What Makes Cannabis Flowers a Different Color?

In the midst of the political and social drama cannabis is constantly at the center of, it is easy to forget that, at the end of the day, cannabis is a flower.  Like all flowering plants, cannabis expresses its beauty through many factors, including scent, consumptive effects, and color.

The colors carried by the marijuana plant can produce truly beautiful results. Those colors are produced by anthocyanins, the water-soluble pigments which, depending on the PH level, produce blue to red coloring in plants.  The yellow, orange, and red colors are produced by carotenoids, the pigments present in fruits like grapefruit and oranges.

Anthocynanins are classified as flavonoids, the plant chemicals almost all fruits and vegetables contain responsible for their incredible color spectrum, but not their flavor.  Even though they may make plants look delicious, they actually have nothing to do with how they taste.

In addition to making cannabis flowers look pretty, anthocyanins and carotenoids also have practical use for the plant.

The pigments have the ability to attract pollinating creatures and repel pests by making them think the plant is sick

Anthocyanins and carotenoids are potentially beneficial for human consumption as well.  Though not necessarily the cause, their antioxidant, immune-stimulating, anti-inflammatory properties associate flavonoids with cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative prevention.

Research suggests that anthocyanins may have an affinity for the endocannabinoid CB1 or CB2 receptors.  This means that the presence of those pigments may positively contribute to the overall effect of whole plant consumption because of the entourage effect, or the synergistic relationship between the chemical compounds present in the cannabis plant and its effect on the endocannabinoid system.

How does cannabis go from green to colorful?

The change in cannabis color occurs for the same reasons that the leaves change color in the fall.  Let’s review that middle school science lesson for a second.  During the spring and summer, chlorophyll production is high and used by plants to absorb sunlight and create the plants’ food—sugar.

As autumn approaches, the days shorten, eventually destroying the chlorophyll’s presence in the leaves.  Once the source of chlorophyll’s dominating green is removed, the reds and blues produced by anthocyaninsChameleon, cannabis change color and the yellows and oranges created by carotenoids reveal themselves, creating a beautiful display of color.

Just as in tree leaves, the colors produced by the chlorophyll, anthocyanins, and carotenoids present in cannabis are temperature dependent. = Cannabis is an annual plant, so for the majority of its life, it is green as a result of the chlorophyll present in its leaves.  The plant’s vibrant green is indicative of good health during the warmer months.  When temperatures drop, the production of chlorophyll drops as well.  As the chlorophyll’s green diminishes, the other colors present in the cannabis plant produced by anthocyanins and carotenoids may appear.

Plants can experience color changes for less beneficial reasons.  Plants with phosphorous deficiencies can produce purple stems and spotted leaves.

Plants lacking nitrogen will produce yellow leaves. Plants deficient in potassium produce yellow, then brown, then dead leaves

Other nutrient deficiencies can cause color changes, but these are not the type of changes most growers are looking for as they denote sick plants.  There are some growers, however, who intentionally starve their plants in order to manufacture a certain color.

The cannabis plant color can also be manipulated by the use of LED lights. UV light can be damaging for plants when given in high quantities, and plants know how to defend themselves from that damage. Essentially, cannabis plants create their own sunscreen in response to UV rays.  Exposure to UV will cause plants to create enzymes, chemicals, and antioxidants to repair the damage caused by the exposure.  Therefore, LED use can cause cannabis plants to produce a greater amount of anthocyanins, resulting in stronger presentation of the colors natural to the given strain.

Reds

Red leaves and flowers are rare.  Predator Pink and Pink Flower Shaman are a couple of strains that carry those tones, but most of the time, strains with pink in the name are referring the cannabis’ flavor.  A grower can attempt to give weed a reddish hue by manipulating a phosphorous deficiency.  While this can sometimes produce cannabis plants with bright red stems, this is more likely to result in stiff, spotted leaves that don’t measure up to the real thing.

Purples

Purple is one of the most common color variations to the green cannabis plant. Despite the lore, the color purple has no Purple_Color, cannabisbearing on the cannabis’ potency.  In order to grow purple marijuana, you need a strain with a large amount of anthocyanin such as  Blue mystic, Northern Light, and Blue Cheese.
Because the chlorophyll must break down for the anthocyanin’s purple to come through, the cannabis plant must be kept at a low temperature.  The right marijuana strain will produce purple flowers if flowered at less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Yellows

Carotenoids, the pigments present in plants responsible for their red, orange, and yellow shades featured in plants like squash, carrots, and oranges, create the yellow and orange shades in certain cannabis strains.  The yellow hues will emerge in alkaline, or high PH, conditions.  Strains with dominant yellow and orange hues include Lemon Kush and Super Lemon Haze.

Black

The presentation of black in cannabis leaves and flowers is a result of an over-saturation of colors in the leaves. Sometimes, in warmer temperatures the dark reds and purples will turn into lighter golds and reds. Black Widow, Blackberry Kush and The Black are strains that come with these signature inky leaves.

Although a cannabis strain’s color does not affect its potency, the aesthetic that color produces certainly contributes to the overall experience of the cannabis plant, offering consumers another way to enjoy what the flower has to offer.

Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.