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One problem with cross-breeding marijuana is that the results can be unpredictable. For example, you might cross an indica-dominant female with a sativa-dominant male in the hope that you would get a perfectly balanced 50/50 offspring. Unfortunately, what’s far more likely is that you would get some offspring with indica-like qualities and others with sativa-like qualities.
Heirloom weed strains may not have funny names or THC levels that are guaranteed to send you into a tailspin. Nonetheless, there is no denying that these classic cultivars have a certain charm of their own.
Meanwhile, Northern California, with its slightly cooler climate, provided the perfect conditions for other landrace strains. More specifically, landraces originating from the high altitudes of the Hindu Kush mountain range.
There is a finite amount of space in each cannabinoid-laden trichome. The more THC you try to cram in, the less there will be of everything else. This potentially means reduced levels of CBD and other cannabinoids, as well as beneficial compounds like terpenes. It could mean missing out on some of the most useful aspects of the herb for medicinal users.
The seeds of heirloom strains are passed down through generations of gardeners.
Now that there are so many different hybrid strains available, heirloom weed is often overlooked in favor of these exciting new creations. However, there could be certain advantages to growing and using these more classic strains.
Landrace strains occur naturally in a specific region (for example, the mountains of Afghanistan or the tropical forests of Thailand). Heirloom weed comes from seeds that were taken away from these regions and grown elsewhere.
Thanks to their consistency, they can be used by breeders to repeatedly produce certain phenotypes of completely different varieties and maintain genetic stability. For example, by crossing a stable Indica heirloom known for its low height and high levels of THC, with a stable Sativa known for a particular flavor or aroma, it is much easier to produce a stable hybrid containing all of those genetic traits. In many ways, cannabis breeding is similar to the breeding of animals, in that genetics can produce different results with each cross and/or generation.
The naming history for Sativa varieties is a little different. It is believed that in the 1960s the “Haze Brothers” hybridized some Sativa heirloom strains resulting in the Original Haze, which was then brought to the Netherlands where it was hybridized even further, leading to the numerous Sativa-dominant strains found throughout the coffee shops in the land. These varieties would typically be taller and lankier in stature and would be fruitier and more citrusy in terms of aroma and flavor, hence the ‘Haze’ in the nomenclature. If you have ever tried Critical Haze or Amnesia Haze, you will recognize the Sativa genetics shared by both.
Generally speaking, the term heirloom refers to a traditional variety of a plant not associated with large-scale commercial agriculture, in other words, the plant genetics have been passed down from one generation to the next on a small, local scale. In the cannabis world, however, the term refers to highly valued landrace varieties grown in a different location. Simply put, how mother nature intended them to be, just grown in a different location than they’re used to.
What makes heirloom cannabis strains so desirable?
A good way of telling that a modern hybrid cannabis strain has stable heirloom genetics is by looking at its name. Until recently, cannabis was thought to be either an Indica or Sativa. Modern hybridization would lead to genetic dominance of one variety over the other, so a name would have to be given to distinguish as to whether it leaned more towards Indica or Sativa. Since many of the landrace Indica varieties were found in and around the Hindu Kush mountain range, the name ‘Kush’ was chosen to refer to the phenotypes these strains would typically produce. The ever-popular and classic OG Kush, as well as the famous Bubba Kish, are good examples of heirloom varieties that have been crossed to produce consistent and popular Indica dominant hybrids.
You’ve probably heard of (and most likely tried) heirloom tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and so on, but heirloom cannabis? This is indeed a thing and has been for a good number of years, at least in the cannabis culture strongholds of North America.
Much like landrace varieties, heirloom strains are thought to be the real deal, just as mother nature intended cannabis to be, meaning they haven’t been affected by human intervention. To some that might sound boring, however, to growers and breeders alike, they offer stability and consistency. For purists, heirloom varieties produce reliable results with every generation and are just what the doctor ordered. For breeders, on the other hand, they provide a stable backbone for creating hybrid strains that are found in many dispensaries and seedbanks today.
In a nutshell, landrace strains are characterized by their geographic origin and their ‘purity’ so to speak, in other words, their lack of cross-breeding with other varieties from around the world. They have been native to a particular area or region for hundreds if not thousands of years and have developed their own unique, stable features thanks to inbreeding and natural selection. Some notable examples include Thai, Durban Poison, Lamb’s Bread (Sativas) as well as Hindu Kush, Afghani, and Mazar I Sharif (Indicas).