The History of Autoflowering Cannabis

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Added 15 September 2022

If you are into growing cannabis, you must have come across autoflowering cannabis strains, which may have intrigued you. 

And, more often than not, you may have tried your hand at growing them too. 

Just in case you’re clueless about autoflowering strains, know that they are different than photoperiod strains. 

The biggest difference between photoperiod and autoflowers is that autoflowering cannabis doesn’t rely on light to flower, unlike photoperiod strains. 

Photoperiod strains, on the other hand, rely on the light cycle, wherein the grower manually switches the light cycle from 18/6 to 12/12, after which the plant triggers its flowering stage as a defense mechanism.

Autoflowering strains are also fast-growing thanks to their internal genetic clock and can be ready for harvest within ten weeks from germination. And they are quite short in stature, too. 

Other benefits are that they are discreet plants that you can grow anywhere and don’t require a lot of effort or skills to grow, making them beginner friendly.

But where exactly does the autoflowering strain come from? 

Let’s dive into the history of autoflowering cannabis in this article. Read on to know more.

Origin of Ruderalis


Before the history of autoflowering strains, you need to understand the context of its predecessors, the cannabis Ruderalis, in particular.

Humans started domesticating plants, including cannabis, some 12,000 years ago in the small communities of Central Asia (modern-day Mongolia. And this domestication of cannabis quickly spread over Eurasia. By 2000 BCE, cannabis was a common domesticated plant all over Europe and Asia. 

But farmers don’t just grow crops, they strive to improve them using selected breeding, and the same practices were applied to cannabis so it could produce a variety of results — these early strains were bred for producing clothes, recreation, medicine, and even religious ceremonies. 

Some centuries later, in modern-day Russia, the domesticated crop of cannabis escaped into the forests and started growing wild. This feral cannabis came to be known as cannabis Ruderalis. 

And for people back then, this type of cannabis was largely useless. Cannabis Ruderalis couldn't be used to make hemp fiber and it wasn’t fun smoking either — it was harsh and often left users with a headache. 

But it had one feature that most other cannabis strains did not — it could grow in places where domesticated cannabis could not. 

In 1924, a Russian botanist discovered cannabis Ruderalis growing in the wild, and by then, it had become native to Central Europe and Russia. He noted the strain of cannabis as short and fast-growing, and since it was native to the cold north, it was naturally good at resisting harsh environmental conditions and cold summers.

First Signs of Autoflowering Cannabis

Autoflowering cannabis plant

At the same time, cannabis was brought into Siberia, where it endured extreme conditions, including twenty-plus hours of daylight during the summer months and less than four hours of the same during winter. 

Here, natural selection took its course and killed off the plants that could not survive these conditions. A few mutant plants survived because they didn’t rely on the light cycle but their internal genetic clock. 

These were the first signs of an autoflowering cannabis strain — one that could grow short and bloom regardless of the light cycle.

Taming of the Ruderalis

Autoflowers in a greenhouse

At the beginning of the 20th century, scientists around the world that were involved in cannabis research classified cannabis into three subspecies: Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis. 

And as mentioned earlier, Ruderalis was not particularly pleasant to smoke. So, growers focused on growing Sativa and Indica strains only.

But there were some growers in the 1970s that tried to tame the Ruderalis subspecies. One of those growers was the founder of The Seed Bank (now, Sensi Seeds), Neville Schoenmaker. But he and his colleagues failed to cross Ruderalis with Indica or Sativa to create a plant with a stable and flavorful yield.

Most experimental growers gave up, but one grower didn’t and found success. That grower was the United States Government. 

The University of Mississippi with the US Government produced cannabis for research. But the cannabis they produced was often low quality and had THC levels under 8% in the best cases. But one of their experiments had produced an autoflowering cross between a Mexican Sativa and Russian Ruderalis. 

While there isn’t any reliable source, this theory is largely accepted by the cannabis community. But some also believe that the first autoflowering strain may have originated from the Canadian universities in Ottawa. 

The Mass Market Autoflowering Strain

Autoflowers in a greenhouse

But this obscure strain of cannabis eventually found its way to The Joint Doctor, a popular breeder during the time. He mysteriously received a strain known as Mexican Rudy, which grew short and bloomed early. 

Over time, he started crossing Mexican Rudy with other strains, Northern Lights #2 in particular. His goal was to create a strain that would grow fast, flower early, and retain the high THC content of the popular photoperiod strains.

He then crossed the first generation of Mexican Rudy + Northern Lights #2 with William’s Wonder, the legendary Indica strain of the 1970s. In this batch, he found that the male plants flowered immediately upon sprouting. 

He used the mutant males as pollinators for the next generation of plants, resulting in a fully autoflowering strain that only grew up to 30 cm. He named this strain Willy’s Automatic. 

But this wasn’t his final experiment. He further crossed this strain with others until he created The Lowryder — the first autoflowering strain commercially sold to the public. 

The Lowryder Mythos

Autoflower growing under a light

Now, The Lowryder has a legendary status, but it was a weird plant for its time. It grew extremely short and was ready for harvest within seven weeks. And it’s psychoactive effect was slow to act due to its low THC levels and the flavor wasn’t that remarkable either. 

Of course, most serious growers didn’t consider this strain worthy of any effort. It was referred to as a substandard strain with a slow onset and poor yield. But some experienced growers saw potential in this strain. 

And they weren’t alone. Many discreet growers also took interest in the strain due to its short stature — it was easy to hide from others!

A few influential growers, like Donny Danko of the High Times, started promoting and experimenting with the strain. Danko also went on to actively support his strain on his print media and podcasts. 

And The Joint Doctor never stopped experimenting with this strain, either. He even launched The Lowryder 2, which was better than its predecessor in various ways. 

Autoflowering State of Mind

A farmer reviewing his autoflowering marijuana

Thanks to autoflowering evangelists and experimental growers, autoflowering has come a long way. Within just a decade, autoflowering strains have gone from an experimental interest to a popular type of cannabis that many growers choose over photoperiod strains. 

And the autoflowering strains have come a long way, overcoming the limitations of The Lowryder. These days, you can find autoflowering varieties of the most popular photoperiod strains, and they don’t compromise on quality or flavor, either. 

For example, some autoflowers like Tangie Auto can grow as tall as 150 cm, other strains like Gorilla Glue contain up to 24% THC, and they taste as good as their photoperiod counterparts.

In fact, even their yield has grown drastically and they are quite resilient to various climatic conditions with higher resistance to diseases, mold, and pests. 

Check out the popular seed banks and they will offer strains in both photoperiod and autoflowering varieties — which offer near similar levels of THC, effects, flavor, and experience. 

Truth be told, there isn't much of a difference between autoflowers and photoperiods if you consider only the effects and flavor now. 

But, the only problem is that they are still smaller plants — they grow smaller buds in lower quantities compared to photoperiod plants. Autoflowers produce slightly fewer yeilds even today, compared to photoperiods because they take less space and grow faster. If you choose strains that have a penchant to grow humungous, though, even autoflowers can do a good job. But, if you choose smaller strains and live in a region that allows you to grow only a specific number of plants, autoflowering cannabis may not be right for you as you will need to grow more plants for the same yield. 

Summary: The History of Autoflowering Cannabis

Whether you are growing autoflowering cannabis or have just come across this subspecies of cannabis, it is interesting to know where it comes from and how it has changed over time. 

A feral cannabis subspecies, Rudarelis, that grew in Russia somehow ended up in laboratories for experiments and mysteriously reached an influential grower, The Joint Doctor. This grower took the pre-autoflowering strain and bred it to develop what we now know as autoflowering cannabis.

And with the help of a few other prominent growers and curious users, autoflowering cannabis found its way into pop culture. And the rest is history. 

But it doesn’t end there. Autoflowering cannabis has come a long way in the last decade and we are excited to see where it will grow from here, pun intended. Hopefully, it will grow a lot larger than how it grows physically. 



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Très intéressant de découvrir l'histoire des plantes auto floraison
Very interesting to find out the history, never wanted to go to russia but now i do 🤣
I know a fourth species of cannabis, FEMINIZED, lol