Article written by
Shanti RyleContent Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Thousands of cannabis strains currently exist on the market, presenting consumers with more variety of choices than at any other point in history. While there’s a strain for everyone, all cannabis today traces its genetic history back to a few original varieties, known as landrace strains.
A landrace cannabis strain is a plant grown in its native environment and geographically without hybridization with other cannabis strains. Often named for their place of origin, original landrace strains were eventually domesticated by humans and transported over the centuries to various regions, which resulted in changes to their physiological and chemical structure.
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What Is Landrace Cannabis?
Landrace cannabis is a strain that has never been altered or crossed by growers, resulting in the evolution of stable genetics thanks to natural selection and long-term exposure to facets of the strain’s natural environment.
As a highly adaptable plant, and one coveted by various cultures, cannabis traveled the world. It became a “native” of numerous regions in places as disparate as Asia, the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East. Landrace strains can contain unique genetics and chemical makeups that make them worth saving for future breeding projects.
Examples of landrace cannabis varietals include:
- Acapulco Gold
- Hindu Kush
- Panama Red
- Lamb’s Bread
- Durban Poison
- Colombian Gold
- Chocolate Thai
Cannabis is one of humankind’s oldest domesticated crops, first mentioned in writing in 2900 B.C. by the Chinese emperor Shen-Nung, who included cannabis in an encyclopedia of plant medicines. Other archaeological findings have discovered traces of hemp rope and imprints of cannabis on broken pottery tracing back to 10,000 B.C. in China’s Neolithic period.
Botanists can trace cannabis genetics to a single plant species originating in modern-day Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains. This first wild cultivar of cannabis was coveted for its use in rope and clothes-making as well as medicinal practices and quickly expanded from its original region.
Researchers later found evidence of cannabis in Ancient Greek and Roman artifacts. At the same time, Germanic tribes brought it farther west, and the Ottoman empire spread the plant south into the African continent. In the 16th century, Europeans crossed the Atlantic and planted cannabis in the Caribbean and Central Americas, where it spread west and south.
Cannabis flourished everywhere, with each plant adapting its physical and chemical characteristics depending on the environment in which it found itself. These first landrace strains, named for where they grew, are now distinguishable and cherished for such traits.
What’s the Difference Between Landrace, Sativa, and Indica?
Colloquially speaking, “indica” and “sativa” vaguely categorize more “energizing” or more “relaxing” cannabis cultivars. However, their correct use refers to the physical characteristics of the cannabis plant itself. Sativas typically produce taller plants with long, fluffy buds, whereas indica plants are squatter, bushier plants with more compact flowers.
Landraces can be either more indica or sativa, depending on where they grew in relation to the equator. Hotter, dryer summers close to the equator produced taller sativa plants, with long, narrow leaves and longer flowering cycles.
Conversely, indica strains are more settled in temperate, mountainous regions farther from the heat of the equator. These hardier plants are generally more resistant to adverse weather conditions, molds, and sudden seasonal changes. Indicas also have a shorter flowering cycle than their sativa counterparts.
A landrace cannabis strain can display both sativa and indica characteristics based on the environment in which it is grown. A Hindu Kush growing outside high up in the mountains is more likely to display indica traits. A Hindu Kush growing outside in lower altitudes in the mountain valleys may show more sativa growth patterns.
Does Landrace Cannabis Still Exist?
Landrace cannabis still exists, but strains can be tricky to find and cultivate outside home environments. Breeders first started crossing strains with cannabis hybridization in the 1960s and 1970s, combining landrace strains to create original hybrids like Chemdawg and Skunk #1. As breeding became the norm, cannabis strains became increasingly hybridized, and landraces became increasingly scarce with their genetics diluted.
The word “landrace” itself is also tricky, as all landrace strains descend from the original cannabis strain in the Hindu Kush region. The only landrace strain is that first one from Afghanistan’s mountains.
Today, landrace is defined as a local variety of cannabis species with distinct characteristics from its adaption to specific environmental factors unique to a geographical region. This makes growing a strain adapted to the mountains, such as Hindu Kush, more challenging to raise in Southern California. And it’s why breeders often cross landrace cannabis varieties with other, more stabilized hybrids: it allows growers from around the world to experience a landrace variety to some extent, but with fewer problems growing it.
Seeds from landrace strains raised in environmental conditions that differ from their home region produce phenotypes of the strain. They may have similar genetics, but their phenotypical – or expressed – characteristics may vary significantly from the original strain as the environmental influences are quite different.
Today, seeds from landrace strains are called “heirloom strains,” which have stabilized the genetic profile of the original landrace. Once seeds are procured, it’s up to the breeder to emulate the environmental conditions of the landrace cultivar as closely as possible to achieve their true expression.
Examples of Landrace Strains
Cannabis grows worldwide, and many landrace strains still exist on the market today in both seed and consumable forms.
Middle Eastern Landrace Strains
Middle Eastern landrace strains usually feature small, squat plants with thick, broad fan leaves and highly resinous buds. They produce a kush-like aroma with pepper and pine notes, thanks to higher levels of beta-caryophyllene and pinene. Middle Eastern strains include:
- Hindu Kush
- Lashkar Gah
Asian landrace strains commonly grew closer to the equator, producing tall, densely leaved plants with long, thin fan leaves and fluffy, resinous buds. These strains also feature higher levels of beta-caryophyllene, along with the sweeter notes of humulene. Examples of Asian landraces include:
Latin American landraces share similar climates to Asian landraces, with more humid environments and sunlight exposure. The plants are taller, have elongated buds, and have a much longer flowering period than their indica counterparts. Examples of Latin American landraces include:
- Acapulco Gold
- Colombian Gold
- Panama Red
African landraces are typically medium height with widely-spaced buds and sturdy stems. These plants produce higher levels of myrcene, limonene, and THC. Examples of African landrace cultivars include:
- Durban Poison
African landraces growing closer to the Equator may also display higher concentrations of tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), which may be one reason why so many African varieties are known for their uplifting, energetic effects.
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The Bottom Line
Landrace strains tell the story of cannabis cultivars as we know them today, providing proof of the plant’s ubiquity across history and cultures.
While it’s challenging to find real landrace buds grown in their original location, heirloom cannabis strains allow consumers to sample landrace genetics in growing environments closer to their homes.
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