Seed-Sown vs Clone Kratom
Updated: Oct 6, 2019
We now have the means and information necessary to empower the American kratom community to become self sufficient and sustainable. But which plants should you choose? Seed-sown kratom offers unbeatable genetic diversity. Explore the differences between seed-sown kratom and clone kratom. Envision a future with diverse kratom genetics in America.
Once Upon a Time...
It was long believed in American plant circles that kratom took years to develop its popular and beneficial alkaloids ---- a myth that was eventually debunked. It was also thought that high alkaloid kratom could not be grown outside the tropical coffee belt, but this was also proven false.
With myths like these no longer standing in the way of Americans growing their own kratom, the U.S. kratom community is on the precipice of a new frontier. This is an exciting time, as we now have the means and information necessary to become self sufficient and sustainable.
It's starting to happen all around us. Many are feeling the call to establish both large and small scale kratom grows across America. Although south Florida and Hawaii remain ideal for growing kratom outdoors, we are now seeing high quality lab-tested kratom coming out of greenhouse grows in non-tropical regions of the U.S. This is a paradigm shift.
The future of American kratom is truly within our grasp, and our collective vision has never been of greater importance than it is now in the early days of this revolution. As we work together to build the future of American kratom, it's vital to consider the value of genetic diversity and sustainable Earth stewardship in the future we are working together so passionately to create.
The old clone lines that proliferate on reddit and in facebook forums, owned by the majority of kratom enthusiasts in America, offer no genetic diversity by their very definition, as they are all copies of the same few trees. While perfectly wonderful hobby plants, to forge the future of a species and its related agribusiness on a new continent, new and diverse genetics are essential.
We can look to new studies and past failures to guide us. Based on the wisdom of biologists, conservationists, horticulturalists, historians and plant breeders, seed-sown genetic diversity will be the key to our success.
Let's talk about why. And how to take the right action going forward. By making the right choices now, we can successfully forge an organic, sustainable and genetically diverse future for kratom in America.
It all starts with seeds.
Within the miracle of seeds lie infinite potentialities. Genetic diversity is magickal in that you never know which seed holds the DNA for the next great leap in evolution for a species, since each plant from seed will have differing traits and tolerances. If enough seed-sown plants are grown, the best will always rise to the top. Although it may take many, many specimens to identify the supreme alphas that best thrive in the new environment, simple natural selection will single out the ultimate survivors, who deserve to shine as stars on the new American kratom frontier.
This type of genetic hunt is already underway, and it is time to bring new winners ---- and the message of genetic diversity ---- to the next wave of aspiring American growers.
But why is this so important? Well... consider the alternative.
Copies of copies of copies
Think of a xerox machine, and imagine you take a copy of your birth certificate. The original paper is perfectly legible, and the copy is legible too, but with a few artifacts. Then take a copy of that copy. Then copy the copy of the copy. Carry on this way and eventually what prints out is illegible and unrecognizable. That's the same thing that happens with genetics when you clone the clone of a clone. The further down the line you go, the worse off you are.
This is not an opinion, it's a fact. In 2011, a study from Oxford University proved no clone is a perfect copy. Genetic analysis showed that when genes regenerated new tissue, they tended to spontaneously create new genes. The Oxford study called the phenomenon “regenerative mutation.” Some genes would be duplicated in the process, while other genes were deleted from the new clone altogether.
This is what's been happening in the world of kratom clones over the past few decades.
For many years now, most of the live kratom plants sold in the U.S. have been clones of the same few trees. Although clones cut from original mothers retain (by some measures) 99% of the genetic integrity of the mother tree, the clones now in circulation were cut from other clones, which were taken from other clones, and on and on down the line, many generations removed from the original mother tree. All around America now, people have clones of clones of clones... and they're all little pieces of other little pieces (of other little pieces...) of the same tree. Xeroxes of xeroxes of xeroxes.
What this means is that the vast majority of people who have a kratom plant in the U.S. all have little bits of the same few specimens, with no genetic diversity to speak of. This means trouble from an environmental perspective. Make a copy of a copy of a copy, and enough generations along you will have a genetically bankrupt specimen. Furthermore, having only clones means that if a disease or infestation can wipe one out, it can wipe them all out.
What cloning does to genetic diversity
When done responsibly, at its very best, plant cloning allows a large number of genetically near-identical plants to be produced from a single mother. The advantage of this genetic uniformity is that all of these plants will have nearly the exact same genetic characteristics, which makes sense when they have been carefully selected for traits and there are enough options to accommodate a diverse and sustainable future. However, this reliance on plants with particular genetic makeups reduces overall genetic diversity. By some measures genetic diversity in agriculture has decreased by 75 percent since 1900. This prevents the development of new breeds of plant that are more suitable for current conditions and environments, according to Morehead University.
Susceptibility to Disease
Responsibly cloning plants allows for producers to grow cultivars that they know are resistant to pests and devastating diseases ----- therefore allowing less use of herbicides and pesticides and resulting in fewer economic losses. However, when a field of plants are genetically identical, it means that when a disease or pest is able to affect one plant, it will likely affect all of them, causing disastrous economic loss, as occurred with Panama disease and bananas in the 1940s, according to Plant Management Network.
Spreading Disease and Infestations
It is imperative that plants are only cloned from healthy, disease-free and pest-free parents. If this is done, they can be propagated by cuttings or in tissue cultures, guaranteeing the plants are trouble free. However, when diseased or infested plants are cloned and propagated, this can cause the distribution of an infestation or disease far from its original habitat, affecting far more producers and consumers than before. As the rhizomes used to clone banana plants can appear free of Panama disease when infected, banana cloning lead to the spread of this devastating disease.
This happens frequently with kratom clones and spider mites. Many well meaning enthusiasts are cloning their clones, which harbor unrecognized infestations of nearly-invisible spider mites. They are then shipping them around America, spreading microscopic infestations that could be decades old. When you grow from seed, you avoid this because there are no bugs on seeds. Of course, bugs can get on anything ---- and they will if they have a chance ---- but with a lot of old clones, these colonies have been there thriving over multiple generations of cloning, and once they've established themselves in your grow, their stronghold is mighty.
Have you ever wondered why such a low percentage of the old kratom clones flower? They're cuttings of a 10 or 20 or 30 year old tree, so why aren't many flowering and making seeds?
Theoretically, mature cuttings should all be covered in flowers within a year, yet only a small percentage of the common clones experience the joy of flowering.
Anyone who owns a flowering kratom tree knows the rush of excitement that comes from discovering that very first flower bud.
With seed-sown genetics we can develop lines more suited to the American climate, and more and more people can experience the happiness that comes from seeing their beloved tree in bloom.
DNA Mutations in Clones of Clones of Clones
Disadvantages of plant cloning have become a topic of concern for environmentalists and botany scholars who are concerned with several features of plants being destroyed due to cloning.
This harkens back to the 2011 study by scientists from Oxford University (UK) and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Saudi Arabia), where they discovered that the genomes of cloned plants carry relatively high frequencies of new DNA sequence mutations that were not present in the genome of the original mother plant. These are errors in the copies of genetic instructions.
The team reported their findings in Current Biology.
"Anyone who has ever taken a cutting from a parent plant and then grown a new plant from this tiny piece is actually harnessing the ability such organisms have to regenerate themselves," said Professor Nicholas Harberd of Oxford University's Department of Plant Sciences, lead author of the paper. "But sometimes regenerated plants are not identical, even if they come from the same parent. Our work reveals a cause of that visible variation."
Using DNA sequencing techniques that can decode the complete genome of an organism in one go (so-called 'whole genome sequencing') the researchers analyzed clones of the small flowering thalecress species (Arabidopsis). They found that clones can develop errors in the way their genetic instructions are coded.
Extrapolate this to consider taking clones of clones of clones and you are essentially making copies of copies that increase in error frequency.
Clones vs Clone of Clones of Clones
In spite of imperfections, cloning can and does offer many positives when done judiciously and responsibly. And clones without a doubt have their place in a production grow. But not right away. The first step in forging kratom's future in American is to develop new genetic lines, and for this we must first establish a diverse genetic pool sown from seed and brought up in the new environment. These new American-grown seedlings with their varied genetic permutations and vast points of origin can be raised together in the new climate, monitored for traits, tagged, separated and eventually bred with other plants with shared or complementary traits. This is to identify and magnify the genes with the greatest power to adapt, evolve and produce in the new climate. It allows the strongest genetics to rise to the top as Mother Nature makes Her very best judgements. Thus new stars rise, unveiling a future for the species backed by the powers of Nature.
Once you've managed to breed these plants and/or watch the alpha genetics rise to the top and remain dominant in the new climate over time, it's time to take cuttings to increase your stock.
Until that point is reached, there is no reason to clone. The greater diversity of seedlings always has the promise of better plants, hopefully with a range of desired traits. If you have a seedling with less than desired traits, it can be transferred to another environment, where the traits may be beneficial. All this takes time, but it allows the species to organically merge with the new environment in a way that has the highest chance of success and sustainability.
Although there is a time and a place to responsibly clone, there are upper limits to generational cloning, because with each new cutting the plant acquires more stress-related genetic trauma, until pest and disease resistance are degraded and desired traits begin to disappear.
This is why new and better genetic lines are always needed. At some point even the best lines will need replacing as further propagation becomes less desirable. Continuing to research and develop genetic lines suited to the North American climate will yield better and better results.
Genetic diversity propels evolution
According to a collaborative project of the University of California at Berkeley and the National Center for Science Education, without genetic variation, a population cannot evolve in response to changing environmental variables and, as a result, may face an increased risk of extinction. The risk of extinction or population decline because of low genetic variation is predicted by evolutionary theory.
The beauty of diversity
Since cloned plants tend to be near-identical in looks, they don't exhibit the same beautiful contrasts that naturally exist within a species. Would you populate a planet with a million copies of the same two or three people?
How many trees are in that teaspoon?
Part of the beauty of growing plants with seed-sown genetics is the unlimited diversity expressed in DNA. When Indonesians harvest both farmed and wild kratom, they are collecting from a diverse collection of hundreds, if not thousands, of trees. All these get mixed together into the powder you purchase. Every time you take a teaspoon of kratom, you have no idea how many different trees contributed their leaves to that. That's part of the magick of the really good stuff. You're literally eating a rainforest.
Branching out to the root of the issue
For agricultural applications calling for long term, in-ground plants, taproots are desirable. Only seed-sown kratom has a taproot. This is the soul of a tree and allows it to quickly reach full size, while still being anchored in the ground. The root system on clones is more shallow and thin by comparison, with no deep drive root. With intact trees, the tree and taproot are mirrors of each other: as above, so below.
Some cultivators are not growing in-ground, but in containers, and they don't need their plants to get big fast. For these applications clones are perfectly fine. Genetic diversity can still be maintained by taking early generation cuttings from strong seed-sown stock. These make excellent alternatives to the over-cloned cultivars currently in circulation for those with such preferences.
Some cultivators also prefer to harvest from bushier specimens, which can easily be achieved from seed-sown trees with directional pruning. At any time a grower can override a tree's natural apical dominance by pruning the top mitre, forcing branching. Harvesting also plays a role in the fullness of a kratom tree, because when leaves are removed, new branches can grow in their place.
Take a lesson from cannabis
It's not a myth that the cannabis from the 60s and 70s was weak compared to the cannabis of today. Imagine if all anyone did was clone the same few cannabis plants being used in America a few decades ago. There would be no genetic diversity, no adaptation, no improvement in the species. The powerful cannabis medicines of today would not exist.
This is the track we are on if we keep cloning the clones of clones here in the kratom world: never improving anything. Let's strive for a greater shared vision than this.
A modest proposal
As an alternative to cloning the same few common clone lines ad nauseam, we can choose to forge kratom's new future in America by growing trees from seed, selecting the very best and most promising trees, tagging them for traits like temperature tolerance, growth rate, sexual productivity, pest and disease resistance, alkaloid profile and beauty.... and then, and only then... taking first generation clones from tried and true mothers. This is how new genetic lines are born. It's also how we can adapt and evolve the species here in North America to make way for a healthy and sustainable new kind of kratom with an in-born power to thrive in our climate.
So what happens now?
Well no internet article, regardless of how well written, can stop people from cloning the old lines if that's what they want to do. But give genetic diversity a chance. Gamble on the side of progress and make sure seed-sown stock is well represented in your kratom grow.
We all know it's easy to make a quick copy of a plant by taking a little snip off something we already have, but right now we need to be encouraging responsible, sustainable Earth stewardship and thinking about our longterm plan and how our choices will aggregate to create the future. Every thriving, genetically diverse specimen we introduce into the environment is another step toward securing a legitimate place for this species in America. Make sure you do your part to shape the future of kratom. You have legitimate power! Anyone with enough passion and love for this plant can make a difference right now. Every one of us matters.
We live in a society where people want things NOW. But in terms of sustainability, we have to be willing to put in the work, the time and the investment to do it right. This is one of those pivotal moments in kratom history where we can rush in with the wrong tools to get something set up instantly, create no genetic diversity, yield mediocre product, leave the entire new industry susceptible to being wiped out and ultimately fall short of greatness ---- or we can put in the time, do it right, and forge an intelligent and sustainable future with the power of Mother Nature behind us.
At Magick Powers Potions we are working together with our likeminded colleagues to forge this sustainable future. We invite you to participate by giving seed-sown genetic diversity a chance. Allow adaptation and evolution to forge from the fires of creation the future of this miraculous plant.
May the American kratom of tomorrow be better than the American kratom of today.
If you want to grow strong genetically diverse kratom plants that have already been tagged to thrive in the American climate, visit Magick Powers Potions.
NOTE: information in this blog was referenced from the following sources:
University of California at Berkeley
National Center for Science Education
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
The Pros & Cons of Plant Cloning by Sarah Connell
Plant Management Network