Why is Weed Different Colors?

Every type of cannabis contains a shade of green, but anyone who has had a bit of experience with cannabis will also notice that the plant often comes with a whole palette of other colors. Purples, pinks, blues, reds, browns, orange, white and even black. In fact, the colors are so attractive, that cannabis enthusiasts want there to be colors other than green. After all, it’s nice when Orange Bud doesn’t just taste and smell of oranges, but has an orange color to it as well. We love fruits for the same reason, so why not cannabis?!

There are a wide variety of factors that go into what color a cannabis plant will end up. Here’s what they are.

The Cannabis Plant’s Natural Pigments

A pigment is a colored material that is completely or nearly insoluble in water. Pigments are chemicals which give objects colour, either from living organisms or synthetic. Here are some of the most common pigments found in cannabis.

Chlorophyll

Chlorophyll is found in pretty much every plant. It is responsible for the green colour in plants. Green pigmentation is necessary for the plant’s ability to carry out photosynthesis, which is where plants convert sunlight into the energy (sugars) it needs to survive. Chlorophyll also contains chloroplasts, and the green pigment color of chloroplasts. Chloroplasts capture light and transfer the energy of light and transform it into chemical energy.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are not only responsible for a lot of the flavor of cannabis, but also many of its colors as well. Flavonoids come in yellow, blue, purple or red colors, and are useful for both blocking harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and for attracting pollinators and repelling pests.

Carotenoids

Carotenoids, as their name suggests, are found in carrots, and are essential for the production of vitamin A. Carotenoids are responsible for reds, yellows and oranges in plants, and are most visible when the plant’s chlorophyll degrades during the fall.

Anthocyanins

Anthocyanins are a subclass of flavonoid. When combined with carotenoids, anthocyanins contribute to a plant’s yellow and orange colors. This class of flavonoid also contributes to a cannabis plant’s reds, blues, purples and lilacs. Anthocyanins also have antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Indica and satvia cannabis plants

The Growth Stage of the Cannabis Plant

Cannabis is at its greenest during the vegetative stage. Then, as the plant moves into flowering and starts focusing its efforts on producing flower, it starts taking on other colors in order to attract pollinators. As the cannabis plant matures, chlorophyll production stops, and the leaves eventually wither and die.

Decreasing the number of light hours will cause a change in the color of the leaves in most plant species, which will become more intense as the flowering continues, a process usually called senescence.

Temperature

Cold temperatures limit chlorophyll production. This causes the carotenoids and anthocyanins to become more visible. If there are few carotenoids and lots of anthocyanins, then the plant will appear blue or purple when it flowers. If there are lots of carotenoids and not many anthocyanins, then expect yellows, reds and oranges.

Nutrients and pH

  • Acidic soil pH and low phosphorus favors red colors.
  • Neutral soil pH favors purple colors.
  • Alkaline soil pH boosts blue colors.

Trichomes

Trichomes are the little hairs that can be seen on cannabis’s flowers. These are the powerhouses of the cannabis plant’s terpene and cannabinoid production. When they are first forming, they are clear. Then, as the plant matures, they turn white, and finally amber.

Genetics

As stated, people like it when cannabis plants have a variety of colors. It makes the product more appealing, and can sometimes help give an indication of a plant’s flavor. This means that breeders purposefully seek to create a strain of cannabis that is more likely to end up a specific color. It’s nice when a Blueberry is actually blue, or when a Purple Kush is actually purple.

However, just because a Blueberry strain isn’t blue doesn’t mean it’s not Blueberry. Despite breeders’ every effort to increase the odds of a strain ending up a specific color, they cannot control all the other environmental factors that contribute to a cannabis plant’s overall color.

Does a Cannabis Plant’s Color Contribute to Its Effects?

To a certain extent, yes. First of all, we associate a cannabis plant’s colors with other plants. We see a yellow or orange color, and we expect the taste of citrus! With blues and purples, we expect berries or grapes! This could be partly psychological, but different pigmentation means different flavonoids being formed. This means that the color of cannabis may well contribute to a plant’s effects, even if the contribution is limited or psychological.

When it comes to potency, however, the color of the cannabis plant will not give an indication as to how psychoactive it is. Other than white buds glistening with trichomes, hue is usually not a reliable indicator of potency, but could be an indicator or flavor to a certain extent.

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Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj - Chief Research Officer

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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