7 Common Cannabis Plant Mutations

Learn about the most common mutations, deformities, and unusual growth patterns!
15 April 2021
6 min read
7 Common Cannabis Plant Mutations

  • 1. Unusual number of “fingers” on the leaves
  • 2. Unusual leaf shape
  • 3. Plant topping itself
  • 4. Twin seedlings
  • 5. Buds growing on the center of the leaf
  • 6. Leaves with unusual color patterns
  • 7. Seedlings with three leaves
  • 8. In conclusion

Mutations in cannabis plants are a natural occurrence that can change a plant’s characteristics and is most common in the leaves, flowers, and stems. 

Now, there are a couple of mutations that can affect plant growth but, in general, most mutations that don’t cause a deformity (or malformation) will cause your plant to grow odd without affecting its health, allowing your plants to grow normally.

These mutations can cause your plant to exhibit different colored leaves, grow an odd number of apexes (number of fingers on the leaves) or even grow more branches than it should; Most growers prefer not to grow mutated plants but it can be fun and you could learn a lot by seeing how a mutated cannabis plant grows.

So here are the most common cannabis plant mutations that will still allow your plant to grow normally and produce decent yields if grown properly, obviously.

1. Unusual Number of “Fingers” On The Leaves

An unusual number of “fingers” in each fan leaf is considered to be a mutation in some cases, but can also be just a characteristic of that strain’s genetics. Despite the “standard” number of apexes (or “fingers”) being 7, it’s very common to see hybrid strains with more or fewer apexes, depending on the genetic mix.

However, there are several different mutations that can affect not only the number of apexes, developing more apexes than usual (or less), but also how they grow.

For example, some strains can grow up to 11 apexes or even more, which can be due to genetics (if they grow properly) or a mutation if the growth is unusual, like in the following image.


Common cannabis mutations: odd number of apexes

Leaves can grow with unusual number of apexes, sometimes growing on top of each other.

As you can see in the images above, this mutation can occur in different ways but in all cases, the leaves fingers will grow differently than what you’re used to. Now, this type of mutation does not apply only when the leaves grow a lot of apexes, this kind of mutation can also cause the leaves to grow fewer apexes than the specific strain should.

These one-fingered leaves are very common to the leaves that develop when a photoperiodic plant is revegetating but you won’t get confused because revegetating occurs when your plant is already flowering and the light cycle changes back to 12/12.

The one-fingered leaves will only start growing after that change happens whereas, when the cause is a mutation, the one-fingered leaves will grow since germination.


2. Unusual Leaf Shape

Apart from the unusual number of apexes, cannabis leaves can also grow with an unusual shape which is also a mutation although it can be harder to come by than the unusual number of apexes. In most cases, leaf shape will most likely not affect plant growth, your plant will grow as it should but, obviously, with different leaves.

It is also possible to get a mutation that affects a couple of leaves, so your plant will grow regular leaves with a couple of mutated leaves here and there.


Common cannabis mutations: odd-shaped leaves

Leaves can develop unusual shapes, sometimes with the apexes glued together or with the margins separated.

Nowadays, there are a lot of growers and breeders that look after these mutations and try to stabilize them, this is why you can find multiple strains that produce leaves like the ones you can see in the images above.

This occurs because when a breeder finds a mutation, they will crossbreed it until the random mutation becomes a full strain, with an offspring that will always develop the same mutation.

3. Plant Topping Itself

A self-topped plant does basically what most growers who perform high-stress training techniques do, top the plant. This causes the plant to not develop a main cola but several side branches instead, resulting in a plant that grows low and bushy instead of tall, just like your plant would when topped.


Common cannabis mutations: self-topped plant

Self-topping happens when plants do not develop the main cola, growing several side branches just like when topping.

When your plant is self-topped, there shouldn’t be a problem other than your plant growing topped but in some cases, this self-topping mutation may come with other mutations such as the one in the second image where the plant grew one-fingered leaves where it should have grown the main cola.


4. Twin Seedlings

Just like it happens with other living beings, cannabis plants can also grow twins; This happens when two seedlings come out of one single cannabis seeds, both of these seedlings will have the potential to form a separate plant and grow normally but in some cases, one of them may grow shorter and more fragile.


Common cannabis mutations: twin seedlings

2 or even 3 seedlings come out of one single seed!

This happens because the bigger seedling will most likely take over the space both of them are growing in and the smaller one will end up dying so you can always let them be or separate them, either way, they should grow normally.

5. Buds Growing On The Center of The Leaf

Mutations don’t always apply to the fingers of the leaves, mutations can appear in different ways and sometimes will definitely surprise you. There have been reports of buds growing on the center of the big cannabis fan leaves, as you may know, the leaves don’t contain much THC but when this mutation occurs, you will have lots of resin growing from the center of each leaf.

As you can see, there’s a flower forming in the center which is definitely not common.


Common cannabis mutations: buds growing on the leaves

With this mutation male or female flowers develop on the base (or center) of the leaves.

Despite not being big buds, you can definitely smoke them and make edibles, extractions, or whatever you prefer; Now, this mutation doesn’t actually make the plant grow buds on the leaves, it makes them grow a flowering site.

This means that the plant can also grow pollen sacs on the leaves if it ends up being a male or turn into a hermaphrodite so, if this happens in your grow space, make sure you separate it from the others because it will pollinate your female plants. 


6. Leaves With Unusual Color Patterns

Unusual color patterns may be caused by mainly two things:

  • The tobacco mosaic virus;
  • Or variegation.

These unusual color patterns are often confused with the TMV (tobacco mosaic virus) but unlike the TMV, this isn’t caused by a virus but by a genetic mutation. Unusual color patterns (aka variegation) usually present themselves by splitting the plant, stem, or buds in two, where each side has a different color.

No one knows exactly what colors a plant may present, but there have been cases that half of the leaf (or the whole plant) turns white, yellow, or purple


Common cannabis mutations: variegation

Variegation happens when the leaves, stem, buds or whole plant presents unusual colors.

These mutations are not a nutrient deficiency or any other problem and cannot be fixed, your plant will grow as it should but the buds, stems or part of the plant will show an unusual color.

Have in mind that variegation doesn’t affect your plant, your plant will be able to grow normally despite the odd colors, also remember that this mutation is more common on the leaves or stems but it’s possible for the whole plant to be affected when this happens even the buds will turn white, yellow, purple or any other color but don’t worry, they are no less potent or anything, they’re just showing a different color.

7. Seedlings with Three Leaves

As you may know, cannabis seedlings grow with just 2 round leaves (aka cotyledons), but sometimes the seedling may have a mutation and grow 3 leaves. Now, this won’t affect plant growth and sometimes the plant grows out of it and starts growing normally so you should treat your triple seedling normally.


Common cannabis mutations: tri-leaf seedlings

Tri-leaf seedling suffer from a mutation that makes them grow more than 1 pair of leaves since germination.

But in some cases your plant won’t grow out of it and will continue to develop triple leaves and branches; This isn’t bad, the only thing that will be affected is the plant’s appearance but it may be an advantage for those who grow in a SCROG setup or want to LST their plants. 


8. In Conclusion

Mutations are not always a bad thing, sometimes a mutation can present in a curious way that will not only teach you new things but also allow you to see something new that you didn’t even know it was possible, like a triple-leaf seedling of twins!





Worst-case scenario
Unusual number of apexesNo problem
Unusual leaf shapeNo problem
Plant topping itselfMay result in slower growth
Buds growing on leafNo problem
Leaves with unusual color patternsMay result in slower growth
Tri-leaf seedlingsNo problem
Twin seedlingsThe smaller seedling may die


Most mutations aren't harmful but here's a table to help you understand what the worst-case scenario could be for each one of the mutations named above.

If you have seen or grown a mutated cannabis plant feel free to share your experience with fellow growers, leave your comment in the comment section below!


External references:

  1. Mutation plant breeding. - Brock, R.. (1957). 
  2. Mutation Mechanism of Leaf Color in Plants: A Review. - Zhao, Ming-Hui & Li, Xiang & Zhang, Xin-Xin & Zhang, Heng & Zhao, Xi-Yang. (2020). 
  3. Somatic Mutation and Evolution in Plants. - Schoen, Daniel & Schultz, Stewart. (2019). 
15 April 2021