Plant Tissue Culture
Plant tissue culture is a method of propagation that has been sprouting in popularity throughout the cannabis community as an alternative to cloning. But is tissue culture really viable as an alternative to conventional cloning methods? Is it possible to successfully root plant tissue cultures if you’re a home-grower? We’ll answer all these questions and more in this Grow Guide chapter on plant tissue culture.
I’m not going to lie, tissue culture comes off as intimidating to the average cannabis farmer like myself. The image often painted is scientists wearing white coats and goggles, looking at tiny test tube plants in professional laboratories. But tissue culture methods can actually be applied in a variety of environments and situations — from the curious gardener with a modest home-grow to a PhD-yielding scientist working in an elaborate laboratory — there is an option for all ends of the spectrum.
What is Plant Tissue Culture?
When we say plant tissue culture, what we’re really talking about is micropropagation. Micropropagation is a form of cloning plant tissue on a very small scale, and I mean very small. For instance, with micropropagation methods, a clone can be created from just a tiny leaf, bud, or root segment of the mother plant. This varies drastically from traditional cloning methods in which an entire branch of a vegetative plant is required for successful rooting.
Plant tissue culture has been around for decades, originating as a solution for hard-to-germinate orchids. Now, plant tissue culture is the standard for commercial nurseries and many commercial-scale cultivators, ranging from potatoes to flowers to fruit trees.
Micropropagation Vs. Tradition Cloning: Cost Comparison
When comparing micropropagation to traditional cloning or seed propagation, the cost benefits of transitioning to tissue culture become evident. A traditional veg operation requires costly care: a daily dose of water and/or fertilizer, electricity to keep the environmental controls on point, and the substantial space required to house all those vegetative and mother plants.
All of those inputs start to add up when we’re talking about a large-scale commercial operation. Cultures, on the other hand, are surprisingly low maintenance. They only need to be divided and transferred to fresh medium every 4-6 weeks — there is no daily watering or caretaking other than casual observation.
Micropropagation also allows for the generation of thousands of plants in a very short time period with very small square footage, something that would be impractical with traditional cloning techniques. A mind blowing example, just to put it in perspective, is of a “Day Lily” cultivator who uses plant tissue culture methods to propagate 1,000 day lilies in 30 square feet of shelf space each week. Using conventional methods, one would need a half-acre to produce the same amount of day lilies.