Landrace Cannabis Strains
With thousands of cannabis strains and new ones coming out all the time, it’s good to know and understand how they came to be. Cannabis was growing wild and on its own for thousands of years but people soon found out that it’s a great source of food and material and also a great intoxicant and medicine and they started growing it and bringing it with them wherever they went.
There are many different opinions when it comes to what’s considered a landrace but some general consensus exists that they’re old cannabis strains which are indigenous to certain regions. As far as human involvement, a lot of people think that landraces are pure strains that haven’t been touched or influenced by people but actual evidence and research shows that people have been messing with landrace genetics since they started with cultivation. Many landraces are a mixture of older landraces, which spread throughout the world via trade or various human migrations.
Wherever people went, cannabis followed
Cannabis has been known and used by people for thousands of years for anything from food and medicine to textile and paper. Originating from Central Asia, by some accounts from north China, or from the Hindu Kush Valley, according to others, it quickly spread throughout the world. Used for food, fiber and fodder as well for medicinal and spiritual purposes, its seeds were essential for any trader and migrant that went through Asia.
Cannabis grows best in warm and sunny climates, so the majority of landrace strains originally come from areas near the equator. Sativas do best in equatorial regions of the world, while indigenous Indicas do best if they are growing in an area that sits between 30 and 50 degrees latitude (north or south).
Some evidence suggests that even the prehistoric humans harvested the seeds for food, spreading the cannabis plant throughout the Eurasian landmass somewhere between 10 and 5 thousand years ago. From there cannabis spread to the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia in a period from 2000 to 500 years ago, and eventually to the New World around the year 1545. and Australia in 1788. Wild hemp was growing from the Middle East to China and Mongolia up North. Cannabis is the oldest known agricultural crop and has always been a part of human culture even serving as a form of tax and payment at certain periods of time.
Identifying and classifying cannabis
The two main varieties of Cannabis – Indica and Sativa are a result of their original climates, Indica being used to arid, colder and dry climates evolved into wide and thick leaf variety that is shorter in height, minimizes water respiration and finishes earlier than the Sativa plants that are bigger in height, have thin stems and narrow leaves to promote greater respiration.
Cannabis genus was first classified in 1753. by Carl Linnaeus who thought that cannabis was monotypic – meaning have only a single species, naming it Cannabis sativa L.(for Linnaeus). 30 years later Jean-Baptiste Lamarck identified second species of Cannabis after examining plants he had collected from India, naming it Cannabis indica Lam. (for Lamarck). And finally at the beginning of the twentieth century a group of russian scientists had identified a third cannabis species – naming it Cannabis ruderalis.
A lot of misconceptions
It was a common opinion that landraces are pure strains that are indigenous to a specific location and have never been crossbred with other strains but research showed that most landraces are indeed hybrids and have a very broad genetic base. Wild and untouched varieties do exist but people did interfere with cannabis genetics, sometimes willingly for a specific purpose and sometimes unknowingly.
You could say that nature is the best breeder and having an opportunity to breed in the wild results in having the best suited strain for that area. Resistant to pests and diseases and finishing in time, they are totally adapted to and thrive in their natural environment. People have just picked the plants which properties they seemed desirable and turned their breeding towards that path.
Another misconception about cannabis landraces is that they are either 100% Indica or 100% Sativa varieties but again, research and studies have shown that most landraces are hybrids. Although pure Indica/Sativa strains do exist, cannabis growing regions rarely grew just one variety, especially huge regions like Hindu Kush, Himalayas or Kashmir. Other regions, that had cannabis introduced and brought to them, started growing different varieties from the start or started with hybrid strains in the first place.
More understanding and standardization of terms in Cannabis is needed because people just look at Indicas as having broad, fat leaves and growing into short and stocky plants and Sativas as having slick narrow leaves with larger internodes and plants in general but those don’t necessarily correspond with the plants genetics.
Yet another misconception regarding landraces is that they are well stabilized and have few, if any phenotypes and that all plants exhibit similar traits and are well unformed. People often bred one variety with the other, with a number of different varieties growing nearby and spreading pollen from one to the other which in turn resulted in a huge variety of crosses and phenotypes. Even when grown for one specific purpose, all phenotypes were crossed with all other which resulted in having a wide range of unique treats and characteristics which helped them to adapt to their environment.
Heirloom cannabis strains
Similar to landraces, there are Heirloom strains – that were selectively bred by humans and over time gradually adapted to their environment resulting in very stable genetics. These strains are typically either cross bred or hybridized, often taken from their original locations and cultivated in different environments which resulted in plant transmogrifications – having similar but slightly different characteristics known as phenotypes. The changes often include change in cannabinoid and terpene profiles, change of color and length of the flowering period.
Landrace and heirloom strains are considered to be more balanced, with cannabinoid and terpene profiles in harmony with the plant and its environment. They often have more types of chemical compounds and have greater amounts of genetic variability among themselves than hybrids who have been crossbred with a single trait in mind.
Hippie Trail and the beginning of commercial breeding
Up to the 1960s landrace and heirloom strains were the only available products on the market. Then, many travelers worldwide started visiting remote areas and looking for best and rare genetics, collecting these seeds and planting them in their own gardens. People went on The Hippie Trail (or sometimes called the Hashish Trail) traveling from country to country collecting cannabis seeds along the way. The route went from Bangkok, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran and Turkey to London. One of most notable such events occured when some growers brought back Afghani landraces to Northern California whose climate is closely similar to the one in Hindu Kush mountains. Needless to say, the plants adopted excellent and thrived under the California sun. The same thing happened on the central West Coast with plants from Indonesia and the Middle East as well on Hawaii with sativas from Africa to Vietnam.
First with the start of indoor cultivations, then with the legal cannabis laws, the market has emerged which wants some extra traits, often missing in hybrids. Also, many breeders and growers from Europe brought back seeds as well, using them for creating many award winning strains. There are more than thousands of strains available on the market now, most of them being hybrids.
From high THC to reintroduction of other cannabinoids
The trend for a long time was high THC percentage, so almost all strains were bred to have high THC, while other cannabinoids were left out. With the legalization and decriminalization of recreational, as well as medicinal use of cannabis, other compounds found in cannabis are being researched and studied and strains are being bred with specific compounds, levels and ratios in mind. Most modern cannabis hybrids are bred for high THC levels, so finding strains that are high in less known cannabinoids often leads back to landraces, as they have more balanced cannabinoid profiles. Often offering more than just one or two cannabinoids, out of a hundred plus, they also have different and unique terpene and flavonoid profiles when compared to modern cannabis strains.
With CBD not being psychoactive, high CBD strains were not commercially valuable to growers and such traits were bred out over time. With cannabis being legalized for medicinal use, the plant and the cannabinoids have been re examined and the medicinal value of CBD had ‘brought back’ some of the older strains as well as create new ones with high CBD percentage. While we learn more and more about the cannabis plant and its compounds we might see trends changing and landrace and heirloom strains brought back in style.
Cannabis Ruderalis and Autoflowering Cannabis strains
Cannabis Ruderalis, native to colder climates of Russia and Northern Europe and the Himalayas, has evolved to have a shorter life cycle and to flower when reached certain maturity, instead of being dependent on light cycle to induce flowering. That specific trait was very interesting to breeders and many started to experiment with Ruderalis genetics. Adding Ruderalis genes and crossbreeding them with other strains gave birth to autoflowering strains.
Keeping the genetics
It’s said that there are around 100 pure landraces left in the world, although there is very little research or data that would verify that. The problem is that hybrid strains are readily available and growers tend to grow for profit – allowing them to harvest more in the same conditions if they use high yield strains. Also, climate and weather are also a big factor – allowing growers to have multiple harvests or to finish quicker results in introducing new strains which are in fact polluting the gene pool of landraces. Many seed banks, projects and people are working on preserving the landrace strains, offering seeds and clones of the original strains in order to not have them extinct.
Crossbreeding and hybridizations remain the main problems threatening landraces. Many traditional cannabis producing regions such as Afghanistan, Morocco and Jamaica are in danger of having their pure genetics “soiled”. Commercial grows have only optimization of profits in mind, so high-yielding commercial strains are replacing what used to be pure landrace and heirloom strains in many regions. New hybrid cannabis strains are being grown instead, offering farmers higher yields and profits. Not only are farmers intentionally growing these hybrids but plants spreading their pollen and crossbreeding the pure landrace genetics and fields nearby is often the case too.
Some of more notable landraces are: Hindu Kush, Watani, Afghani (Kush), Mazar I Sharif from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Lamb’s and King’s Bread from Jamaica, Acapulco Gold from Mexico, Swazi Gold, Durban Poison, Malawi Gold, Red Congolese and Killimanjaro from Africa, Panama Red, Punto Rojo, Santa Marta and Colombian Gold from Central America, Thai and Aceh from Asia. Hawaiian, Nepalese, Luang Prabang, Delta Zonker, Altai and a few others are also well known landrace or heirloom strains available.
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