Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV)

Tobacco mosaic virus gives cannabis plants odd yellow markings and twisted growth

by Nebula Haze

Can Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) spread to cannabis plants? Yes. Several mosaic viruses have been detected in cannabis plants (including tobacco mosaic virus, cucumber mosaic virus, and alfalfa mosaic virus) by the Canadian government. However, there isn’t much evidence of widespread transmission of mosaic virus in cannabis plants. Unfortunately, some plants that test positive may not have visible symptoms, and some plants that test negative may actually have the virus.

Should you be worried about TMV infecting your cannabis plants? Probably not.

Symptoms of a marijuana plant with TMV - yellow striped speckles on all the leaves, twisted growth

What is Tobacco Mosaic Virus anyway? TMV is a virus that is commonly found in tobacco plants which causes splotchy or twisted leaves, strange mottling symptoms (a “mosaic”), slowed growth, and reduced yields. Mosaic virus has spread to several other species of plants besides tobacco, including cannabis plants.

Note: Mosaic virus doesn’t affect humans, but plants that get infected by mosaic virus may not grow as fast or yield as well as they could have.

Did you Know? Tobacco Mosaic Virus was the first virus ever to be discovered.

The mosaic virus was first identified in tobacco plants in 1892 but is now known to infect at least 125 species of plants, including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and many types of flowers. It can live in the soil but mainly travels from plant to plant by direct contact. It can also be transferred from one plant to another via your hands. Some growers have claimed to see the symptoms after exposing their plants to tobacco.

The mosaic virus can attack a wide range of plants, but has it spread to our beloved herb marijuana?

Here’s a pic of a tobacco plant with confirmed TMV – the mottled leaves are the main symptom of the virus besides overall slow growth.

This tobacco leaf shows an example of the leaf symptoms caused by tobacco mosaic virus

Here’s a pic of a squash plant that has caught Mosaic Virus

A squash plant that is infected with mosaic virus

Euphorbia viguieri plant infected with mosaic virus

Euphorbia viguieri plant infected with mosaic virus

Several leaves throughout the plant can display symptoms, or it may just be one or two leaves. Typically the twisted growth is accompanied by a speckling/mosaic pattern. To make things complicated, some plants are silent carriers and may never show any symptoms.


Can Cannabis Plants Catch Mosaic Virus?

Now the real mystery. Can mosaic virus spread to cannabis plants? And if it can, what are the symptoms and how do you get rid of it?

Is there a “cannabis mosaic virus” out there? Some growers believe mottled leaves could be signs of the virus in cannabis plants

Example of a mosaic pattern on cannabis leaves caused by TMV virus

The following pictures display the symptoms that many marijuana growers believe to be the result of mosaic virus. Symptoms may include twisted or curved leaves, yellow stripes, spots, and a mosaic pattern. Yet these symptoms could also be caused by plant problems such as heat, root problems, general stress, nutrient deficiencies, etc. There’s also the possibility of a mutation or other genetic factors.

The most common symptom attributed to TMV is the appearance of uneven stripes on leaves of light and dark green. Yellowing is worse on the parts of the leaves that are deformed and twisted. The dark green areas tend to be somewhat thicker than the lighter portions of the leaf.

Curved leaves with yellow stripes or mottling are the most common symptom attributed to mosaic virus.

Example of a twisted, curved marijuana leaf with yellow stripes

TMV-affected plants are said to grow slow, seem sickly, and generally produce poor yields.

Symptoms of a marijuana plant with TMV - yellow striped speckles on all the leaves, twisted growth

Some growers swear their crops have been greatly affected by TMV, while others deny that it’s actually even spread to cannabis plants at all. The mosaic virus can be difficult to test for, even in a lab. The main problem with TMV from a grower’s perspective is that it may cause plants to grow slowly and produce poorly. If your plant is growing fast and healthy, with no other symptoms, and you’re not noticing it spreading from plant to plant, you probably don’t need to worry.

The cannabis pictures presented today appear to follow the symptoms of mosaic virus in other plant species, but so far I haven’t confirmed any cases of a positive TMV test that also displayed these symptoms. What do you think? Just regular plant variation or something more?

Do these cannabis plants have mosaic virus?

Does this cannabis plant have tobacco mosaic virus (TMV)? No one knows for sure, but the leaf mottling and splotchy symptoms make some growers suspect that mosaic virus has spread to cannabis plants!

At this point, cannabis growers haven’t confirmed that these leaf symptoms are caused by mosaic virus or something else

Could this marijuana plant have TMV (tobacco mosaic virus)? The splotchy mottled leaves could be the result of TMV, but is it actually something less sinester?

Unfortunately, few cannabis growers have the equipment or the means to test if a plant actually has TMV.

Example of cannabis leaf symptoms that may or may not be caused by TMV (tobacco mosaic virus)

Can TMV spread to cannabis plants? Yes, but…

  • Not much evidence for symptoms – Although mosaic virus has been found in cannabis plants, I haven’t confirmed any cases of the TMV plants showing symptoms of stripes. There is still a lot to learn.
  • Tests often come back negative – The Florida Department of Agriculture has tested several cannabis and hemp plants showing symptoms, yet none tested positive for mosaic virus. However, the Canadian government did find both multiple types of mosaic virus including tobacco mosaic virus in some cannabis plant samples. If you know of any other positive tests for mosaic virus in cannabis, please let us know!
  • Similar symptoms to other problems – Many common issues can cause similar symptoms, including incorrect pHwatering problemsroot problems, deficiencies, etc.
  • Affected plants don’t always seem infectious – I’ve had a few plants display these symptoms over the years. When I saw the symptoms, I tried to “infect” other plants in the grow tent by rubbing their leaves together with the affected seedlings, and it never spread to the other plants. I’ve spoken to several other growers who’ve had similar experiences where they see symptoms on one plant but it never infects the rest of the grow room.
  • Could be genetics – Following on the last point, it’s possible the symptoms are sometimes the result of genetic variation. For example, I grew a few plants of a strain called “Purple Sunset” and all the seedlings displayed the mottling and stripes. Yet the symptoms never spread to the several other plants in the grow tent. About a year later, I germinated more Purple Sunset seeds and saw the symptoms again. Just like the first set, the seedlings grew fast and healthy, but some of the leaves showed the odd stripes. I contacted the breeder about it, and he told me that he’s noticed some seedlings of this strain do that when grown under LEDs. To me, this is evidence the symptoms may be triggered by genetic factors as opposed to a virus.

The red arrow in the picture below points to a Purple Sunset seedling with mosaic stripes on the leaves. I tried rubbing the leaves on the other plants, but the symptoms never spread. The seedling grew fast and healthy despite the stripes, and after a few weeks the leaves started growing normally.

Here’s a closeup. Other Purple Sunset plants from the same batch of seeds produced the same markings as seedlings, but (again) didn’t seem contagious. Were the markings the result of genetics?

Conclusion: There isn’t much information about how often mosaic virus spreads to cannabis plants, and exactly what symptoms it may cause. The traditional TMV symptoms can be caused by other factors and sometimes appear on otherwise healthy plants without signs of spreading. That doesn’t mean cannabis plants can’t get mosaic disease, but the appearance of mottling isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm.

This cannabis plant has yellow spots or speckles that appear on the unhealthy parts of the leaves. Is it mosaic virus? It could be, but probably not.

Example of a marijuana leaf with mottled speckles in a mosaic pattern on a twisted leaf - these are the symptoms of TMV

But the virus can infect cannabis plants. Just because the symptoms aren’t always caused by mosaic virus doesn’t mean the symptoms are never caused by mosaic virus. Should you be worried?

If you look at the big picture, the main worry with mosaic virus is that your plants become sick and slow-growing. That means there’s not much to worry about if plants are otherwise healthy and fast-growing without any sign of symptoms spreading.

Don’t worry about TMV if…

  • Plants with mottle leaves are otherwise healthy and fast-growing
  • Symptoms aren’t spreading from plant to plant
  • It seems to be genetic (for example common among all plants of a strain) but you’re not seeing symptoms on unrelated plants
  • You think another problem may be causing the symptoms, such as nutrient deficiencies, root problems, heat stress, etc.

A plant virus can be hard to pin down, since many factors cause similar symptoms. Just remember that (if it does exist) mosaic virus appears to be relatively rare in marijuana plants.


How do you treat a cannabis plant that has mosaic virus? 

If you believe you’re seeing an infection, you likely should treat cannabis the same as other species of plants that can catch mosaic virus.

Now here’s the bad news. Unfortunately, when it comes to mosaic virus, there is no cure. An infected plant will have TMV forever, even if it’s not actively showing symptoms. If you believe you have a marijuana plant with TMV, your main goal is to carefully remove the plant while preventing the virus from spreading to other plants.

In greenhouse and commercial operations, the main way to deal with mosaic virus is to dispose of all affected plants, including any soil they were growing in, and enforce a strict policy of hand-washing between touching plants. Luckily TMV probably won’t kill your plants, and there’s no evidence it will hurt you, but if infected plants grow slower and end up producing smaller yields, you definitely want to keep them out of your marijuana garden.

Have you ever seen cannabis plants infected by Mosaic Virus? Let us know!



Could the Symptoms be Caused by Something Else?

Some cannabis plants may show mutations such as variegation (two-toned leaves), and this normal and natural phenomenon may be confused for TMV. One difference is the plant otherwise grows fast and healthy.

Two-toned leaves (variegation) are a common mutation. Nothing to worry about if plants are otherwise healthy and fast-growing.

Example of a two-tone marijuana leaf - a common mutation

Thrips are a common plant pest which may cause leaf symptoms that are reminiscent of mosaic disease symptoms

A cannabis leaf with thrips damage

Because other plant problems can cause similar symptoms, it’s always a good idea to investigate and see if it might be something else!

Diagnose Your Sick Plant!

The top of this marijuana plant is droopy because it's been attacked by broad or russet mites. You can see the edges of the leaves are starting to get glossy



Background: How Does TMV Spread?

“Mosaic” disease is caused by a virus. The tobacco mosaic virus is very stable and can persist in contaminated soil, in infected plant debris, on or in the seed coat, and in manufactured tobacco products. The virus is transmitted readily from plant to plant by mechanical means.

This may simply involve picking up the virus while working with infected plant material, then introducing it to healthy plants by rubbing or brushing against them with contaminated tools, clothing, or hands.

Virus plant diseases cannot be “cured” once a plant is infected!

Therefore, every effort should be made to prevent the introduction of virus diseases into the garden.

Sanitation and cleanliness are the primary means of controlling virus diseases. Infected plants should be removed immediately to prevent the spreading of the pathogen. The use of tobacco products during cultural practices should be avoided to prevent infecting plants with tobacco mosaic virus. Anyone who uses tobacco or works with infected plant material should wash their hands thoroughly in soapy water before handling marijuana plants.

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