What are landrace strains?
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- Where do landrace strains come from?
- Why are landrace strains hard to find?
- Heirloom strains
- How to identify landrace strains
- Popular landrace strains
Cannabis consumers today face more variety of choices than ever before. While there’s a cultivar for every occasion, all strains of cannabis available today can be genetically traced back to a handful of varieties, known as landrace strains.
Landrace strains are cannabis cultivars that have never been crossed by breeders, evolving stable genetics over centuries of natural selection and long-term exposure to their home environment. Cannabis is a highly adaptable plant and as generations of mankind spread throughout the world, so too did cannabis, becoming a “native” of numerous regions in the Middle East, Africa, the Americas, and Asia.
Where do landrace strains come from?
Cannabis is one of the oldest crops in history. The plant was first referenced in historical documents in 2900 B.C. by the Chinese emperor Shen-Nung. Known as the Father of Chinese Medicine, Shen wrote of cannabis in his encyclopedia of plant medicines called the Pen Ts’ao. Further archaeological evidence of hemp rope imprints on broken pottery indicates cannabis was already in use during the Neolithic period in China, about 10,000 B.C.
Cannabis is one of the oldest crops in history. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Botanists trace all cannabis genetics back to a single plant first developed in the Hindu Kush region of what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan. This first wild cannabis variety was used in everything from ropemaking and clothing to medicinal and spiritual practices.
Ancient Greeks and Romans transported the highly useful cannabis plant west, toward the Middle East and Russia. Later, Germanic tribes brought it farther west while the Ottomans delivered the plant south to the African continent. In 1545, African cannabis species crossed the Atlantic with the earliest colonial expeditions, arriving in the Caribbean and Central America where it was used for rope, animal feed, oils for painting, and many other uses.
The highly adaptable cannabis plant flourished in many of these regions, naturally developing growth characteristics best suited to the diverse environments of Asia, Africa, and Central America. These were the first landrace strains, named after their country or region of origin, and distinguishable by the characteristics suited for their specific growing environments.
Why are landrace strains hard to find?
Original landrace strains are tricky to find outside of their home environment. Cannabis breeders in the 1970s and 80s began experimenting with hybridization, crossing landrace strains to create the first hybrids such as Skunk #1 and Chemdawg. Many breeders wanted to create the best strain possible, and the cultivation of new generations of cannabis diluted the original landrace genetics.
Cannabis breeders in the 1970s and 80s began experimenting with hybridization, crossing landrace strains to create the first hybrids. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
The term landrace is also complicated because many of what we call landrace strains all descend from a single genetic origin. Technically the only real landrace strain is the variety grown in the Hindu Kush region where man first discovered cannabis.
Yet, the word landrace simply means “a local variety of a species of plant or animal that has distinctive characteristics arising from development and adaptation over time to conditions of a localized geographic region,” according to Merriam Webster. This makes it difficult to produce an Afghan landrace strain in Southern California, for example, as the growing conditions are entirely different.
When seeds from landrace strains grow outside the zone in which they evolved, they produce phenotypes, versions of the plant with similar genetics but characteristics determined by the growing environment. These differences can be seen in an heirloom cannabis plant’s stature, development, and chemical makeup. It may result in variations in flowering times, cannabinoid profiles, and terpene content. To continue the above example, while an Afghan landrace seed may still be from the original plant, Southern California’s dryer and sunnier climate will produce a very different phenotype than one grown in the Hindu Kush Mountains.
Heirloom cannabis strains are landrace strains with stabilized genetics that have been cultivated by humans for at least 50 years outside of the landrace’s original environment. Phenotypes of landrace strains become heirloom when they have reached genetic stability in their new growing environment.
Heirloom cannabis strains are landrace strains with stabilized genetics that have been cultivated by humans for at least 50 years outside of the landrace’s original environment. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
The distinction between heirloom and landrace strains is sometimes muddled in the cannabis community, which makes finding genuine landrace strains even more difficult. Angola Red, for example, is a Latin American heirloom bred from a cultivar found originally in Africa, even though many consider Angola Red to be Latin American landrace cannabis.
How to identify landrace strains
Landrace strains are typically named after the region in which they developed. They are easy to identify based on how each variety has developed characteristics suited to its growing environment.
For example, strains such as Acapulco Gold (South America) and Durban Poison (Africa) grew close to the equator in warmer, drier climates. These plants grow to huge heights with large, dense fan leaves and longer flowering periods that take advantage of the plentiful sunlight. Cultivars such as Afghan (Middle East) or Hindu Kush (Asia) develop shorter plants with broad fan leaves that respond better to higher moisture levels and altitudes with limited sunlight.
Popular landrace strains
Many landrace strains still exist on the cannabis market today, both as seeds from reputable breeders and in consumable form in dispensaries.
Latin American landraces such as Acapulco Gold, Colombian Gold, and Jamaica’s Lamb’s Bread are taller plants with elongated buds, high calyx-to-leaf ratios, and abundant lateral branching. These strains typically have higher levels of caryophyllene and limonene, giving them a peppery, lemon aroma.
Middle Eastern landraces such as Afghan and Hindu Kush feature small, stocky plants with wide leaves and thick, fat buds notable for high resin levels. These strains give off the signature Kush aroma of pepper and pine due to their caryophyllene and pinene content.
The most well-known African landrace strain, Durban Poison, originated in South Africa where it was cultivated by indigenous tribes. Durban Poison grows to medium height with long, fluffy buds. Known for its sweet, fruity flavor, the strain has high levels of myrcene and limonene, as well as high THC content.
Asian landraces such as Thai and Nepalese also grew close to the equator, forming tall plants with dense branches; long, serrated leaves; and fluffy buds covered in resin. These aromatic cultivars feature high levels of caryophyllene and humulene, creating sweet and peppery smells.
What are landrace strains? Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents Where do landrace strains come from? Why are landrace strains hard to find?
Landrace Strains: The Complete Guide To These Rare Strains
When it comes to cannabis, variety really is the spice of life. From Fruity Pebbles to Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies, there always seems to be a strain for every occasion. But did you know that all the strains we have today trace back to a handful of original cannabis plant types known as landrace strains?
It’s true. In fact, botanists can trace the entire cannabis lineage back to an original landrace strain in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We know — mind blown, right?
So what is a landrace strain, specifically? What makes them unique? And should you drop everything, sell your car, and trek to the back of beyond just to try one?
In this article, the experts at Honest Marijuana will answer those questions and tell you everything you need to know about the rare landrace strains.
An Extremely Brief History Of Cannabis
Historical documents from as far back as 2900 B.C.E. (before common era) and archaeological evidence from various regions indicate that cannabis was already in use during the Neolithic period in China.
That means humans could have been smoking weed as far back as 10,000 B.C.E.!
Actually, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Our ancient stoner ancestors probably consumed cannabis as an edible or as a weed tea. It probably wasn’t until later that some ganja genius got it in his or her head to inhale the smoke of a burning pot plant.
We really don’t know for sure about cannabis use, though, because Wikipedia didn’t exist back then and no one wrote anything down (they probably forgot because they were stoned off their weed tea).
Cannabis genetics are a different thing entirely. Botanists don’t need written records to do some pretty amazing things, like trace all the cannabis strains that we know about today back to single plant variety that first developed in the Hindu Kush region of what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Keep in mind that this area was a no-man’s land between Indian and Chinese civilizations way back then. But it’s not hard to imagine an intrepid Chinese explorer stumbling upon a crop of wild cannabis in this region, eating it, burning it, or just using the fibers for something, thereby kicking off our current marijuana revolution.
From that earliest discovery, mankind took cannabis wherever they went and the plant spread outside the Kush and China to Russia, Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and even parts of North America.
Through the intervening years, ganja growers have combined strain after strain of cannabis plants in order to produce different results.
Some growers wanted the plant to grow in cooler climates. Some growers wanted the plant to grow in warmer climates. Some growers wanted to isolate a particular flavor. That led to the production of the myriad strains we have now.
But everything can be traced back to that one original strain and the handful of landrace strains that followed.
What Is A Landrace Strain?
A landrace strain is a variety of cannabis plant that has less diluted DNA than other strains of cannabis. That means landrace strains have not been crossbred with another variety of cannabis.
To take the distinction even further, landrace strains are usually indigenous to a certain part of the world (meaning they have adapted to the environment of a specific geographic location). And since these landrace strains are the original cannabis plant from that area, descendants from those strains often bear part of the region’s name (e.g., Kandy Kush, Durban Thai, Super Lemon Haze).
Let’s think of it this way for clarification: The original strain that developed in the Hindu Kush so many thousands of years ago was a wild species.
Caveman potheads took seeds from that wild species and planted them in various parts of the world in the thousands of years between then and now. Those plants that were directly descended from the original species are now known as landrace strains.
From there (in, say, the past 100-200 years), mankind continued to practice selective breeding of the cannabis plant for genetic improvement. That produced the modern hybrid strains we enjoy today.
6 Landrace Strains From Around The World
Here, for your pleasure, is a brief list of six landrace strains from around the world. This is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s just to give you an idea of where that Chem Dog you’re smoking came from:
Hindu Kush, Pakistan
Pure Afghan, Afghanistan
Lamb’s Bread, Jamaica
Acapulco Gold, Mexico
Durban Poison, Africa
Panama Red, Central America
Are Landrace Strains Unique In Some Way?
It’s important to understand that the landrace classification only describes the strain’s genetic purity and indigenous upbringing.
It does not mean that landrace strains will get you higher than a good batch of Blue Dream or cut your anxiety quicker than a high-CBD strain.
In fact, modern strains are much better than landrace strains at generating the effects we’re all looking for (be they recreational or medicinal). That’s because growers have bred the plants for those specific effects.
Landrace strains are not “better” than modern strains, or even really unique in any way. They just have less diluted DNA. They’re closer to the original wild species than anything else we have available today.
To put it in perspective, it’s like comparing the very first car (let’s say it was the Model T for simplicity’s sake) with the newest BMW.
You’re going to enjoy cruising around in the BMW more than you would the Model T — the BMW is comfier, rides better, is easier to start, and goes faster (just to name a few) — but it’s still good to know where that BMW originally came from.
That’s how you can look at landrace strains today. They’re really only useful to historians, scientists, and pot purists.
The one benefit from trying a landrace strain would be experiencing more genuine effects that are closer to those produced by the original cannabis strain. Maybe the high or the medicinal effects were completely different. We just don’t know.
Where Have All The Pure Landrace Strains Gone?
You may be wondering why you haven’t heard about landrace strains before. Where have they all gone?
To answer both questions at the same time: the original landrace strains have been taken out of their native environment and endlessly crossbred with other varieties to produce something new.
When a landrace strain is removed from its indigenous environment (say, Pakistan) and forced to grow elsewhere (say, Mexico), it has to mature in different growing conditions. In response to those new growing conditions, the plant will exhibit new characteristics (e.g., smaller flowers, longer grow time, higher THC).
During that transition from indigenous environment to new growing conditions, some of the characteristics of the original plant will be lost. To get those characteristics back, you’d have to return the plant to its native environment.
Even then, the “purity” would be in question because you’ve grown a plant in a different location (Mexico) — producing slightly different characteristics — and then tried to return the seed to the place where its grandparent plant came from (Pakistan).
See how quickly things can get murky and diluted? It’s enough to make your head swim and your eyes go googly (even without taking a toke). That’s why we recommend not thinking about it too deeply.
It’s enough just to know that landrace strains exist. You don’t have to get intimate with the subject. Just give a polite ‘sup nod as you pass by on your way to the local dispensary for a dime bag of Yoda OG.
Should You Try A Landrace Strain?
Our answer to questions like these is usually a resounding, “Yes!”
There are a few times when we have to say no — like, should you make your own THC-O-Acetate or CO2 cannabis oil — but, for the most part, it never hurts to try.
That said, don’t cash in your life savings for the chance to puff a landrace strain. You’ll probably be disappointed. Modern strains are often better at producing the recreational or medicinal effects that you’re looking for.
Remember, landrace strains aren’t stronger, more potent, or better in some way. They’re just less diluted (genetically speaking) than other strains.
And, honestly, even that’s debatable given how much time has passed since the discovery of the original landrace strain and man’s tendency to crossbreed plants to make them grow “better.”
It’s good to know about landrace strains, but we seriously doubt they’re going to be the next big thing in cannabis consumption unless scientists find something in their DNA that cures cancer better than Rick Simpson oil or completely cures anxiety and depression.
You’re better off using organic, pesticide-free marijuana than spending your hard-earned money on something that claims to be a landrace strain.
Fun fact: all of the cannabis we have today traces back to a handful of landrace strains. Honest Marijuana’s experts tell you all about these rare strains.