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Landraces

STONE AGE CANNABIS, THE SILK ROAD AND LANDRACES

Cannabis is thought to have evolved on the steppes of Central Asia. Human beings have exploited this multi-purpose plant for over twelve thousand years and cannabis has played an important role in the development of civilizations throughout the eons. Cannabis is thought to be partly responsible for the early rise of Chinese civilization and ingenuity. The invention of hemp paper some 2,200 years ago provided the vehicle for recording knowledge that was able to be passed down through the ages, having a similar effect on Chinese culture the Gutenberg press had on European culture 1,500 years later.

Even in modern times cannabis played a major role in the development of the modern American economy and to this day, despite its general illegality, it is still the largest cash crop in the world besides wheat, rice and sugar cane.

The diaspora of prehistoric human beings saw the global distribution of the infinitely useful cannabis plant into every climatic region on the globe. Once established, plants mutated over the thousands of years to form what we enjoy today as landraces. Heirloom varieties of cannabis that breed true everytime and can be considered “pure” strains.

MEXICAN

When talking about Mexican landraces it is generally accepted that the plants are the legendary Oaxaca sativa.

Oaxaca is a Mexican state on the south-western Pacific Coast. The indigenous culture flourished during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, developing agriculture, fishing and trading. They used cannabis as medicine and religious sacrament. Conquered by the Aztecs, who were themselves soon conquered by the Spanish, the area is today populated by a variety of ethnic groups.

Cannabis has been a staple plant in the region from before the beginning of recorded history and is thought to have been brought with the first migration of humans. A long tropical valley, that saddles a twin mountain range provided the perfect environment for a world class sativa to evolve.

Intrepid cannabis enthusiasts ventured into the area from the US and Canada during the sixties and seventies. In this most fertile region of Latin America they discovered the potent delights of the Oaxaca sativa. The seeds taken back to the US, Canada and Hawaii became the breeding stock for the development of legendary strains like the Hazes, which themselves went on to conquer the marijuana world.

The plant typifies the sativa silhouette. It is lanky with a fair distance between internodes. Leaves are thin with heavily serrated fingerlettes, that do not overlap and have a tendency to droop. With contemporary husbandry well grown examples of Mexican sinsemilla flowers are by no means “light and fluffy”, they are densely packed with resins. The branches grow long, with the flower formations distributed along the branches and central cola, taking eleven to fourteen weeks to mature.

Traditionally cannabis was planted close together to discourage too much side branching and guarantee a long central flower cluster. Today modern husbandry and plenty of root room can produce truly gigantic plants bearing world class buds that any dispensary would be glad to stock.

COLOMBIAN

Colombia straddles the Latin American continent with a coast on the Pacific and a coast on the Carribean. Bordering Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil and Peru, it is famed for silver, coffee and a number of cannabis landraces, that have been described as having “a bell ringing high that lasts and lasts”. The indigenous people created marvellous stone and mud brick architecture, that amazes to this day and enjoyed diverse environments from long coasts to rainforest to some of the highest and driest places in the world.

As with Mexico, cannabis has been a staple plant in Colombia since before recorded history. It has been in the region long enough to adapt to local climates and evolve several stable landraces. These are classed into two categories: highland and lowland cannabis. Lowland was the typical plant grown commercially by cartels in the seventies to service the increasing demand from the US. Highland grows best above 800 metres and below 2,000 metres altitude and is the preferred breeding stock, as it is far more psychoactive, than the coastal grown cousin.

Classically sativa, the long fingers of the spearmint green leaves are sharply serrated with definite points along the edge of each leaflette. They stretch substantially between internodes, with side branches growing very long and almost horizontal to the ground. The stalk is quite thick and continues into a very long cola that begins pre-flowering early in the vegetation phase when the plants are only a metre tall. Flowers with their long haired calyx clusters continue to amass until the plant blooms properly and full florescence begins. Ten to twelve weeks later the buds are carpeted with swollen trichomes, that change into exotic colours as the flowers fully mature.

Still considered standouts by themselves Colombian Gold and Punto Rujo, both favourites from the seventies, have also gone on to be the parent stock of many outstanding contemporary cannabis species.

Thailand is the closest nation to the cradle of cannabis evolution in Central Asia. Thai cannabis is thought to be the most ancient domesticated strain and has drifted little genetically over the thousands of years it has been cultivated. Thailand is an environmentally diverse region with very hilly rainforests, bountiful valleys and extensive tropical coasts.

Any cannabis fan from the seventies and early eighties will remember Thai sticks being readily available. Potent sticky sativa flowers were pressed onto a bamboo stick and tied with string or a cannabis fibre. They were prolific all over the world and greatly appreciated for their soaring highs and super clear stones that encouraged high productivity and would delightfully creep back on later when the high seemed to have worn off.

Recognizably sativa, the non-overlapping leaflettes are lime green and can form leaves that grow to be larger than a dinner plate. Side branching stretches prolifically during vegetation, creating many flower sites which are immediately filled with resin covered calyxes displaying very long pistils.

With little change in daylight hours in the tropics, the plants tend to pre-flower when about a metre high, but continue to vegetate for a few months until blooming begins in earnest. Thai plants continue to grow during the ten to fourteen week flower period and can reach heights of four to five metres. Long side branches can become so laden with flowers that they twist and hang to the ground.

Thai marijuana is still popular with aficionados and breeders, coffee shops and dispensaries, because of the sincere clarity of its effects. Thai cannabis gives a no-nonsense cerebral experience and continues to stand out as a world class strain of cannabis.

AFGHANI

Is this where it all began? This mountain range seen from space like a creased blanket across Asia is thought to be the birthplace of cannabis. Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Northern India and Southern China are the cradle of the cannabis species, spreading around the globe via trade routes like the Silk Road, which reached from China to Europe and the British Isles.

The region has been at war now for over twenty five years, so chances of getting in, wandering around on a cannabis seeking odyssey and getting out alive are very slim. The Afghani seeds of legend used to create such classics as Skunk and White Rhino were smuggled out of Afghanistan in the mid eighties before fighting became too dreadful with Russia. These prized seeds ended up in Europe and the States and are jealously guarded to this day.

The flowers dry into solid nuggets dense with resins and provide a substantially different effect to sativas. Displaying their own unique high, the little bushy indicas are renowned for their body load. The distinctive physical effect, that is beloved for the narcotic qualities given to medical marijuana used for pain control.

The indica form of Afghani cannabis sets the standard for the subspecies. Stout, thick, often fluted stalks with heavy buttressing at branch internodes typifies the growth of these hardy little plants. The minimal length side branching reaches at forty five degrees and can often be observed hugging the main stalk closely. The central cola is the main feature of these indicas. It is predominant with tightly fitted flower clusters, that can pack so tightly the leaves twist upside down. The oblate leaflettes overlap considerably, are deep green, heavily curved and are edged with sparsely spaced exaggerated serrations.

Used by breeders to help reduce flowering times and increase bud density of tropical sativas or is that using sativas to increase the cerebral effects of quick maturing indicas? Either way, Afghani cannabis has played a major role in the development of contemporary strains.

GREEN AK XL

Green AK XL is a primo example of the cannabis growers art. This fast maturing and heavily flowered plant is a totally tricked out AK-47. Adding Mexican and Thai genetics to the already buzzing and cerebral Colombian sativa gives the familiar AK effects a delicious connoisseurs twist. The indica component is given a density re-boost by backcrossing with another Afghani. This has produced a stable sativa-dominant plant, that displays extraordinary hybrid vigour with high yields and a quick 55 day maturation time.

The familiar bouquet of the AK lineage has been given a complex terpene tweak. An intensified smooth spiciness is quickly followed by a lush fruity rush in a pine forest on a warm spring afternoon. Experienced cannabis connoisseurs will enjoy the pronounced eye-opening sativa effects. Bright, uplifting and incredibly clear, a luscious well cured 18% THC bud is a great way to start the day. The mellow physical after-effects encourage serene smiles from everyone who has the Green AK XL experience.

The most demanding indoor grower will be impressed with the predictable homogeneity of Green AK XL that lends itself perfectly to scrogging or most especially the sea of green grow technique. At 80-110cm tall when finished, expect an impressive 600 to 750g/m². The XL in the name is for real. With ideal conditions the outdoor grower can expect plants to grow up to 1.8 metres tall and yield a mouth-watering 750 grams per plant.

GREEN AK XL AUTOFLOWERING

If you prefer the thrill of quick crop turnarounds, then you will enjoy growing the autoflowering version of Green AK XL Autoflowering. You can have a full yield of dank nuggets in 60-70 days with no compromise in flavour or bud density. At 400-450 grams per square metre and at only 90cm when finished, this vigorous hybrid makes a small space very productive. Increased lighting encourages extra growth in autoflowering plants, so a 20/4 rather than 18/6 artificial day length will increase final yields.

Not growing taller than 110cm makes Green AK XL Autoflowering ideal for general outdoor or stealth grows. Discretely secreted under tree canopies or among other companion greenery, your plants can be easily hidden from prying eyes. Being ready so quickly usually means time for a second and in more tropical climates with longer days, a third crop per season. Each plant gifts up to 150 grams of deliciously flavoursome trichome covered flowers that pack a 14% THC punch.

This toothsome mash-up delivers the renowned easy growability of AK-47, the enticing spicy and uplifting effects of Mexican and Thai landraces and the compactness in flower structure of the famed mountain born Afghani indica. From seed to soul in seventy low maintenance days Green AK XL Autoflowering will impress the experienced grower and blow the mind of a novice.

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Landraces are the key to the contemporary cannabis genetics. We look at Mexican Colombian Thai Afghani and how we use them in breeding.

Marijuana landraces

While most weed smokers describe cannabis strains informally as “indicas,” “sativas,” or “hybrids,” there are two scientific categories that distinguish cannabis in broader terms: “landrace” and, well, every strain that’s not a landrace.

Cannabis cultivators who develop new strains are particularly fond of landraces. But what is a landrace strain, and why do bud breeders love them so much?

A Brief History on the Landrace Concept

We’ll need to dip our toes into the biological sciences to better understand what landraces are. The term first appeared in 1908 in a German book by agricultural scientist Kurt Rümker. The original word, landrasse, literally translates to English as “country-breed,” meaning a plant native to a particular country.

Since then, biologists have expanded the term “landrace” to encompass any plant or animal that’s native to a particular region and possesses specific, unique characteristics from the rest of its species.

What makes a plant a landrace, though? To answer that, we’ll have to review some evolutionary biology.

When a species like Cannabis sativa grows in the wild, it can sometimes grow in relative isolation from other Cannabis sativa varieties or strains. For instance, there may be weed growing near the top of a mountain, or weed growing on an island. When these plants grow in isolation, they won’t cross-breed with other cannabis strains, so this strain’s genetics remain intact for hundreds, if not thousands, of generations.

Over time (we’re talking thousands to millions of years), that isolated weed strain will become hyper-adapted to its environment. Genes that promote the strain’s ability to survive, thrive, and reproduce will often duplicate or evolve other enhancements within its DNA, increasing those genes’ expressions. These genes may regulate cannabinoid production, terpene production, or other traits such as drought-resistance, pest-resistance, UV protection, or higher flower yields.

By definition, landrace plants cannot originate from human gardens, farms, or other breeding programs. They must also produce relatively high yields even under less-than-ideal environmental conditions. And while some cross-breeding in the wild is expected, genetic sequencing must show that the landrace possesses “genetic integrity,” in other words, it mostly inbred within its own population. (Just FYI, unlike animals, plants don’t develop health issues from constant inbreeding.)

Why Some Weed Breeders Risk Life and Limb to Preserve Landrace Strains

Cannabis cultivators respect the agricultural tradition of naming landraces according to the strain’s country or region of origin. This is why the Afghani and Thai landrace strains are called “Afghani” and “Thai” and not something more colorful like “Purple Punch” or “Alaskan Thunderfuck.” However, some landrace names do have a bit of flare to them, such as Acapulco Gold and Panama Red. This naming convention designates landrace weed plants as distinct from the strains you’d find in most pot shops, which are almost always non-landrace hybrids.

In fact, the terms “sativa” and “indica” only accurately describe landrace strains. Since practically every weed strain sold by street dealers or licensed pot shops is the result of crossbreeding, almost all buds you can find these days are technically “hybrids,” regardless of how they’re marketed. Landraces also possess gene combinations for specific cannabinoids or terpenes that are difficult to duplicate with traditional breeding methods. So, if cannabis cultivators want those gene combos in their proprietary strains, they need to cross their plants with a landrace first.

Some cannabis cultivators have gone above and beyond to find landrace weed strains, too. In 2018, VICE News produced a mini-documentary about Franco Loja and Arjan Roskam, two “strain hunters” who traveled to the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo in search of a rare Congolese landrace. Loja and Arjan founded the Green House cannabis cafe in Amsterdam, as well as Green House Seeds, which developed the world-famous White Widow strain from Brazilian and South Indian landraces.

There’s another reason why cultivators want landraces: Landrace plants can protect monocropped plants from being wiped out by pests or diseases. Monocropping occurs when farmers plant and replant a crop where each plant has identical genetics, such as what’s happened in the US with wheat and corn. Although the nascent cannabis industry has not yet entirely monocropped cannabis, monocropping will likely happen if and when weed becomes federally legal (hemp has been federally legal since 2018). Since a monocrop has the same genes among all plants within the crop, they’re especially susceptible to pests and diseases, which can destroy an entire crop.

But, if cultivators can introduce a landrace’s sturdy genes into a monocrop, that monocrop will develop some genetic diversity, increasing its chances of resisting infection or repelling pests.

Basically, nature often does it better than humans can. And, no matter how clever our breeding methods get, landrace strains, which are essentially designed by nature, will always guarantee that we’ve got dank, potent weed.

Landrace cannabis varieties are incredibly rare these days, but they’re still sought for their hardy, unique genetic profiles. But what makes these plants so different from the kinds you can find in pot shops?