At Leafly, we welcome the neverending flow of new crossbred strains. Patients are able to enjoy a vast 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” and “Hazes” 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Historical documents from around the world, some dating as far back as 2900 B.C., tell us cannabis has lived alongside humans for thousands of years, cultivated for religious and medicinal purposes. Many growers believe the earliest cannabis strains sprouted in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan and Pakistan and eventually spread to other areas, including South America, Asia, Jamaica, Africa, and even Russia. We call these indigenous strains landraces.
A landrace refers to a local variety of cannabis that has adapted to the environment of its geographic location. This accounts 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 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. Until its prohibition, cannabis remained a cultural cornerstone in these areas of the world.
Today’s cannabis market, driven by our widespread obsession with variety, rarely sees these pure landrace strains. Hybridization leaves us with very few original genetics, and indoor growing often subjects the plants to conditions that change the development of its natural compounds.
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.
“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 to have optimal synergistic levels of therapeutic compounds.
“We have had several pilot projects with universities and hospitals here in the Netherlands where we were able to get real feedback from patients,” Franco said. “From that feedback we figured out that the most important thing is the synergy between cannabinoids. High CBD is very important for some conditions but it will not be as effective or beneficial if you only focus on the CBD itself … When you have a beneficial effect from cannabis, I go as far as to say that it might be just as important this synergy between terpenoids and cannabinoids than between the cannabinoids themselves.”
They may be uncommon, but landrace varieties still bloom around the world. Here are just a few varieties from different regions around the world: