What Are Landrace Strains?

Landrace strains are the strains of the cannabis plant as they naturally occur in nature, without any intervention from humans or intentional agriculture. If a gardener were to be named, it could only be mother nature herself. These strains have adapted over thousands of years to thrive in their local environment. As many different climates as there are on this beautiful earth, there exists the possibility for two landrace strains to exist, which are as different as the corners of the planet they call home. The only climate in which cannabis does not naturally occur on this planet is our frigid polar extremes. With the hammer of natural selection, and the chisel of survival of the fittest, each landrace strain will be particularly fine-tuned to achieve the proper balance with the microclimate of nature it exists within.


Unlike most animals, plants are literally tethered to the ground where they are born for their whole lives. Plants rely on animals or humans to relocate seeds. Pollen usually only travels less than three miles naturally. A landrace strain is ‘born’ over time, when there is no new genetic material entering the genetic pool. This type of local pollination is referred to as open-pollination, and expressly excludes outside sources of pollen from other cannabis plant communities. Over time the community of plants will normalize genetically, without achieving total uniformity. Cannabis plants are typically of two sexual types, male and female, but in an interesting twist on this, cannabis plants can be hermaphroditic. The technical terms for this multi-sex plant is monoecious or intersexual. This allows one special plant in a field of desperate females, to switch sexes and ensure the propagation of the landrace strain. All of this Darwin-esque development results in landrace strains exhibiting the most unique and interesting characteristics found in all of cannabis horticulture.

Humans for eons marveled at the natural wonders of the physical world. Nature has created wonders even more magical inside the DNA of natural landrace cannabis strains. Just as the winds nature can carve out strange shapes in the middle of the desert, and the waters of the earth can redraw the land, the culmination of environmental factors beautifully carve and draw the DNA of these natural strains into existence. Some of the rock stars of the landrace roots of cannabis are “Afghan Kush”, “Durban Poison” (cultivated by Cresco Labs), and “Northern Lights”, some experts say there are less than one hundred strains in all. The term “kush” is believed to originate from the Hindu Kush region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The prevalence of the term kush throughout the cannabis naming spectrum is due to the word being at the roots of the overall cannabis family tree.


DNA gene expression is influenced by environment, so if a landrace strain is relocated to a new physical location, while its DNA will remain unchanged, the expression of genes is likely to be different from its true home. When landrace strains are relocated to new locations they are called phenotypes. This slightly different, but genetically identical plant, is adapting itself to its new environment and adjusting its own internal controls to best be able to trive. If the only modifying influence on the plant is the environment, and there is no new DNA allowed to interact with the plant via breeding or hybridization, then the re-stabilized phenotype is referred to as an heirloom.


If cannabis were to sign up for Ancestry.com then it would be lead through a series of ‘leafs’ back to its landrace roots. It is likely that this site will not be able to map the family tree of cannabis, as it is aptly positioned to work through human and not agricultural family trees. There are several organizations currently trying to map the cannabis family tree. These landrace strains must be found in their natural habitats, or in the secret and hidden corners of the world, stored away by those who intend to save the past for the future. One group searching across the lands of the earth, and into the deepest hidden corners is the group “Strain Hunters”. They, along with other groups and organizations with a similar motivation such as HortaPharm founders David Watson and Robert Clarke, are passionate about collecting all the potential natural varieties as possible, to then be used to breed and hybridize the best possible medicine for patients who need a specific characteristic of the plant to be accentuated. Metaphorically speaking, a painter could draw a picture with more depth and unique characteristics when pulling from a box of paint with ten thousand colors, than just simply ten. By gathering all the colors of nature, these natural unique instances of cannabis, humans will have more opportunities to create a better and more effective medicine for patients. HortaPharm partnered with GW Pharmaceuticals to provide to them the seeds to use to manufacture their medicine “Sativex” and “Epidiolex”.

Like mosquitos in Jurassic Park being a vessel of dinosaur DNA in amber, there is a section of the cannabis family tree locked away, and lost in secret storage. It is thanks to the conscience of a former US federal employee, who entrusted his uber-secret collection of pre-prohibition authentic medical cannabis tinctures to his wife. He made her promise him before his death, that she would not speak a word to anyone about their existence until ten years after his death. As the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words”, and it is clear this individual knew that these simple glass jars deserved a fate far better than a landfill. It is also clear by his actions to hide his collection, that there is a deep cutting negative stigma, which cannabis prohibition has written into the psyche of all Americans. This fear of judgement and punishment, which would surely be delivered to him for being the secret keeper of material he was assigned as a Federal Officer to erase from existence on this earth, is all overcome by the light of the truth, the truth that cannabis is real medicine. By his actions, we know he understood there is something special in those jars to save for future generations, so special it warranted risking life and liberty to protect.


The real fingerprint of a landrace strain is captured in its DNA, not its visual physical characteristics. Phylos Biosicence is a company working to build a world-library of cannabis DNA. Once completed, they will do right by humanity, and release the cannabis plant into the free domain by sharing their library with Open Cannabis Project (OCP). It is something akin to Indiana Jones like crusading passion which led Mowgli Holmes of Phylos to effectively network through the cannabis community, and earn the trust of those who chose to reveal to him the stash of glass jars of cannabis medical tinctures from an era long ago, carrying long-lost cannabis DNA like a vessel, taking after mosquitoes in amber.

When cannabis horticulture experts breed and cross different strains their impetus is to make the best medicine possible. Illegal markets have always lusted after plants with high THC percentages which are easy to grow and manage. Breeders in the modern age will have the privilege of creating new strains of cannabis, each like a key to a lock, especially tuned to pair with a specific disease or ailment. THC may be the rockstar of the cannabinoid community, but there are more than eighty cannabinoids, and a large number of terpenes and flavonoids, which are present in the cannabis plant.


The “entourage effect” is a theory of understanding the way cannabis interacts with the human body. It is important to allow the pairing of THC with other cannabinoids and terpenes, so that the human body will be better able to absorb the medicine, and the user better able to navigate its effects. When THC is used alone, many users report an overwhelming high in which anxiety is strong. Landrace strains will allow for breeders to have access to rare and unique cannabinoid profiles, which can be leveraged to create an entourage of chemicals, which will together form the best medicine for the patient.

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