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Landrace Strains: The Origins of Cannabis

Landrace Strains

Landrace strains are the original strains that have allowed cannabis to become what it is today. They are adapted to their environment and honed by nature. While it originated in South and Central Asia, cannabis and hemp spread throughout the world through conquest, trade and natural seed dispersion. Cannabis has lived alongside humans for thousands of years, evidence of cannabis being pressed into pottery dates back almost 10,000 years in present day Taiwan. The earliest date of inhalation of cannabis smoke is known to be sometime in the third millennium BCE (3000-2000 before common era) at an ancient burial site in present day Romania, where charred seeds were found in a brazier. It was even studied and used medically for gout and rheumatism as early as 2737 BCE by Emperor Shen Neng of China. After growing in these environments for so long, the plants developed specific cannabinoid profiles and traits that were honed by nature, not humans, and separated them from other strains. It is these original strains that are known as Landrace Strains that helped birth all modern cannabis genetics.

So what are they?

By definition a landrace strain is wild cannabis that has evolved in the isolation of a specific area. These strains begin to take on their own unique characteristics that are best suited for survival in the location and environment they grew in. Again, to be considered a landrace strain it must: be growing in the wild and have evolved to its natural environment. Most of these landrace strains have names that refer to the area they were grown in, such as: Durban Poison, Malawi Gold, Hindu Kush or Afghani. As these strains are naturally occurring, they are either full sativa, full indica, or full ruderalis and are much easier to tell apart than their hybrid relatives.

But why are they important?

Landrace strains are the base strains that nature has bred over a long period of time and have entirely unique cannabinoid and terpene profiles. This natural evolution is not replicable by humans, whether the plant is indoor or outdoor. Most strains can trace their genetics back far enough to a landrace strain, as these were the first truly distinct varieties of cannabis and were used as the backbone to form modern genetics through crossbreeding. Some growers and hippies realized their importance in the mid 50s and started to travel what is known as the Hippie Trail. This route through Europe and South Asia also went through Pakistan, India, and Nepal, and was used as an opportunity to gather these unique landrace strains and bring back seeds to grow. These landraces that were gathered from around the world and brought to different environments, most notably to California and Hawaii, preserve some genetics of original landraces; however, they are grown outside of their natural environment and take on slightly different characteristics, becoming a “phenotype” of that strain. Phenotypes of landraces that are not crossbred are known as heirloom strains. These heirloom and landraces are the most important tools when it comes to breeding, however, as hybridization and the quest for a higher and higher THC continues, these landrace and heirloom strains are becoming harder and harder to find.

Landrace Strains
This map shows how marijuana spread throughout the world, from its origins on the steppes of Central Asia.
Credit: Barney Warf, University of Kansas

Landraces: Sativa

Sativa grows best near the equator, from 0 to 30 degrees latitude, so it comes as no surprise that Pure sativas come from South Asia, North Africa, and South America. These landrace sativas stay especially true to their stereotypical morphology, yield, and flowering length. Although the airy, wispier buds that take a longer time to flower and yield less, the creative and energized sativa high definitely makes these strains worth the wait. Below is a list of sativa landrace strains.

Asia

  • Aceh – Pure sativa from the Aceh region of Indonesia
  • Thai – Pure sativa from Thailand
  • Chocolate Thai – Pure sativa from Thailand, named for its chocolate/coffee scent
  • Luang Prabang – Pure sativa from Northern Laos
  • Delta Zonker – Pure sativa from Mekong Delta around Vung Tau, Vietnam
  • Nepalese – Group of pure sativas from Nepal

Africa

  • Swazi Gold – Pure sativa from Swaziland, Africa
  • Durban Poison – Pure sativa from Durban a port town in South Africa
  • Kilimanjaro – Pure sativa from the mountain slopes of Tanzania
  • Malawi – Pure sativa from Salima region of Malawi in southeast Africa, notably long flowering time

South / Central America

  • Panama Red – Pure sativa from a small island off the shore of Panama
  • Colombian Gold – Pure sativa from Colombia
  • Punto Rojo – Pure sativa from Colombia

Jamaica

  • Lamb’s Bread – Pure sativa from Jamaica, said to have been smoked by Bob Marley
  • King’s Bread – Pure sativa from Jamaica

Mexico

  • Acapulco Gold – Pure sativa from Acapulco area of Mexico

Russia

  • Altai – Pure sativa from Southern Russia

Landraces: Indica

Indica landraces can be traced back to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Originating in the more temperate climate of the Hindu Kush mountains, they grew into dense, compact plants that could survive the harsher climate. With a shorter flowering time, high resin production, high yield, and a narcotic like high, indica landraces deliver a memorable and powerful punch. These indica landraces are highly sought after for their resin production in the making of hash and concentrates.

Afghanistan/Pakistan

    • Hindu Kush – Pure indica from the Hindu Kush mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan
    • Afghani – Pure indica from Afghanistan
    • Pakistani Chitral Kush – Pure indica from Chitral, a Pakistani town
    • Lashkar Gah – Pure indica from south Afghanistan
    • Mazar I Sharif – Pure indica from far north of Afghanistan

Landraces: Ruderalis

Although not typically used for recreation, the ruderalis plant has been used to help breed in certain desirable traits to other strains. Ruderalis plants are native to Eastern Europe, the Himalayas, and Siberia. Usually only a few feet tall, these plants adapted to the short grow seasons with the ability to flower based on age rather than light cycle. Crossbreeding with other strains has allowed this “autoflowering” gene to be passed on, so that these hybrid crosses can flower without a change in light cycle.

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