What is a Landrace Cannabis Strain?

All cannabis plants have a story. Read this article to discover the origins of modern cannabis strains.

We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.

With cannabis breeding becoming more specialised over the course of the 21st Century we now have more strains available to us than ever before. Because of this, you'll find many with names that aren't particularly descriptive or are just plain wacky, such as Wedding Cake, Do-Si-Dos and Green Crack, amongst others.

Some even have traditional elements to their name such as 'Kush' and 'Haze', but what do these words mean? Have you ever wondered where your favourite strain may have come from and how it got to be there? If you're interested in the genetic heritage of certain cannabis plants, then continue reading.

A Brief History of Cannabis Migration

Humans and cannabis go way back. Hemp is thought to be one of the earliest plants cultivated by humans and there are many historical documents which outline our use of the cannabis plant throughout the ages. Some of the earliest records date back to around 3000 years ago where cannabis was cultivated for food and fibre as well as religious and medicinal practices.

Botanists believe that cannabis was first cultivated in the Middle East, specifically in the Hindu Kush mountain range that traverses through Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan. You may recognise the name 'Kush' which can be found in the names of many different cannabis strains. This is because the Kush name is indicative of the indica strains grown in this region that have made their way to other parts of the world over the millennia.

This migration was no accident. The multi-faceted uses and effects of the plant ensured that the migrants and merchants who came across it would take the plant (or at least its seeds) with them wherever they travelled. These travellers transported the plant from Central Asia and the Middle East to parts of Africa and Southeast Asia around 2000 years ago. Cannabis eventually made it to the Americas and Australia in the last few hundred years, meaning the plant has almost global coverage.

More recently, a lot of these original strains were brought to Europe and the Americas for commercial use in the '60s and '70s. They most likely found their way there through the 'Hippie Trail', a route which crossed through the Middle East and Central Europe, ending in the UK and later in the US. The Hippie Trail was also one of the main smuggling routes during the Vietnam War and is how many US soldiers were able to bring these original strains and seeds back to their homeland. 

What is a Landrace Strain?

The term landrace strain refers to these original strains of cannabis. Essentially, they are cannabis strains that are indigenous to a certain area of the world and that have developed over centuries in that particular environment. 

As time passed, these strains adapted to their environment and developed unique characteristics which allowed them to better survive in their climate. These adaptations can include changes in leaf size, differences in colour and alterations in phytochemical production. In regards to phytochemical production, environment is the key factor in the formation of cannabis compounds like cannabinoids (e.g. THC, CBD, etc.) and terpenes.

This information is important to researchers and breeders as the span of time over which these changes occur and the dynamic environment they occur in are not replicable by humans under any conditions. These strains set the standard for cultivators and breeders around the world and also gave them a platform to build upon. Landrace strains are either pure sativa or indica, as no cross-breeding between the two main strain types has occurred.

Thanks to advancements in cannabis knowledge and breeding, today's market is dominated by hybrid strains, which is driven by our need for variety. Even though hybridisation has left us with few original landrace strains, they are not lost entirely. Some of these strains can still be found in their native areas, while others have been taken from their original location and grown in a different environment. The strains that have been transplanted are known as 'heirloom strains'.

These heirloom strains are similar to landrace strains, with the only difference being human intervention. The strains that are now native to the Americas, for example, are all heirloom strains. Places such as California and even Hawaii are well-known for their collection of heirloom strains. Cannabis itself is not native to Hawaii, but these original landrace strains were brought over throughout the 20th century and have remained less hybridised than many modern varieties.

Native Areas

Landrace strains can still be found in the countries and regions they first came from however, they exist in much smaller numbers and have slightly diluted genetics. Although they are uncommon, there are 5 major areas around the world where some of these strains can be tracked down.

In Central Asia, the Hindu Kush mountain range is the birthplace of many durable indica strains. This region is famous for the production of classic indica strains such as the aforementioned Hindu Kush, Afghani, Mazar | Sharif and Lashkar Gah. It is thought that Afghani or Afghan Kush is one of the oldest landrace strains in existence and one of the first to be grown in the US, Canada and Europe thanks to migration via the Hippie Trail.

Southeast Asia is known for the cultivation of the Thai landrace, which can be found in India, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. Thai landraces are pure sativa strains and are well-renowned for their strength. Some examples include Aceh, Luang Prabang, Thai and Chocolate Thai.

African landrace strains are also pure sativas and have been growing in popularity recently. Some of the most popular strains are Swazi Gold, Durban Poison, Kilimanjaro and Malawi. The Durban Poison strain, in particular, is incredibly popular and is the backbone of many new hybrids coming from the West Coast of the US. Former cannabis activist Ed Rosenthal is credited with bringing the strain to the US in the 1970s where it became a hit with breeders, especially the ones based in California.

Central American strains have also been growing in popularity recently, mainly due to their durability in a multitude of different weather conditions. The strains found here are all potent sativas, with the most popular and famous being Acapulco Gold. This legendary strain was one of the most coveted in the '60s and '70s and was commonly smuggled over the Tijuana border into San Diego. Lamb's Bread and King's Bread (which are originally Jamaican landrace strains) are other popular strains which can be found in the region.

Lastly, South America is home to some of the most sought-after landrace strains in the world. The reason for this high demand is the risk involved in obtaining a couple of seeds from this region. Luckily, strains such as Colombian Gold, Santa Marta Gold, Panama Red and Limon Verde are widely available thanks to the fearless collectors and breeders that braved the jungles and mountains to share them with the world. Colombian Gold was one of the most popular strains back in the day but is becoming increasingly rare, with some cannabis historians believing that seeds or clones of the original genotype no longer exist.

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Josh Griffin
Josh Griffin

Josh is a Perth-based writer with a background in psychology and pharmacology. Through his studies he has gained an interest in abnormal psychology, mental health and psychopharmacology and has reported on these topics. Currently, his main focus is on cannabinoids and their medical potential.

There is 1 Commentin this post

  1. Hey Josh, thanks for this informative post. I'm from Kenya, in East Africa and here there are plenty of landrace sativa strains. As you move down towards South Africa, you'll notice they have plenty of indica landrace strains such as Durban Poison, Kwazulu, Swazi Gold, just to mention a few.

    Currently, there's a popular sativa from Ethiopia called Shashamane sativa. Some people believe that some Rastafarians from Jamaica played a role in it's origin. During the 1950's while touring Jamaica, Emperor Haile Selassie invited offered free land and citizenship to Rastafarians. Some people believe that these Rastas brought some Lamb's Bread sativa which later developed new characteristics due to change in climate. Here's the article that sheds light on this point of view


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