Endophytic Fungi: The Invisible Mold Within Cannabis

by | May 20, 2020

Detroiter Karhlyle Fletcher is the host of High Lit, a cannabis research and classic literature podcast featuring leading voices and independent music. In addition to years in written and video cannabis journalism, he is also a traditional author.

At a time where we don’t even understand how many different cannabinoids are present in cannabis, issues with farming and cultivation can be a mystery. One of the most frustrating culprits is endophytic fungi, including molds which grow not on cannabis, but within it. 

Misdiagnosing Endophytic Fungi

Before chasing after the invisible enemy endophytic fungi, first ensure that you or your staff are not causing additional issues in your facility. With a plant as sensitive as cannabis, several factors can have a significant impact on the crop. Employees should be wearing protective clothing and shoe-wear to prevent the spread of spores, HVAC systems should be analyzed, including humidity levels, and irrigation lines should be sterilized. Each one of these seemingly minor practices is paramount to maintaining a clean facility in which prevents the spread of mold. 

If the facility is in line with all of these standards, integrative pest management solutions are usually sufficient to get control over a harvest. These solutions include enriching the ecology of the farm to better balance out the crop. While endophytic fungi might be the cause of your problems, these lifeforms are usually benign if not beneficial for cannabis plants. That’s why it’s essential to review all other possibilities, as you don’t want to upset the natural balance of your facility. 

Worst Case: Reset the Mother

endophytic fungi

If nothing else pans out, and there are no culprits left, check the mother plant for harmful endophytic molds. To do so, place a cutting from the mother plant into an alcohol solution powerful enough to kill all microorganisms on the surface. (70 percent ethanol works.) Then take an unadulterated dissection to extract and culture. If it shows that it contains harmful endophytic mold, the mother plant may have to be destroyed. Repeat the process of testing it throughout a few days, and if endophytic mold is the culprit, ax the mother. 

Luckily this doesn’t mean the end of a cultivar! Through tissue culture, genetics can be preserved without unwanted pathogens. Doing so is like rebooting the strain, creating a new mother from which to cut clones. However, this is also a reset of a more complex ecology than one risk factor, so make sure to double-check all other variables first. Don’t reset a mother just because of environmental failure.

Due to the limited research available on endophytic fungi’s relationship with cannabis, we don’t know how much it does or does not genuinely benefit cannabis.

Are Endophytic Fungi Beneficial or Ruinous? 

For better or for worse, cannabis is incredibly susceptible to mold, fungal, and other micro bacterial growth. Compared to other types of agriculture, cannabis plants are relatively unforgiving in how much attention and resources they require. Due to this susceptibility, cannabis is one of the hardest things to grow. However, the ecology of fungi on cannabis might have some benefits. 

A snippet from the 2012 research articleEndophytic fungi harbored in Cannabis sativa L.: diversity and potential as biocontrol agents against host plant-specific phytopathogens, stated: “Taken together, our results firmly revealed that the endo-phytic fungi harbored in different tissues of the investigated C. sativa plants have great promise not only as biocontrol agents against the known and emerging phytopathogens of Cannabis plants but also as a sustainable resource of biologically active novel secondary metabolites. 

A fitting analogy could be candida in humans. At proper levels, this natural yeast throughout the body assists with digestion and nutrient absorption. When there’s too much of it present in the body, the result is a yeast infection. Similarly, microorganisms are not a good or an evil presence, but members of an ecology within larger organisms that require balance. Endophytic fungi in cannabis are not able to be categorized into one group. Until we research all of them, it’s unsure of their exact relationship with cannabis, but some could be quite promising for promoting healthy growth. 

The hemp industry is already designing ultra-clean varieties, and so a breakthrough within the cannabis world may be on the way. Unlocking the secrets of cannabis’s genetics and endophytic fungi would make for a new generation of excellent crops. 

Restarting cultivars through tissue cultures is a practical modern strategy for dealing with imbalanced endophytic fungi. However, we may have more sophisticated options down the line. Balancing the inner ecology of a strain to promote the most beneficial content of endophytic fungi would improve the health of plants. Working with the natural processes of crops tends to be the most effective way to ensure results while putting in the least effort. Sometimes innovation requires more listening than pruning. 

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