Historical documents from around the world, some dating as far back as 2900 B.C., tell us cannabis has lived alongside humans for thousands of years, cultivated for food, fiber, and fodder, as well as for religious and medicinal purposes. According to the best available research, cannabis originally evolved in Central Asia and was eventually spread by humans to nearly every region of the planet. This was no accident; cannabis is one of the oldest known agricultural plants, and its multitude of uses ensured that migrants and traders took these seeds with them wherever they traveled. Prehistoric humans, who did not practice agriculture but most likely harvested wild cannabis seeds for food, spread the plant throughout the Eurasian landmass between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago. Later civilizations spread cannabis to the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia in the period between 2,000 and 500 years ago, and eventually to the New World around the year 1545 A.D. and Australia in 1788. Without human intervention, cannabis would have been confined to Central Asia, as its innate dispersal mechanisms are extremely limited. Outside of Central Asia, all landrace strains are the result of escaped (or “feral”), cultivars, strains that were selectively bred by humans, which then gradually adapted to their environment over time. Along the way, other newer cultivars would have interbred with these feral escapees.
There are several variations on the definition, but I think pretty much everyone agrees on two important factors when classifying a landrace cannabis strains:
- the plant must be growing in the wild
- the plant has evolved to its natural environment
The second part is very important. When a cannabis plant is forced to adapt to a new environment over time it will stabilize and contain unique characteristics. It’s these unique characteristics that have allowed for the varied array of cannabis strains that are available today.
In addition to their psychoactive effects, these landrace strains were used to make hemp products like cloth, rope, and paper (source).
Landrace Strain Examples
Cannabis grows best in warm and sunny climates, so the majority of landrace strains come from areas near the equator. The following strains are not an exhaustive list of every single landrace strains, however, it does point out most of the notable strains. Once you understand the different landrace strains then some of the strain names still used today will make a bit more sense.
It’s believed that cannabis originated in central Asia. From there, humans brought the plant to the rest of the world. The very first strain is believed to have been lost due to cross breeding. Here are a few Asian landrace strains:
- Thai – You may have heard this referred to as Thai Sticks. It’s a purely sativa strain with a fruity smell and taste.
- Nepalese – This is an indica strain that comes from Nepal. Interestingly, Nepalese isn’t technically just one strain – it’s a collection of several various strains and phenotypes from the area.
The climate in the Middle East is great for growing cannabis so it’s no surprise that several landrace strains come from this region.
- Hindu Kush – I’m guessing you’ve probably heard the term kush before. It’s used in tons of strain names and some people use the term kush simply to mean good weed. Well, this is where the term kush comes from. More specifically, the term comes from the Hindu Kush Mountains where this strain was originally grown. This area is in modern day Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hindu Kush is an indica strain noted for its high resin production.
- Afghani – This is a heavy indica strain. If you guessed this strain originated in Afghanistan then you’re correct.
The equator runs directly through Sub-Saharan African giving it an ideal climate for cannabis to thrive. Here are some of Africa’s landrace strains:
- Durban Poison – This strain comes from the city of Durban – a port city in South Africa. This is a pure sativa strain with a sweet and fruity flavor.
- Malawi Gold – This landrace strain comes to us from the country of Malawi in Africa. This strain is a pure sativa with a notably long flowering time.
- Northern Central America has also produced a variety of landrace strains which you may recognize:
- Acapulco Gold – This strain originated in the city of Acapulco, Mexico. This sativa typically has lots of oranges hairs.
- Panama Red – Like the Acapulco Gold, this strain is noted for its orange hairs giving it the last part of its name. The first part comes from the fact that this landrace strain comes from the country of Panama.
- Colombian Gold – Colombia is often thought of for their cocaine production, however, they are also the birthplace of this landrace cannabis strain. This sativa originated in the Santa Marta Mountains in Colombia.
Heirloom Strains Definition
Heirloom strains are the result of growers taking landrace strains and breeding them together to create entirely new strains (source). For example, Hindu Kush was mixed with Afghani to make Afghan Kush. Another example would be Afghani x Thai created the strain known as Northern Lights. From there, strains continued to be breed to make the hundreds (probably thousands) of strains available today.
Root To The Modern World
The absolutely massive catalogue of modern strains are the result of worldwide growers and marijuana fanatics obtaining landrace genetics via seeds in the 1960s and 70s on a journey that came to be known as the “Hippie Trail”. This pilgrimage ran through certain prime landrace territories such as Afghanistan, Kashmir and Nepal. This resulted in the creation of “heirloom” strains when landrace genetics were cultivated in both Northern California and Hawaii. Cannabis genetics can be thought of as a clay to which the environment is the sculptor. The introduction of landrace genes into different natural outdoor and synthetic indoor environments across the world, all with endlessly varying environmental factors such as humidity, soil type, lighting and fertility have resulted in a vast array of genetic adaptations. Not to mention intense selective breeding and hybridisation.