If there’s one thing you can say about the state of cannabis strains it’s that there’s no shortage of ingenuity and innovation among breeders. There are so many strains available to consumers, we’ve lost count. At this point, there are probably several thousand distinct strains. To put this in perspective, consider that every strain can trace its genetics back to about a dozen original landrace strains. That’s why breeding cannabis is an art form. An art form that started with landrace strains. Let’s learn more.
To understand breeding cannabis, you need to be familiar with landrace strains. Landrace refers to any strain that has maintained its original genetics. Landrace strains have long grown in the wild in regions such as Asia, Africa, Hawaii, Mexico, South America, Jamaica, and even Russia.
Below are the landrace strains that form the genetic backbone of modern cannabis breeding.
- Afghan Kush: Originated in the Hindu Kush Mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan
- Afghani: Originated in the Afghan region
- Hindu Kush: From the Kush Mountain range on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan
- Northern Lights: An inbred Afghani strain hailing from British Columbia, this legendary indica strain has had a profound influence on countless modern strains
- Acapulco Gold: A native Mexican strain
- Durban Poison: A super-potent strain from the Durban area of South Africa
- Lamb’s Bread: Originated in Jamaica
- Luang Prabang: A sativa strain from Laos
- Malawi: From the Salima region of Malawi in Southeast Africa
- Panama Red: From Panama
- Punto Rojo: A popular Colombian landrace
- Rooibaard: Hails from the coastal area of South Africa’s Transkei region
- Thai: Eponymously named strain hailing from Thailand
When developing new strains, many cannabis breeders will “pheno-hunt.” Pheno-hunting involves planting new seeds that they grow until they fully mature, while they search for varieties with specific characteristics. The characteristics they’re looking for include from odor and appearance to chemical profile, THC and CBD content.
While many of our favorite strains were developed using this process, it can be an incredibly slow and cumbersome process. Trying to reproduce an identical plant with identical phenotypic characteristics from seed can be challenging to say the least. That’s why so many breeders clone plants. But even cloning presents challenges. Physical environments are highly influential in the expression of a genotype. (Genotype refers to the genetic makeup that determines a strain’s characteristics.)
Another issue that historically has made developing new strains more difficult than it should be is that breeding is rarely “open-source.” Many (if not, most) breeders guard the genetics of their prized creations as if they contained the nuclear codes.
Fortunately, in recent years technological advances help breeders accelerate the development process. There are numerous well-established methods for breeding that can be aided by genomic tools. Innovative companies like Phylos have developed genotype tests to identify strain genetics and along with the largest database of genetic insights in the world.
The advances coming from innovative science and technology start-ups have opened up virtually infinite possibilities for developing the “perfect strain.” Breeders will be the guardians of the evolving gene pool and will continue developing an incredibly diverse population of strain types. Thanks to modern technology, the future of developing an infinite number of strains that could potentially target specific medical conditions or produce a wide variety of different effects is more promising than ever.