The different types of cannabis explained

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If you are a complete beginner, before you even buy any marijuana seeds, let alone plant them, you need to understand the different types of weed seeds and their characteristics. There a three main types of marijuana seed, regular, feminised (also known as photoperiods) and autoflowering (also known as ruderalis) each of these will then fall into a sub type, Indica or Sativa but can also be a hybrid of the two. Each strain will give you a very different plant so it is important that you know the differences and have decided what you want to get from your grow before you purchase any seeds with your hard earned cash.

Male Vs Female Weed plants – What is the difference?

Cannabis comes in two genders, male and female, before you start growing it is vital that you understand the difference between the two. Put simply female cannabis plants produce bud and male cannabis plants produce pollen. To understand this fully here is a brief explanation of the cannabis life cycle in the wild.

How do cannabis plants reproduce in nature?

When cannabis plants grow in nature, male and female plants grow side by side. Female plants will begin to show signs of sex first with small pistols that eventually develop to become flowers that we know as bud. Male cannabis plants however do not produce any flowers and instead produce pollen contained in small sacks that dangle from the plant.

Once the male plants reach maturity the sacks burst open spraying pollen in all directions. Inevitably this is carried by the wind and lands on any adjoining female plants covering their flowers with pollen. Once a female flower is pollinated the plant begins to focus all of its time and effort into producing seeds.

Cannabis plants are seasonal and so as winter arrives the leaves and flowers begin to fall to the ground along with the seeds that it has produced. In particularly cold regions the plant will then die out leaving its offspring in the ground ready for spring when they will begin to germinate and the cycle goes on.

Regular cannabis seeds

All cannabis seeds in nature are regular seeds. When a regular seed is planted it will either grow into a male or a female plant. With regular seeds you have a 50:50 chance of producing a male or female cannabis plant, therefore if you grow ten regular seeds, you’ve guessed it, you are likely to get around five female plants and five male plants.

Now remember, if you want to grow a nice bushy plant with lots of smokable bud you DO NOT want a male plant growing alongside your lovely ladies. This can lead to pollination of the female plants meaning your grow is basically ruined. So, if you are going to grow with regular seeds make sure you read how to spot the early signs of male plants.

  • Much cheaper than feminized seeds
  • Risk of male plants pollinating your crop
  • Great if you want to get creative and breed your own strains
  • More hassle to grow
male cannabis plants with pollen sacks
Male cannabis plants with pollen sacks

What is the use of male cannabis plants?

Despite many growers favouring feminized seeds for their consistent yield production, regular seeds still play a vital role in the cannabis industry. Without regular seeds there would be no breeding or diversification of the cannabis genus. Over the last 50 years cannabis has gone from a wild species over maybe

Feminized cannabis seeds

First invented in 1998 during the Dutch cannabis revolution, feminized seeds produce female plants 99% of the time. This changed the way people farmed and gave novices the the confidence to grow cannabis without needing to worry about male plants.

How are feminized seeds created?

Visually feminised seeds look exactly the same as regular seeds, however they have gone through an artificial process (usually being sprayed with a chemical called colloidal silver spray). The way this works is that you spray a female plant with the colloidal silver, this encourages the plant to product more ethylene which in turn causes it to produce pollen sacks instead of flowers. However, because the plant is a female the pollen inside the sacks is feminized. This feminized pollen is then used to pollinate a second female plant, seeds are then grown inside the flowers of the pollinated plant, however, as both parents are females and do not contain any male chromosomes, the offspring will only be female plants.

What are the benefits of growing with feminized seeds?

With feminised seeds you will grow a female plant 99% of the time, which means you no longer need to worry about looking out for the early signs of a male plant potentially ruining your crop. Typically feminised seeds will be a lot more expensive, however if you are a beginner or simply don’t want the worry of having to constantly watch over your plants then feminised seeds are the way forward. On the other hand, if you want to do things the organic way or maybe fancy trying your hand at breeding then regular seeds may be right for you. 

  • Guaranteed female plants 99% of the time.
  • Much less hassle growing.
  • No need to cull male plants.
  • Bigger overall yields from your crop due to more female plants.
  • More expensive than regular seeds.
Female cannabis plant during the flowering stage
Female cannabis plant during the flowering stage

What is a photoperiod strain?

Photoperiod strains are plants that require a change in the level of light exposure they receive to trigger them to flower. This can happen when summer turns to fall and gradually the daylight hours decreases, or if being grown indoors when you change the light cycle from 18/6 to 12/12.

The reduction in light causes a plant to flower because it indicates to the plant that winter is approaching. Before it shrivels up and dies among the cold dark days of winter the plant puts all of its energy into producing flowers (for female plants) or pollen sacks (for male plants). This causes the pollination process we discussed earlier to occur resulting in seeds being produced by winter. The plant is effectively in survival mode trying its very best to keep its family name running by pumping out offspring that carry on its genetic line for the following summer.

Autoflowering weed seeds

If the variations of cannabis are not confusing enough, this is where it gets a little bit more complicated. Most seed banks divide their stock into feminized, regular and autoflowering seeds. When in actual fact you can get autoflowering seeds that are regular or feminized. Seed banks simply divide them like this to make the shopping experience easier for their customers but before you go ahead and make your purchase it is important you understand the difference between feminized and autoflower seeds.

What are autoflowering or ruderalis cannabis plants?

Autoflowering strains come from the Ruderalis family, unlike photoperiod plants that require a change in their light cycle to begin flowering, autoflowers flower automatically (hence their name). The reason for this is that autoflowering varieties have been crossed with a ruderalis plant. Ruderalis is a type of marijuana plant that is short and much lower yielding. In its original environment it grows in very harsh environments such as Siberia and Russia where days are much shorter. Therefore, to cope with the shorter days and lack of light the plant begins to flower automatically once it is around 20-30 days old. Breeders have taken this useful characteristic and cross bred the original ruderalis plants from siberia with a photoperiod plant, the result is a mixture of the two, one that flowers automatically but is higher yielding and higher THC than a pure ruderalis, we call these autoflowering strains.

Lots of beginners prefer autoflowering strains because they can be kept on the same light cycle for their entire grow and they have much shorter flowering times, meaning they can grow from seed to harvest in as little as seven weeks.

Should you grow with autoflowers?

You may be reading this thinking why doesn’t everyone just grow autos? Well they do come with their drawbacks, remember nothing comes that easy. Firstly Ruderalis plants are typically very short stocky plants and so are much lower yielding, therefore anything that is crossed with it is likely to also carry these traits, hence why autoflowering strains are smaller, yield less and they are also much lower in THC than their normal Sativa and Indica relatives. However, that being said if you are looking for a fast, easy grow and you willing to sacrifice a little on the yield and THC then auto’s maybe the right choice for you. 

  • Faster flowering (6-8 weeks average)
  • Can be kept on the same light cycle the entire grow
  • More hardy and can handle colder conditions
  • Lower Yielding
  • Lower THC

Indica Vs Sativa

Now that we have gotten regular, feminized and autoflower varieties out of the way, what about the sub-categories, sativa, indica and hybrids? When shopping for cannabis seeds online you will notice that many seed banks will give you percentages or ratios of how much a particular strain is sativa or indica, here we will explain what exactly this means for your plant and what the benefits are.


Indica strains originate in the foothills of India, Pakistan, Tibet and Afghanistan. Conditions in these regions are generally much colder than where you might find sativa strains.

Characteristically indica strains are short and bushy with fat fan leaves and will typically grow somewhere between 3-5 feet tall making them easier to maintain for any indoor growers. Typically the high produced from an Indica is a very relaxing and heavy body stoned feeling. With particularly high THC strains such as Gorilla Glue, this is what some describe as a ‘couch locked’ high.

Indica cannabis leaf on white background
Short fat indica fan leaf

Where can you grow indicas?

Indica strains are pretty versatile, and thanks to their roots in Afghanistan and Tibet they can handle much cooler climates than sativas. However, because of their bushy dense structure they don’t deal with humid conditions nearly as well and indica dominant strains are prone to mold development more than sativas.

Because of the hard hitting sedative effect of Indica strains that they are often used by people suffering from insomnia or looking for pain relief. Some of the most famous Indica dominant strains that you are likely to have heard of are Aurora Indica, White Widow, Northern Lights and Girl Scout Cookies to name but a few.

  • Can handle colder weather than sativa strains
  • Shorter but higher yielding than sativas
  • Generally higher THC
  • Mellow relaxing highs
  • Don’t handle hot humid conditions great

indica sativa and ruderalis cannabis plant structureSativa

Sativa strains originate in tropical climates such as the jungles of Thailand, Brazil, Vietnam, Mexico and Colombia. They are naturally much taller and thinner with long fan leaves and branches that grow almost straight up, outdoors they can grow up to impressive 25 feet tall.

The long wispy branches and tall structure of sativas is a natural adaptation to the hot humid conditions that allows airflow through the plants preventing condensation from settling and developing mold.

Sativas can be grown indoors, but require much more training that indicas because of their tall structure. However, using techniques such as LST and SCroG with a sativa dominant strain can achieve incredible yields.

Sativa cannabis leaf on white background
Long sativa cannabis fan leaf

The high you will get from a Sativa will be much more uplifting and energetic than that of an Indica and is often described by people as giving them a creative cerebral buzz, which is why musicians and artists have often come up with their best work while smoking Sativas. They are often chosen by people that prefer to be active while high and so is more commonly smoked by people during the daytime. Some well known Sativa strains you may have heard of are AK47, G13 Haze and Amnesia Haze.


Not all strains are classed as a Sativa or Indica, there are also plenty of hybrids which are a mixture of the two, this is the result of crossbreeding an Indica with a Sativa. Most strains you will buy from online seedbanks will be hybrids, it simply means they contain both Indica and Sativa genetics and usually there will be a graph of some sort or an explanation showing the percentage of each type. Hyrbids make great strains as they offer the best of both worlds, I personally don’t like heavy Indicas but I do like hybrids that are around 60% Sativa 40% Indica and so contain some of the Indica effects but also the uplifting high of a Sativa. One important thing to note if you purchase a hybrid strain is that the plants produced can vary quite a lot with their characteristics. This is due to the fact that it holds both Sativa and Indica genetics so from 10 plants it is possible that you will have 7 with the Sativa dominant genes and 3 that are slightly shorter and bushier that will contain more of the Indica traits. 

Hopefully if you are a beginner and looking at purchasing some seeds online you have found this article useful and now feel a little more confident about exploring the world of cannabis. Please bear in mind that I have only touched on the very basics of understanding the different types of cannabis seeds here for complete beginners, so if you would like to expand your knowledge of this subject have a read of my other articles that will go a little more in depth on marijuana seeds and how to grow them.

Joe Musgrave

Joe Musgrave is a keen 420 blogger who writes about all things cannabis. After harnessing his green thumbed skills through years of working on cannabis farms, Joe now shares his knowledge with the rest of the online 420 community.

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