There is an estimated 800 known cannabis strains in the world, with new ones created each day through hybridization. With all of this variation, it may be hard to believe that every strain can be traced back to pure “landrace” strains. Landrace is a pure cannabis strain cultivated in its natural environment and has never been crossbred with another variety.
Cannabis originally evolved in central Asia and has co-existed alongside humans for thousands of years. The plant was used for a variety of purposes including food, building material and medicine. It spread across the world as one of the oldest known agricultural crops.
Without human influence, it is likely that the marijuana plant would have been confined to Central Asia, as it has virtually no dispersal mechanisms. Outside of this region, all landrace strains were selectively cultivated by humans and eventually adapted to their environments. The earliest strains are thought to have grown in the Hindu Kush mountainous region of Pakistan. These landraces eventually spread to Asia, Africa, Jamaica, South America and Russia. Indica strains are commonly found in latitudes of 30 to 50 degrees, while Sativas can be found around 30 degrees.
Landrace strains are often named after their native region. Examples are Congolese, Thai, and Afghani. These are the forefathers of every strain you can find at your local dispensary. It is actually extremely rare to come across these pure landrace strains in today’s cannabis market. Most Sativas and Indicas you find are not pure but are actually Sativa/Indica-dominant hybrids. These original genotypes are not completely lost and can be found at some upscale boutiques and delivery services.
Landrace strains have seen resurgence in popularity in recent years. This may seem to run against the habit of consumers to seek out the latest and greatest products. Many consumers seek to return to the roots of cannabis and experience the effects of a pure Sativa or pure Indica. Connoisseurs that favor landraces report that the flavours and effects are unique, consistent and distinct. Many older cannabis users will also find nostalgia in purchasing strains with names they recognize from their earlier years. Since landraces are the original genotypes, they are widely known and sought after.
Landrace strains evolved to survive in their natural environment. The demand has encouraged growers to cultivate these strains in North America and other continents. During the 1960’s and 70’s, breeders began collecting landrace strains to grow in their own gardens. Because these strains naturally changed and adapted to their new environments, they were labeled “Heirlooms” in distinction to landrace. Environment can dictate the production of cannabinoids and terpenes. Climate, weather, soil, fertilization and time of harvest can all influence the end product.
Heirlooms now grow in environments like California and Hawaii. Some growers known as “strainhunters” prioritize preserving these landrace and heirlooms. Connoisseurs find it fascinating to grow and consume the original building blocks of the entire marijuana family tree. Heirloom strains come from original genetics and have not been crossed or messed with. They are basically landrace strains that have adapted to new environments.
Although it is rare, landrace varieties still naturally grow across the world. I think this is a good time to quickly address the third (sub)species of cannabis – Ruderalis. Ruderalis is a strain of cannabis that still grows wild and feral in Central Asia and Russia. C. ruderalis is commonly believed to be a hybrid of Indica and Sativa that escaped cultivation and managed to adapt to the colder, harsher Northern climate.
The plants are shorter and have fewer leaves than other cannabis species. Ruderalis plants are autoflowering. This means that they flower naturally when they reach maturity, going into flower 21-30 days into their growth cycle. They can also continue flowering for the whole season until they are killed by frost. Ruderalis has low THC but can contain high amounts of CBD and other cannabinoids. Some growers will cross Ruderalis with other strains to create autoflowering variants with high CBD.
Some botanists think that ruderalis is actually a wild ancestor of modern cannabis varieties. A 2005 study found that the genetic makeup actually lies somewhere between hemp and psychoactive marijuana. Ruderalis is related to landrace strains because they both grow wild and adapt to their natural environments.
I hope that you learned something about cannabis strains and history through this article. If you have any questions or additional information you would like to add, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I am here to help and to learn!