In an industry so dominated by hybrid cannabis strains, one must stop and think about the plants that started this whole wondrous and prosperous world of marijuana that we know today.
The growth and success of cannabis is greatly attributed to its control of humans growing it for centuries. Marijuana’s ceremonial and medicinal use can be credited for its survival in horticulture since even before 2000 B.C. Lasting through wars and expeditions, the cannabis plant has traveled with humans from the continent of Asia, to Europe, to Africa, and then to the Americas.
The first recorded use of marijuana dates back to the legendary celestial Chinese emperor Shen Nung, around 2700 B.C. Emperor Shen Nung is credited as the father of Chinese medicine and pharmacology. He is known as the author of The Great Herb, where marijuana is recommended as treatment for over 100 aliments. Although 2700 B.C. is the first recorded use of marijuana, there is evidence that cannabis has played a role in our lives since 12,000 years ago, during the time of the hunters and gatherers. There have been discoveries of charred cannabis seeds throughout Siberia in kurgan burial mounds.
It is speculated that the plant first appeared in the hunters and gatherer’s dumping fields of animal remains. These remains made the grounds very fertile, giving cannabis a rich and healthy soil to grow on. The original cannabis plants that the thousands of hybrids are related down the long line of lineage are called landraces. For marijuana growers and consumers alike, landrace strains can be thought of as the ‘Holy Grail’ of cannabis genetics. Whereas most of the cannabis you’ll find in dispensaries and even on the streets have been bred for many years to produce optimal yield and potency, landrace strains have been preserved by nature and isolated to remote regions around the world. These left-behind relics of the past have preserved their own unique qualities, interbreeding for hundreds or even thousands of years without genetic diversity.
Each species of a cannabis landrace can be found in similar regions. Cannabis sativa grows through Asia, Anatolia, and northern Africa. The climate throughout has long summers with intense sun exposure that the plants have evolved to mature to. Sativas will not be able to grow properly in milder climates like their cousin Indica can. Indicas are found in the mountains of Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. An Indica’s flowering cycle is much shorter than a Sativa’s and the flowers give off a musty and earthy aroma compared to the fruity scent of Sativas.
The third region of a cannabis landrace is among Eastern Europe, the Himalayas, and Siberia. These locations are the home of Cannabis ruderalis, a smaller and lesser-known cousin of Indica and Sativa. Ruderalis properties are less psychoactive but they do flower without any change in light.The evolution of these traits allows ruderalis to survive in the harsh climate in which it grows. Breeders have taken the short flowering cycle of ruderalis and used it to decrease the cycle of their hybrids.
Landrace strains are easy to identify. They are usually 100% Sativa or Indica, and often will be named after the region they’re originated from. Each region that a strain grows in has affected the chemical makeup, leaving it with unique composition of cannabinoids like THC and CBD, terpenes, the oils that produce the plant’s smell, and flowering cycles. So how did these plants influence the countless strains and hybrids we know today?
The Hippie Trail
In the 1970s, cannabis enthusiasts traveled the hashish trail, a route starting from the most northern end of Europe all the way to South Asia. These travelers were collecting seeds from originating regions to bring back to their homeland to grow in climates like Northern California and Hawaii. The seeds collected along the journey to bring home and grow from are called Heirlooms.
While heirlooms come from the same plant that is known to be a Landrace, taken out of the environment it had evolved to survive in eliminates some of the unique characteristics.The grower will have the same plant, but will be missing some qualities, even if the strain was grown in a climate as close as possible to its original home. This is because the slightest differences in growing conditions will affect the plant as it tries to adapt itself to its new home. The removed plant will simply be a phenotype of the landrace strain it came from.
Landraces to know:
Moroccan Kif is found in the region of North Eastern Africa, in the country of Morocco. It is said that the Phoenicians, a group of traders, brought Kif to the Rif Mountain region. The Riffians, inhabitants of the mountains, were free to grow and harvest cannabis due to their rugged mountain landscape that the Phoenicians choose not to conquer. The Rifs cultivated cannabis for medicinal use and the plants remained in the Rif Mountains to breed among themselves. The environment of Moroccan Kif varies throughout the extremes. Dealing with extremely hot summers with droughts and fertile springs, Kif has adjusted itself to be smaller and shorter with a faster flowering period.
Malawi Gold originates in Southeastern Africa on the shores of Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa. The expanse area of land around Malawi Lake gives Malawi Gold different growing environments. The Malawi Gold evolved to adapt to its local conditions, which is the reason for the many phenotypes found in Malawi Gold. Aromas and flavors given off by terpenes distinguish phenotypes of Malawi Gold. Two distinguished phenotypes are found among the plant. One gives off a fruity smell, and the other is a woody one. The fruity plants are smaller than the woody ones.
Rooibaard’s history of a landrace begins in South Africa. Rooibaard was first found among the coastal area of the Transkei region. Historically the Transkei region was a segregated region to hold slaves and plantation workers. Not being considered a part of South Africa, the region developed into a gambling destination with access to great weed, with Rooibaard being the greatest of the sativas coming from that land.
Located in Southeast Asia, Thai Sativa is not one of the most potent landraces but certainly delivers a stimulating high. Unlike many strains, the Thai Sativa is perfect for consumers who can’t afford to an afternoon of being couch-locked. Found in the northern part of the country, covered by a thick jungle, Thai Sativa can trace back its roots to the Hindu-Kush area. Even though its possible to grow year round due to the little differences of light between winter and summer, the area has an extremely long wet season so Thai Sativa is planted just at the end of the wet season. Thai Sativa’s growing rate is very slow. Before it begins to flower it reaches about 3 feet. By the time it flowers, it is approximately 13-15 feet high. The color of the leaves is lime green and the buds are long and skinny with very long hairs.
Afgan Indica is a legendary landrace strain and is often claimed as the one that started it all. Experts say that the Afghan Indica’s travels involved the Silk Road, known to be the first trade route from Asia to the West. Afghan Cannabis is grown in the mountains of the region between Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, North India and South China. In these conditions, Afghan Cannabis has evolved itself into a short and thick bush to thrive in the harsh mountain climates of extremely hot day temperatures to cold nights with strong winds throughout. The color of Afghan Cannabis is dark green, and the flowering time is only about 8 or 9 weeks with harvest at the end of the summer.
Panama Red is a very rare landrace, only grown for local consumption in the islands after the cocaine industry took over Panama’s farm fields on the main land. Still in high demand among cannabis users who were lucky enough to experience it, Panama Red has turned into a legend. Grown in the jungle like forest in Panama, the tall trees surrounding the weed increases its growth as the weed strives to find the sun. The stems and leaves are dark brown transitioning into dark red, and the buds are covered with long red hairs. It has a 3-month flowering time with high yields. The sativa high of Panama Red sends the user’s mind on a trip.
This post was originally published on May 17, 2015, it was updated on October 5, 2017.