What are landrace strains and why are they so important? Many breeders shy away from native strains of cannabis. They can be slow to grow, produce smaller yields, and take a lot of TLC. But, cultivating and preserving these strains may actually be one of the best things we can do for the cannabis plant. Here’s everything you need to know about landrace and heirloom strains and why they are so valuable.
What are landrace strains?
The landrace strainis a cannabis strain that has developed over centuries in a particular natural environment. Different cannabis cultivars that have grown, inbred and adapted to very specific geographical location are pure cannabis strains.
Over time, these strains will have developed unique characteristics to better survive in their distinct climate. Said another way, landrace strains are indigenous cannabis plants.
While some are cultivated to make unique types of hashish or cannabis products, others grow wild in their respective countries. For example, native cannabis plants found in the Kush Mountain region are quite different than the native, wild plants found in Thailand.
Plants from both of these regions will also be quite different from the phenotypes abundant in northern and central Africa.
What makes landrace strains so special?
Landrace strains are important because of their genetics. If left to their own devices, the plants will evolve over millennia to make better use of resources in their particular habitat.
When left to the whims of nature, a cannabis plant is forced to adapt over time. All sorts of adaptations can occur, from changes in leaf size, differences in color, and alterations in phytochemical production.
Cannabis ruderalis is a good example of wild adaptation in action. Ruderalis is not a strain exactly, but a subspecies of cannabis. Genetically, it is thought to fall somewhere between sativas and indicas.
Cannabis ruderalis is native to northern cold, Russian climates. Because summers are short, ruderalis plants have adapted the unique ability to flower automatically.
A traditional indica or sativa will only begin to flower when exposed to the correct type of light. Ruderalis plants, on the other hand, begin to flower when they have reached a certain point of maturity. They have also adapted to be much smaller than indicas and sativas, and ruderalis plants reach maturity much quicker.
If left to their own devices, plants native to different regions will develop more pronounced adaptations to survive in their locations. Over centuries, these plants may even evolve into a different subspecies. Yet, for now, landrace strains simply express unique phenotypes that make them better suited to survive their present habitat.
Heirloom strains are similar to landrace strains, but a bit different. An heirloom strain is what you would consider an old school variety of agricultural cannabis. Here, agricultural cannabis refers to cannabis that has been cultivated by humans for human use.
Typically, heirloom strains have had some genetic modification through cross-breeding and hybridization. But, overall, these plants are still close to their landrace ancestors. They are also strains that have been taken from their original location and cultivated in a different environment.
The strains now native to South and Central America are heirloom strains. It is thought that may of the strains now adapted to this region descended from landrace African strains like Angola Red (Angola Roja).
Hawaiian strains are also heirloom strains. Cannabis is not native to Hawaii, but these classic strains were brought over and are less hybridized than many modern varieties.
Collecting landrace seeds
There is an ethical debate about collecting landrace seeds. For decades, cannabis breeders have traveled to remote locations in search of native landrace strains. Breeders from Green House Seeds have even documented some of their adventures in the hit series Strain Hunters.
Seed finding missions are valuable for preserving pure landrace genetics. Collecting seeds from indigenous plants enables us to preserve their unique properties. It also increases genetic variation.
Different plants are resistant to different environmental conditions. So, it’s useful to have strains specially adapted to survive under different environmental pressures. This preserves the strain and genetics for the future. It also allows us to make hybrid strains that can better tolerate various climates.
Yet, seed swapping has caused some dispute. The trouble is that some seed companies share modern, hybridized seeds with remote landrace cultivators. While crops may once have been a pure strain heavily influenced by natural selection, introducing modern seeds to this environment pollutes landrace genetics.
This means that it becomes harder and harder for future seed hunters to find pure, indigenous, or wild strains. Many breeders would argue that we have already lost some landrace strains, like Thai. Many strains are now considered endangered.
Seed swapping also leads to decreased genetic diversity over time. While certain strains may have developed in a particular location over centuries, throwing a modern hybrid into the mix reduces the wild qualities of the plant. Instead, we’re left with a modern agricultural crop.
So, while there are benefits to seed hunting and swapping, we also radically change the cannabis environment through these practices.
Common landrace strains
There are several landrace strains that make up the backbone of many modern hybrids. Some of these strains include:
- Red Congolese
- Hindu Kush
- Durban Poison
All in all, landrace and heirloom strains need to be protected. In the United States, we actively eradicate ditch weed and legacy cannabis crops are burned and destroyed all over the world. The harsh political battle over these plants greatly hinders their survival.
Coupled with crossbreeding and hybridization, there isn’t a lot of protection for landrace cannabis out there.
It’s really up to use to save, preserve, and continue to cultivate these more wild types of cannabis if we hope to keep them around for the future.
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