When it comes to smoking a marijuana strain, there are so many to choose from that you could literally have one on hand for every mood or occasion. Cultivators pride themselves on creating unique strains that have just the right mix of cannabinoids and terpenes to highlight the most well-loved attributes of the plant. From the ultra-popular Girl Scout Cookies or OG Kush that have become household names, to the more obscure NYC Diesel, cannabis connoisseurs are obsessed with variety. Out of the hundreds of cannabis strains out there, all of them trace back to just a few cannabis plant types called landrace strains. Over time through selective breeding (and also the environment), cannabis cultivators have bred plants specifically to produce certain characteristics and avoid negative ones. THC level, crop yield, and resistance to disease are high on that list. When you buy pot today, it is almost always a hybrid despite budtenders calling it an indica or sativa, the correct term to use would actually be an indica-dominant hybrid or sativa-dominant hybrid. Let’s take a deep dive into the history of cannabis landrace strains.
What is a landrace strain?
It was relatively recently that botanists experimented with interbreeding sativa and indica plants. Prior to the 1970s, marijuana always referred to sativa, which was the first type of cannabis plant to be transported and smoked around the world. Indica varieties didn’t spread very far from their place of origin in the Himalayas until much later. A cannabis landrace strain refers to one of these original strains prior to interbreeding, essentially a “pure” indica or sativa plant from its place of origin. Many of these strains were named after their native homelands such as Maui Wowie, Afghani, or Durban Poison.
Where did the first landrace strain originate?
Believe it or not, botanists have traced the lineage of all cannabis plants to one original ancestor. It is widely accepted that the first landrace strain is the Hindu Kush. This plant grows in the Himalayan mountains in the region that is now Afghanistan and Pakistan. All landrace strains are rare; however researchers still don’t know exactly how many there are out there. Some estimate that there are between 15 and 30 landrace strains in total. Cannabis enthusiasts used to travel across the globe to find rare landrace strains that they would then experiment with to create new hybrid varieties. Luckily for cultivators, seed banks have protected these strains for future breeding and so they don’t die out from cross pollination.
Marijuana landrace strains vs heirloom strains
If you want to get really technical, you should know the difference between landrace strains and heirloom strains. In order to be truly called a landrace strain, the plant must grow naturally in its place of origin. For example, Kona Gold must be grown in the volcanic soil on the Big Island of Hawaii where it is indigenous to be called a landrace strain. If a farmer takes the seeds and decides to grow a crop of Kona Gold in California, now it is considered an heirloom. The same goes for other plants like those beautifully colored (and expensive) heirloom tomatoes you often see at farmers markets.
Back in the hippie era, potheads would backpack through Asia and the Middle East sampling landrace strains growing in its natural habitat. The route was soon dubbed the Hippie Trail and along the way these pioneers collected their favorite landrace strains and brought them back home to grow and cross pollinate, creating the wide variety of strains we have today.
Are landrace strains more potent?
If you were curious to know if landrace strains are more potent than regular strains, the answer is no. Landrace strains are nearly always less potent than regular strains since newer strains are bred specifically to have a higher THC level. A 2016 study published in the Biological Psychiatry found that there have been drastic changes in the levels of THC and CBD in marijuana. The study analyzed over 38,000 samples from 1995 to 2014 and found that the THC content increased from just 4% in 1995 to 12% in 2014. Today, nearly all strains have at least 15% THC and many are 20% or higher. Godfather OG, thought of as the most potent bud on earth supposedly can have up to 34% THC! As a high THC level was preferred and selected for by cultivators, the CBD content in the plants was ignored and ended up decreasing. In 1995, the THC to CBD ratio was 14:1 and by 2014 it was just 80:1. With the recent CBD craze taking over, it’s possible that strains high in CBD will begin to make a comeback.
List of landrace strains
- Durban Poison (South Africa)
- Afghani (Afghan region)
- Lamb’s Bread (Jamaica)
- Acapulco Gold (Mexico)
- Punto Rojo (Colombia)
- Thai (Thailand)
- Kona Gold (Hawaii)
- Maui Wowie (Hawaii)
- Panama Red (Panama)
- Hindu Kush (Pakistan)
- Luang Prabang (Laos)
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