Breeders Corner: Pollen Collecting

One essential skill in plant breeding is the ability to store pollen for later use. It’s important to know that moisture is the main enemy, as pollen sprouts quickly in its presence. Fresh pollen is best, but correctly stored pollen works fine.

Steps to follow when collecting:

1. When a male shows that it’s about ready to drop pollen, a large piece of paper is placed under a cut branch in water or even a whole containerized plant.

2. The paper is folded and the golden pollen is poured through a filter (to remove any odd plant parts) into a vile.

3. A desiccant is added to the vile that you will label and freeze.

4. When you use it, let it warm up before you open it to avoid condensation on the inside.

5. Apply with a small paintbrush or Q-tip.

On a side note, Stallion Genetics is a pollen bank where you can deposit living male plants and withdraw pollen of the same or different varieties from the bank in exchange. Contact for details.

It’s all about the terps

The cannabis “sativa” and “indica” designation are often misused. Unless the complete parentage is known for sure, all the way back to the originating landrace (rare), this semi arbitrary labeling is generally more marketing than science.

According to Dr. James Berg in Hawaii, the idea that sativa is uplifting while indica is sedating comes from the fact that indicas have a marker terpene, myrcene that is well know to be sedating, while pure sativas contain no myrcene but may contain limonene or pinene, known to be stimulants.

Don’t be like Monsanto

As a breeder, it took me a long time to come around to the concept of open source genetics. After spending years to develop and maintain a small handful of true breeding varieties, I would stress about how to keep my work from being ripped off, while getting my seeds into the hands of growers.

My change of heart came when I started to study the concepts and work of the Open Source Seed Initiative. While the OSSI does not currently support protections for cannabis cultivars, the ongoing work at Phylos Bioscience to document the genetics of public domain cannabis is a good first step. The main idea behind OSSI is that anyone can use, improve, reproduce and sell any open source seeds, in any way they like, in exchange for a pledge to not patent or license the underlying genetics.

Many great things have happened because of open source concepts. Linux open source software is an example. Creating open source seeds is one way to counter the evils of Monsanto seed, which comes with a contract and must be purchased from them year after year.

Open source seed subverts the use of plant patents and intellectual property when it comes to the underlying genetics of living plants. Competent breeders should not be concerned that farmers or other breeders will reproduce their seed, as they will only have the past creations. The best breeders will be improving on their offerings each year which will insure continued demand. Taking out a trademark on the cultivars unique name is also an option, if some protection is desired.

Jonathan Spero of Williams, Oregon, is a well-known plant breeder and founding member of the Open Source Seed Initiative. He says although cannabis is not currently part of their program, he believes cannabis and plant genetics in general should be maintained in the public domain. Jonathan says most if not all cannabis genetics are merely combinations or selections from past breeding work. In patenting parlance, there is “prior art” for all of it.

Male Cannabis Plant, cannabis plant ID, Pollen collecting
Photo A. (Image: Richard Reames, Moonflower Gardens)

Danger, danger! Warning, warning!

Life ahh, finds a way” Dr. Malcom- Jurassic Park.

Several years ago while sexing my plants, I discovered a small appendage that looked just like the sort of thing I was looking for, a pistil. Although there was only one, it was coming out at the right place on the stem, but it got me thinking; is this the reason so many boys slip through? (See photo A)

Almost every year I get a report of somebody having a male go off in his or her garden. Inevitably these inattentive growers consider planting these unintentional seeds or worse–distribute these seeds far and wide–assuring this “faker trait” is well established in the general cannabis plant population.

This is how evolution works. Selective pressure is applied to a population–in this case the pressure is the removal of all males–and evolution starts working overtime to finds a solution. Brilliant!

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Richard Reames is a father, husband and author of two books. His claim to fame comes from his work shaping living trees into artistic and functional items. Richard studied horticulture in college and has grown cannabis since 1983. He operates a seed and genetic improvement company.