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The Cannabis Origin: What Is a Landrace Strain?

January 30, 2014

At Leafly, we welcome the never ending flow of new crossbred strains. Patients are able to enjoy a spectrum of medical benefits, and connoisseurs bask in the diversity of their complex flavor profiles. For those only accustomed to plastic bags of nameless herb, signature varieties like Blackberry Kush and Red Haze introduce a new world of cannabis. But where did all these “Kushes,” “Hazes,” and countless other hybrids actually come from?

Historical documents from around the world, some dating as far back as 2900 B.C., tell us cannabis has lived alongside humans for thousands of years, cultivated for food, fiber, and fodder, as well as for religious and medicinal purposes.  According to the best available research, cannabis originally evolved in Central Asia and was eventually spread by humans to nearly every region of the planet. This was no accident; cannabis is one of the oldest known agricultural plants, and its multitude of uses ensured that migrants and traders took these seeds with them wherever they traveled. Prehistoric humans, who did not practice agriculture but most likely harvested wild cannabis seeds for food, spread the plant throughout the Eurasian landmass between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago. Later civilizations spread cannabis to the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia in the period between 2,000 and 500 years ago, and eventually to the New World around the year 1545 A.D. and Australia in 1788. Without human intervention, cannabis would have been confined to Central Asia, as its innate dispersal mechanisms are extremely limited.

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Outside of Central Asia, all landrace strains are the result of escaped (or “feral”), cultivars, strains that were selectively bred by humans, which then gradually adapted to their environment over time. Along the way, other newer cultivars would have interbred with these feral escapees.  (Even within the prehistoric range of Central Asia, it is suspected that feral domesticated cannabis has interbred with its wild ancestors, making the current existence of an original indigenous strain unlikely.)

These factors account for genetic variation between landrace strains, which have been crossbred to produce the cannabis variety we see today. Landrace strains are oftentimes named after their native or adopted region (e.g., Afghani, Thai, Hawaiian), and traces of these forefather strains are sometimes detectable in the names of their crossbred descendants. A combination of environmental conditions and selective breeding by native populations gave rise to these stable varieties, the forefathers of all modern strains.

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Today’s cannabis market, driven by our widespread obsession with variety, rarely sees these pure landrace strains. On Leafly, most of the sativas you find (denoted with a red tile) are not pure sativas, but rather sativa-dominant hybrids that exhibit strong sativa-like attributes. Same goes for indicas (purple tiles). The hybrids, marked with green tiles, refer to strains with more balanced indica-sativa characteristics. Hybridization leaves us with very few original landrace strains, but they are not lost completely.

During the 1960s and 70s, growers worldwide began collecting landrace strains to breed in their own local gardens. These strains, called heirlooms, were then propagated in other environments like Hawaii and California. Arjan Roskam, founder of Greenhouse Seeds in Amsterdam, is one of these strain hunters. He and his colleague Franco Loja favor these landraces in their selective breeding of Greenhouse varieties.

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“Arjan always considered these landraces very important for the breeding process because they are the bases that have been selected by nature,” Franco told us, “The [span of time] over which nature does this is so huge that they are not replicable by man under any conditions — not indoor, not outdoor, not in any way.”

Environment is a key player in the formation of cannabis compounds like cannabinoids (e.g., THC, CBD) and aromatic oils, called terpenes. Climate, weather, soil, fertilization, and even the time at which the cannabis is collected affect the chemical makeup of cannabis, and landraces, having adapted to their conditions over time, are considered by some to have preferred synergistic levels of therapeutic compounds.

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Most cannabis breeders have been selectively breeding their strains over time for a high THC content, favoring this psychoactive cannabinoid over its other important chemical constituents like CBD. A revival of these secondary cannabis constituents has led to the introduction of high-CBD product options, which have expanded the medical potential of cannabis by a great degree. It begs the question, what will we learn from breeding practices that further diversify cannabis’ chemical profiles?

They may be uncommon, but landrace and heirloom varieties still bloom around the world. Here are just a few from different regions around the world:

Afghanistan/Pakistan

Hindu Kush cannabis strain  Afghani cannabis strain  Lashkar Gah cannabis strain  Mazar I Sharif cannabis strain

Jamaica

Lamb's Bread cannabis strain  King's Bread cannabis strain

Mexico

Acapulco Gold cannabis strain

Africa

Swazi Gold cannabis strain  Kilimanjaro cannabis strain  Durban Poison Cannabis strain  Malawi cannabis strain

 

South and Central America

Panama Red cannabis strain  Colombian Gold

Asia

Aceh cannabis strain  Thai cannabis strain  Chocolate Thai cannabis strain

 

header photo credit: eggrole via photopin cc

  • Tasslehoff Burrfoot

    Having sampled a few landrace strains in my day I would love to see some on the local menus.

  • foksthery

    Don’t forget Texada Timewarp, the only Canadian landrace

    • Forest Dweller

      I didn’t know it was a Canadian landrace! It does not like to be grown inside and reacts oddly to different light sources.

  • Iamanan Emmanuel

    I’m very sad you USA boyz and gals don’t have our awesome Brazilian sativa landrace “Manga Rosa” or Pink Mango
    Someone should introduce it…

    • zipper 82

      if you send me some seeds i will. ive been looking for a strain called sage magenta, or a cross called pink flamingo. ever heard of them?

    • Stuart Cockerham

      So share some hybrid beans with your NA bros, my partaking brother to the south?!

  • noah vail

    with all the talk about today’s strains vs.”the old days”, i have yet to find anything in the dispensaries that even comes close to the weed we got from Vietnam…

    • Wizsteve Wiz

      Might be able to find Wilie Nelson only one that might be out there I know of.

    • Links2

      I remember smoking Thai (on a stick…we called it Thai stick) way back in the 70’s. I have yet to find anything close to it, even with all of the strains out today. Anyone else concur?

      • Mark Marquette

        I remember in 1971 sharking a Thai stick with 3 others in the Ol Shack at coffee, Ft. Hood, and hallucinating after!

      • comncents

        As someone that grew up in the Portland OR outskirts in the 60s- mid 70s and having connections for Thai and hash coming in in shipping containers; let me say that almost all Thai stick and most of the hashish brought in then was laced with opium. I knew several people that got addicted to opium/heroin due to high use. No comparison with the straight weed we get today.

        • Links2

          Well that would explain the high then. It was amazing. Tiny little pin joints and what a high. I never experienced anything addicting about it. Maybe because it was so rare in the area i grew up in.

        • Red Dog

          bullshit. it was just plain good bud. there was nothing like smoking opium in the thai stick high. straight right the fuck on sativa smoke of the gods.

          • Links2

            I bought hash that has streaks of opium in it (go figure, it was called opium hash). Very very good. Just like the opium laced thai weed. You are the one full of yourself (and bullshit).

      • DocteurRalph

        We had those Thai sticks back in 70’s and my wife and still think it was the best weed ever. Even Hawaiian or Jamaican Lamb’s Breath couldn’t compete. In fact one time we smoked some and got lost in our own neighborhood. We were less than a mile from our house driving around and couldn’t find our way home. None of this hydro crap does anything close to that.

        • comncents

          I remember a night in the summer of 75, W Oregon, splitting a pin-joint of Thai, full moon, a few clouds; laying on a lawn staring at the clouds moving across the moon as they turned florescent blue, then pink, then just kept cycling, as they turned into patterns and images… opium dreams. Closest I ever came to that was stoned, watching Northern Lights in N Montana. Beautiful!

      • Alan Hersom

        I think the Thai sticks were laced with opium. Hallucinogenic. Strongest weed I have smoked. Came in through the shipping ports in New Zealand.

      • Richard Bourne

        i seen them all wrapped around a stick with colored string

    • Mark Marquette

      I was in Americal Div, South of Chu Lai. Everything we got was cured with opium, so… AND, came in sealed plastic bags of 10 small, exactly same size, folded ends.

    • Steve Sorlien

      Yeah Noah, I’ve smoked Vietnamese Red back in the day. Very mellow. Had Panama Red and Thai. Recently found Columbian Gold which I first came across in 1976.

      • DocteurRalph

        We had some gold Columbian pot back about 76 too. Everyone was calling it Santa Marta Gold whatever that is, and it was twice as good as the other weed going around.

    • comncents

      Purple Crippler, Cambodian Red, great memories..

    • Doğa Can Yaman

      I agree. Todays breeders play with the plant and destroying its real qualities. I am from Turkey and I missed the old grass with seeds.

    • Could of had a V8

      I’ve got a buddy that is in Vietnam as I type this. Reading over this thread brings back fond memories of Thai stick, opium laced hash. I wonder if my buddy could mail seeds out of Vietnam without ending up hanging from a tree somewhere.

  • lalu

    ACH!

    • Jordan Daigle

      Lol

      • lalu

        what happen with lol?

  • Michael Varvel

    why in the world must I/we endure endless BS re: GOD!? this is supposed to be about weed, how much we love weed, how good weed makes us feel and how stupid some folks are to try and prohibit its’ consumption. I go to church for my dose of superstition and don’t want or need that here. All I want from this place is facts, not some mentally unstable bullshit! Mike peace

  • Michael Varvel

    BTW seek Skunk #1 your world will improve Mike peace

  • Snegurochka

    Mazar-i-Sharif sure makes a fine hash!

  • Stuart Cockerham

    Good stuff. Been around for awhile partaking and growing here and there years ago, but I didn’t know that. That being said, I’m almost 60 and kinda grew up in the green business during the “70s, so I remember not so clearly the Columbian Red and Gold, Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, The killer Thia sticks w/wo opium stripes, the Hindu Kush, the Pakistani Hash with some kind of inked governmental stamp on it for God’s sake. That’s almost as wanted as the good housekeeping seal of approval. Sorry, for the mind-pit fall into fond memories of yester-year, but the old landrace strands purely kicked a$$. I know, I was there! Most Americans seriously diss the “Mexican regs,” but I well remember some Mexican brothers hooked that had 30 to 50 different bales of weed that put most of Southern California’s hydro to shame back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I’m just saying, I was there. Thanks Leafly Girl for the great info and fond memories baby!.

  • Chris Prohaska

    I have a chem dawg land race whats best for growing it

  • AL KELLEY

    Whoa……..guess censorship and truth in day of Trump rules the Marley wannabe sites…….will stick with Weed World, Skunk, and HT……….posers!

  • Ham Hampton

    Don’t forget the Southern Skunk #4! They say Skunk #1 was developed in the 70’s from three landrace strains, I’m not sure how #4 came to be but important because a source of high quality landrace was certainly needed. These yellow chunky crystal popcorn nuggets where so light it made the zipper huge! I had a buddy working in NYC for Sony who had access to some really nice stuff delivered on bicycle back in early nineties. Every time he’d drool over the quality and value of the Skunk #4 when at home, flavoring this sweet lady by far over any other up there. I loved tasty treats like Black Domina so he’d bring it down different exotics since it was so hard to find them then and in the Southern U.S. in general. I heard today they were having a hard time finding the original Skunk #4, so a breeder in Denver was making something similar to it called Lemon Skunk. Trust me it’s probably not exactly the same and that’s a good lesson why the landrace genes are so vital to keep pure and perfectly intact for generations to come. And even returned to the wild to be a part of Earth where they’ve grown alongside the evolution of man for 1,000’s of years and can continue to strengthen for many more. We cannot replicate or replace the time they’ve been under our Sun in the wind in rain, or afford to let them go extinct never to return, risking the loss of genetic building blocks we don’t quite understand fully yet.

  • Nick Torok

    how do you go on a landrace?

  • Johnny Wright

    Does anybody know why some marijuana taste like opium . I used to get it a lot back in the brick-weed days ,Today I only look for good strains and now and then I get some with a nutty and opium like aroma and taste ?

    • waltinseattle

      ah, they ran out of coca-cola to gummy the bundle so they used the sierra madre’s other treasure- goma?

      • Johnny Wright

        really coca cola makes that flavor ? will that work on tobacco ?

  • RadRadley

    So what is ‘landrace’? You used the term in the definition of the term! That’s dumb!

    • Steven Marshall

      EXACTLY! They never answer the question posed by the title of the article.

  • Jeff Williams

    I started smoking in 1977 when I was 14. I have still never, to this day, smoked anything that came close to Santa Marta Gold, Colombian Redbud, Acapulco Gold, Panama Red and Thai Stick. The Colombians, especially made you hallucinate in a wonderful, beautiful way. You would sense the presence of Angels, God and talk to Jesus. At least that was their effect on me. We also got what they called Meshmican, (sp?), which I believe was Mexican Sensimilla. First weed I ever saw with no seeds. I have smoked wonderful varieties ever since but still nothing compares to Colombian Gold. Perhaps we just grow accustomed to it when we grow older and glorify the old days. The closest I came was in about ’93-’95 when I smoked true Matanuska Thunder Fuck when I lived in Anchorage. I will burn one to the Landrace Strains tonight!

    • waltinseattle

      MICHOACAN. the sierras west of Mex D.F. next state above guerrero where acapoulco is. same moutains, same strains in general.
      Had a Colombian, ’79 probably. dingy, flat brown with blue overtones, no flowers showing frost or ice cicles, no flash at all. completely unremarkable looking. 2 people quit smoking because of it. another went back to clean up at his moms- he had other subs problems!. a small housefly head first taste had me sit down 20 minutes before the task of driving. In Mex thats the way Zejuatanejo acts.
      BTW demerol (and analogues) on weed is even more cartoon theatre than is opium. and a bit more uplifting too! not evident to uninitiated.

    • Bee Kay

      Meshmican is actually Michoacan, but everybody pronounced it as you spelled it. And yes, the Colombian Gold and Red was amazing. 40 to 50 an ounce for gold, 30 an ounce for red. Wow. Probably the best I ever had was some Oaxacansinsemilla skunk weed back in those days.

  • Kamran Rowshandel

    How can there be landrace strains in the New World? I was under the impression that cannabis is an Old World genetic sequence.

  • RJ

    I thought Jamaica had the best , in my 35 years of smoking

  • Zen

    Working on some research to separate some genetic differences between cannabis of different regions and how they may have influenced overall health of the plant and how it was used in the culture

    This is def helpful

    • James Palaeologus

      Please, keep us informed on your discoveries.

  • Buddy Bee Anthony

    I had that opium stuff in the seventies, The little pin joints and pow…I couldn’t walk down stairs and carry a glass of water at the same time. I had to make a decision to do either or. And, that was overloading my already blown out circuits… I put the water on the shelf at the top of my friends, basement and slid down the stairs on my butt. Then, his mother says, dinner’s ready, I gotta go So, I am scampering to balance myself on a bicycle. bike, hell, I can barely walk. and, I have to somehow traverse this unsteady rubbery thing that used to be durable transportion across four lanes of busy highway.. Fortunately, when I started to ride, the air was hitting my face which started to clear my head, and I was careful until all my senses cleared enough to navigate back to home base through evening, commuter traffic..