.
But what does it mean to be “triploid”?
You may remember from science class that we humans have two copies of each of our 23 chromosomes. This makes us diploid, aka 2N. It turns out that most plants, including cannabis, also have two paired sets of chromosomes and are also diploid. Specifically, cannabis has two copies of each of its ten chromosomes. While most plants are diploid, it turns out that plants can naturally not only be diploid but also can be tetraploid (four copies of each chromosome, 4N), octoploid (eight copies of each chromosome, 8N), and more! Plants can even be naturally triploid, but it rarely happens. For this reason, scientists have developed a way to create any triploid you want merely by crossing a tetraploid with a diploid. Dark Heart Nursery figured out how to do this with drug-type cannabis and has created the first truly scalable platform for seedless cannabis production: PistilGuard™ Genetics.
Sinsemilla and the problem with pollen
We all know that seedless cannabis is already the gold standard in the industry and consumers place a higher value on seedless cannabis flower. You may ask, “if we are already able to produce seedless cannabis, why do we even need triploid cannabis”? Well, the answer to that question can be summarized in one word — pollen. When growing cannabis at scale, male plants must be excluded from the grow, not just because female plants have much higher levels of cannabinoids, terpenes, and secondary metabolites, but also because a single male can pollinate every female in a grow!
Sinsemilla or “without seeds” was a term coined in Mexico in the 1970s. It laid the foundation for how we grow cannabis to this day. These growers realized that, when they planted cannabis seeds, if they scouted through the grow and removed every single male plant, the female plants wouldn’t be pollinated by the males. These unpollinated female plants had higher yields and cannabinoid content than a similar female plant that would normally have been pollinated. Someone quickly realized that if you just produced clones of a female plant, you could also create a uniformly female plant grow. This clonal propagation method is still how most cannabis is grown to this day. Along the way, scientists also discovered a way to create so-called feminized seeds. By treating a female plant with a chemical to produce “male” flowers, you can use this pollen to pollinate a female cannabis plant, resulting in seeds where 99% of the plants will be female.
Unfortunately, there are still some issues with our current production system and, again, it’s caused by that pesky pollen. When it comes to pollen, “life finds a way” so to speak. It is well known that female cannabis plants can produce male flowers, colloquially called “herming”, so even though the entire grow is clonally female, it is still possible for a male flower to form and produce pollen. This pollen can, in turn, pollinate every female plant in the grow. This means growers have to add additional labor to scout their grows to find these male flowers and remove them.
There is another pollen problem out there that is likely an even bigger issue and it’s getting worse every day. As the total planted acreage of outdoor hemp and cannabis increases each year, so too increases the chances of cross-pollination. Hemp and cannabis pollen can travel over five miles via the wind, so pollen from that hemp seed production field on the other side of town could easily find its way into an all-female cannabis grow, pollinate all the plants, and ruin the crop. This issue is not a future problem either; this is already happening and there are counties in California that have enacted hemp growing bans, and there have been lawsuits filed in other states from this exact thing happening.
Fortunately, triploid cannabis can solve the pollen problem. Triploid plants are seedless because they are “pollen-insensitive,” meaning that they don’t set seed when pollinated. Neither a single male flower, nor a field of hemp pose a threat for inadvertent pollination. For this reason, triploid cannabis has the potential to transform cannabis production by reducing labor costs and eliminating the possibility of crop loss due to unwanted pollination. This will directly lead to lower production costs and the ability to increase the scale of cannabis cultivation.
Another exciting aspect of triploid cannabis is the ability to selectively breed triploids to enhance desirable traits. As we discussed earlier, triploid cannabis has three copies of each chromosome — two from one parent and one from the other. When you look at it this way, you can selectively pick the cultivar providing two copies of the chromosomes to create varieties with extra copies of important genes such as multiple copies of certain terpene synthase genes or rare cannabinoids. Triploids, thus, open numerous specialized breeding opportunities to create truly unique genetics.
Is triploid cannabis GMO?
Triploid plants are not genetically modified organisms. In fact, triploid cannabis occurs naturally, although at an extremely low rate. Additionally, all of us have been safely enjoying triploid products for years every time we eat a banana, watermelon, or seedless grapes.
It is estimated that the total US cannabis market was worth over $100 billion in 2021 but unfortunately the legal market only accounted for 25% of that total. The fact of the matter is that the cost to produce legal cannabis is much higher than what black market producers can grow it for. For legal growers to compete with and surpass the black-market growers, legal growers need tools that can lower their production costs. Triploid cannabis has the potential to transform commercial cannabis production by both reducing costs and eliminating the risk of crop loss due to unwanted pollination events.