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The Secrets of Colorful Cannabis Revealed: Here’s Why Some Strains Turn Purple

March 21, 2016

Environment and genetics both play a role in the coloration of a plant. But what exactly causes each variety to look the way it does? What gives Black Cherry Soda its otherworldly color of dark purple with vibrant orange hairs cutting through it like streaks of fire? Today we’ll explore the color of cannabis, examining which factors influence its coloration, why some strains are more vibrant than others, and whether purple = potent.

How Do Genetics Influence Cannabis’s Color?

In order for plants to express vibrant non-green hues, they may need the genetic building blocks to do so. These building blocks are called anthocyanins, which are a family of flavonoids that provide purple, red, or blue pigments (also found in blueberries, eggplants, red cabbage, concord grapes, violets, and other richly-colored plants). Some cannabis strains naturally contain higher levels of anthocyanins than others. Ever notice some of your favorite strains tend to express the same colors over and over again? Granddaddy Purple, for example, seems to always carry swirls of deep purples and pastel lavenders. This alternative coloration is indicative of the strain’s predisposition to high anthocyanin levels, and it’s certainly a quality some cannabis breeders attempt to select for and coerce, if only to make us consumers ooh-and-ahh over pretty colors (hence the long line of “purple” strains that includes Purple Kush, Mendocino Purps, Purple Urkle, and many others).

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Which Cannabis Strains Tend to Turn Purple, Blue, and Red?

There are many strains that contain a genetic predisposition for high anthocyanin levels, and you’ll often find them under monikers that begin with colors like purple, red, blue, or pink. No, this doesn’t mean these strains will always show off fancy hues, but they have a higher potential of doing so if conditions are right.

Plants with low anthocyanin may produce a different array of colors in the final weeks of flowering, due to another family of molecules called carotenoids. These are responsible for the earthy gold and yellow hues buds can take on before harvest as chlorophyll shuts off.

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How Does Cannabis Go from Green to Purple?

As you might remember from your elementary biology classes, chlorophyll is what gives plants its green color. Chlorophyll is vitally important to the photosynthesis process by which plants absorb sunlight for energy. As cannabis plants mature, they produce less of the dominant pigment chlorophyll and we begin to see those anthocyanins emerge in a show of purples, reds, and blues. Growers should note that there are specific environmental conditions that trigger the halt of chlorophyll production. We’ll get into that shortly.

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What Other Environmental Factors Affect Cannabis’s Color?

Although not all cannabis strains will express purple, blue, or red hues in their lifetime, those equipped with the right genetics may do so under certain environmental conditions. The reason why cannabis produces flavonoids and anthocyanin, researchers have observed, is for protection. “Flavonoid accumulation [is] involved in many aspects of plant growth,” the study authors wrote, “including pathogen resistance, pigment production, and protection against ultraviolet radiation, which contributes to the growth of pollen and seed coat development.”

Information on anthocyanin production in cannabis is limited. What we do know comes largely from cannabis cultivation experience and studies measuring patterns of anthocyanin production in other vegetation.

First, there’s temperature. Purple, red, and blue hues may appear in response to drops in temperature, since chlorophyll production takes its natural pause in autumn as the days become colder. Research on other fruits and flowers noted that higher temperatures destroy anthocyanin production. That same study also found that higher pH levels lead to the destruction of anthocyanin pigments, meaning they tend to thrive in more acidic environments.

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The pH level determines which pigment the plant takes on:

  • Acidic environments tend to induce red and pink coloration
  • Purple coloration occurs in neutral pH environments
  • Blues become present with higher pH levels
  • Yellow is developed in alkaline conditions

Are Purple Cannabis Strains More Potent?

They might be more eye-catching, but purple strains are not necessarily more potent than their green relatives. A purple-blossomed plant exposed to cold temperature may actually produce less THC, so it’s important to keep in mind – as Robert Clarke aptly puts it in The Cannabible – that “many traits prove to be desirable only in certain varieties under certain conditions.”

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We want to hear your experiences with purple cannabis. Have you noticed any consistencies in its flavor or effects? Have you ever tried growing a purple variety? What’s the most vibrant strain you’ve ever seen?

  • William A. Krithinithis Kripto

    Well now, what a fine position “I” have suddenly found myself in. BEING that I am from the sweet ole Whiskey Rebellious State err COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania (Kentucky Bourbon/ Tennesse Mash SHOULD be Pennsylvania Shine), but George Washingtons Tax on Whiskey ran them off & instead, the “illegal” ‘Lottery’ was formed & put into place. ALTHOUGH there was a State Law passed in April 2016 for Medical purposes (Edible/Vape only), it won’t be available to those who may qualify until mid 2018. SO, I can only state what I KNOW from my Pap when he grew Hydrangeas and Peonies. This might sway some away from the theories of “Technicolor Genetics”. :- /
    He showed me this method & I have a 100% (coloring), success rate.
    To get colors & blends, Try…
    RED•Iron
    Use Nails (IRON).
    ORANGE•Tin
    Use Soup/Vege Cans.
    YELLOW• Gold
    Use Jewelry/Coinage.
    GREEN•Copper
    Use Pennies & Wires.
    BLUE• Silver
    Use Kitchenware/Coinage.
    PURPLE•Magnesium
    Use Bicycle Spokes.
    BRIGHT WHITE•Aluminum
    Use Soda Pop Cans.
    I hope this helps!
    :- )
    Bill
    bkripto NKripTOR nkRIPtor

    • E.L. Bl/Du

      Hi Bill,
      I have manipulated Hydrangea colors with manipulating the ph. Epsom salts = pink Aluminum sulfate = blue (organic of course) Blueberries like A.S (acid)too. I let the crop do what it will, weather seems to be the indicator to the plant to start turning purple. One yr I grew a San Fernando Valley Kushy Kush that had dark purple leaves and bright red and yellow hairs throughout the growth cycle starting late July, it was SO Pretty. A tad bit disappointing in the THC content, but you know, every year is different even with the same strains. Good luck with the legalization process, it’s turning into a commercialized thing here, and not in a good way. They put moratoriums on personal grows (indoor and outdoor, medical and recreational) b/c they can’t tax it. Even tho State Law says you can. To grow at another location, I have to pay the state an additional $200 on top of the permit, $200 and the Dr’s that will fill out the medical part, $150. But you can BUY someone ELSE’S! I’ve been growing my 6 plants for 10 yrs without incident, but since recreational was legal, the local greedy politicians want in, and we, the medical ppl that started this movement are OUT! muther fuckers

      • William A. Krithinithis Kripto

        You’re AWESOME!!!

        • E.L. Bl/Du

          You’re awesome too- I re-read your additive list for technicolor plants. Very interesting indeed…IDk if I want to try it on something Im about to ingest, but eager to try a few of your tips next season on some flowers to see what happens. Thanks for the list. Leafly asked us if we have grown purple varieties, and I have, purple Erkyl. It depends on how cold it gets in Oct nights as to how much purple it gets from year to year. Interesting concept, but I agree it has to do with the anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant, which also helps with pain issues by destroying free radicals. (for the purple color anyway) I hope you have fun growing, please remember to use smart farming practices. We are seeing largest dead zones ever recorded in the gulf of mexico where nothng can grow (fish, shrimp, plankton etc) all as a result from run off from the Mississippi River coming from commercial farms using chemical fertilizers in poor farming practices. EPA knows they got it wrong, but are tied up with Monsanto (scotts/ortho/ miricle grow) politically. Guess allowing corporations to run the US is destroying it for many many people..

          • james carrington

            i have grown numerous purple strains, starting at least 30 years ago
            (my first hydroponics crop was in 1970)
            leafly intently avoids the truth (and the cannabis past)with this article
            cold temperatures can cause color change, as suggested
            (i have also seen this in plants i grew outdoors)
            but, purple is also in the genes of afghan/pakastan cannabis strains
            (before usa government efforts to kill the kush, in favor of opium)

            ALL our modern strains come from old strains, named for the geograhical region where they grew
            ignoring the past, leafly makes a mess of cannabis genetics

          • E.L. Bl/Du

            More anthocyaninns, more purple. Cold can stimulate them to change, but its soly related to genetics and how much is actually in the plant, thats why only SOME turn purple in cold temps. I would lOVE to get my hands on some original indica strains, but seems harder and harder to find with all the crazy stuff thats going on these days.

            I have also heard that about the opium poppy. It pays the govt to keep the population secretlly sedated. And when smullged in illegally, itopens up spots in colleges for the illegals to go for free.

      • Anj

        Move to Canada. We are doing the right thing by legalizing at the federal level then when the provinces start getting greedy (which they have) we can use our constitution to keep them away

        • E.L. Bl/Du

          you guys up there always seem to be more sensible about things. Can you come and teach our leaders to do that… Be sensible? lol I hope that works for you up there, but seems like the “gold rush” of days and everyone thinks they should get in. People who have never grown anything before think they can grow weed and make a bunch of money. Thats frightening when they use chemical fertilizers and all kinds of wives tales that dont work successfully and can be harmful to themselves and others, not to mention what the run off does to fish populations and any form of life for that matter. Monsanto (scotts/miricle grow/ortho) want ppl to think its the BEST way to do things (profit margin) and some are uneducated about it enough to believe it. I think that we went about it all wrong and the legal states are getting way over populated, and not with the kind of influx that is good for communities. I hope your system works much better than ours is currently.

    • Rusty Brown in Canada

      I don’t think there’s any tin in “tin” cans these days. They’re now made of steel, so I’m told.

  • david mcnabb

    Is the plant changing color a natural process or am I putting some type of chemical in my plants. I have never seen purple, or blue marijuana and thought it was a chemical or some weird thing people are doing to there plants for fun.

    • HumanRightsCannabist

      It is natural. As explained above, some strains have higher or lower concentrations of anthocyanin and carotenoids. These chemicals go through biological processes to express their pigmentation. These biological processes, as explained above, are affected by temperature and pH. For anyone that has recently read a highschool biology textbook, temperature and pH are factors that affect enzymes. So that means that certain plants have the correct enzymes to work with these chemicals to produce the color at a specific event. That doesn’t mean someone couldn’t dye their shit or whatever, but if it looks real it probably is. I haven’t seen blue; seems rare. I googled it and can’t tell if they’re photoshopped, but since the color of blue and purple and red and pink are all created by the same chemical, anthocyanin, then that means the blue and purple are closely related and probably just a matter of “intensity” or “how much color” is concentrated in a certain area, with blue being light and purple being heavy.

  • Alf_vin

    Most vibrant purple was some GDP buds that were all purple, I’ve noticed a bit of a purple grape flavour from all purple strains. Subtle, but similar in the taste difference of regular vs. purple carrots