What Is The Difference Between Genotype And Phenotype?

Genotype and phenotype are terms used to describe differences between cultivars, but do you know what they mean?
04 January 2021
5 min read
What Is The Difference Between Genotype And Phenotype?

  • 1. Indica, sativa, ruderalis, and hybrids
  • 2. What is genotype and phenotype?
  • 3. Phenohunting
  • 3. a. Cloning
  • 4. Identifying different phenotypes
  • 5. In conclusion

Phenotype and genotype are not exclusive to cannabis but have been commonly used in the cannabis market for a while now, even though you can find these terms in a dictionary it will take a bit more to really understand what they mean when referring to cannabis plants.

When talking about cannabis plants, genotype refers to the genetic code that carries the range of possibilities while phenotype is the expression of the genotype when exposed to a certain environment.


Sebastian Good explains the difference between Genotype and Phenotype.

If you didn’t understand it completely and want to know more about it, here’s all you need to know about phenotype and genotype, and cannabis.

1. Indica, Sativa, Ruderalis, and Hybrids

Before learning more about these terms in the cannabis world is essential you know a bit more about the beginning of cannabis strains; As you may know, cannabis dates back at least 3000 years so it’s extremely difficult to know exactly where it originated.

Back then, there were landraces that evolved naturally for thousands of years and there was a clear distinction between Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis which were shaped by environmental conditions.

So because these two species were growing and evolving in different conditions, Indicas were usually shorter with wider leaves and took less to grow, Sativas were taller with thinner leaves and took longer to grow, and Ruderalis’ grew around 50cm, were CBD-rich and didn’t depend on a light cycle to trigger flowering.


Genotype and phenotype: indica, sativa and ruderalis

The main differences between Indica and Sativa.

Fast forward to the late 1980s, breeding and indoor growing became more popular and hybrids were created (which are a mix of Indica and Sativa genetics), and because growers cultivated with different temperatures, humidity levels, light fixtures, and nutrients, growers soon realized that all of the external factors, even minor factors such as the angle of the lights could affect plants, expressing different characteristics even if they came from the same mother and father plant.

2. What Is Genotype And Phenotype?

All cannabis plants contain a genetic code just like any other living organism, this genetic code is known as genotype and refers to the potential of the plant, containing the characteristics that a certain cultivar can express when growing.

Now, the phenotype are the visible traits that a specific growing environment (either indoor or outdoor) brings out during a cannabis plant’s life cycle, these characteristics include:


AromaLength of the life cycle
FlavorResistance to pests and fungi
Effects Structure
YieldsMutation, deformities, and hermaphroditism
ColorsResistance to harsh weather


And as said before, the environment is what actually triggers the characteristics that a specific plant will express so to put it in a simple way, you can see it as:

Genotype + Environment = Phenotype

3. Phenohunting

Phenohunting is the act of hunting or finding the best phenotype, now, the best phenotype will depend on what you are looking for and your objective, either producing seeds or growing the best for your own consumption.

When deciding to grow a new strain, you will have to buy a pack of seeds and it’s possible for each one to be a different phenotype of the same strain, so you will have to grow and label them to identify them easily, following their progress, and taking notes until you can separate males from females.


Genotype and phenotype: selecting a phenotype

How the process of selecting a phenotype works.

After growing all of the seeds you will end up with slightly different plants and you will pick your favorite one, either by aroma, flavor, effect, or any of the traits mentioned before.

Now, phenohunting isn’t necessarily hard, as said above, it depends on what you are aiming for, if you’re a breeder and are planning to sell the seeds you will have to select one or two phenotypes from hundreds or thousands of plants but if you’re a home grower this process can be reduced and done with 10-20 plants.

It doesn’t matter if you are growing 10 or 1000, the process is basically the same and you will have to continue until you find the phenotype that you were looking for.


Cloning is usually the process that comes after finding that phenotype you were looking for, it consists of copying the genes of a specific plant and it’s basically the only way of obtaining an identical plant, now, cloning can be done by tissue culture or by simply getting a cutting from a specific plant.


Genotype and phenotype: cloning

Cloning is a super important part of finding and maintaining a good phenotype.

This method is used by growers who have already selected a good phenotype and want to continue growing an exact copy of that specific phenotype or by commercial growers who want to continue growing that special flower that the customers love.

Have in mind that cloning will result in the same exact plant if grown in the same conditions, as said above, the expressed phenotype is a result of the environment so if you select a phenotype, clone it and end up cultivating it in different conditions, it’s most likely you end up with a slightly different plant.

The factors that can affect a phenotype expression are:


Light spectrumHumidity
Light source (sunlight, LED or Bulbs)Medium
PH LevelsOxygen and CO2

6. Identifying Different Phenotypes

To help you visualize how these different phenotypes are expressed, here are a couple of photos of our Gorilla Glue Auto by different growers.


Genotype and phenotype: examples

Different phenotypes of our Gorilla Glue Auto grown by BigDaddyK and Luv2Grow.

As you can see in the images, both plants look similar but there are minor differences that were most likely influenced by the different medium and light fixture used, so despite growing the same strain in similar conditions, both came out looking different.


Genotype and phenotype: examples

Different traits expressed by our Gorilla Glue Auto grown by UpInSmoke420 and MonkeeHaze.

In this other example, it looks like the buds have a similar structure but one was with organic nutrients and an LED light fixture while the other one grew under both LED and HID with synthetic nutrients, you can clearly see the differences between them, one developed a more darker color with less foliage while the other one stayed bright-green and with more leaves. 

Have in mind this doesn’t mean that one grower or plant is better than the other, these are just the different traits that a strain can express when grown in different environments, so the plants will have similar characteristics but they may differ a bit.

7. In Conclusion

Now that you know a bit more about genotype and phenotype you can start looking for that special cultivar and maybe keep a perpetual harvest to keep smoking on those unique buds.

If you have experience with phenohunting or any additional information to help fellow growers please leave a comment in the comment section below!



  1. Gene Networks Underlying Cannabinoid and Terpenoid Accumulation in Cannabis. Plant Physiology. - Zager, Jordan & Lange, Iris & Srividya, Narayanan & Smith, Anthony & Lange, Bernd. (2019).
  2. High genes: Genetic underpinnings of cannabis use phenotypes. - Thorpe, Hayley & Talhat, M. & Khokhar, Jibran. (2020). 
04 January 2021