What Are Landrace Strains?

Today we’re going to introduce you to the landrace strains of cannabis! Long before names like White Widow, Super Silver Haze, or AK-47 graced the centerfold of High Times, there were the landraces, weed that grew wild and free, like cowboys in country songs. Now, you should know that the precise definition is contested between cannabis purists and pragmatists, but for our purposes, a landrace strain is associated with a place of origin, like Thailand or Durban, South Africa, where growers have preserved distinctive plant traits (like smell, flavor, and effects) that come from that specific region. Sometimes those strains are just like the antique ones that evolved in the wild, but sometimes a breeder will combine unique local varieties to make a new strain and that can also be considered a landrace. Whichever way you look at it, the ancestry of every strain on dispensary shelves today can be traced back to vintage landraces if you go far enough. In fact, you’re probably already used to the most common terminology used to describe original landrace strains: indica and sativa!

Composite Illustration by Gentlemantoker.com

Landrace Stain Types: Indica or Sativa?

How do those ever-present terms ‘indica’ and ‘sativa’ apply to landrace strains? Centuries ago, when European botanists and taxonomers were making fancy names for everything, they called the hemp used for making rope and other supplies Cannabis Sativa. They called the smellier, stickier, smokeable stuff with THC Cannabis Indicae (which means Indian Cannabis) because that’s where European people were finding it at the time. To them, anything that got you high was basically a landrace indica strain! 

Over time, psychoactive cannabis strains from all over the world were found to come in different shapes, sizes, and effects, so eventually we started using Indica and Sativa to differentiate short, bushy plants with narcotic effects (the indicas) from the taller, lankier plants with more cerebral effects (the sativas). Up until the 1970s, most cannabis used around the world could more or less be considered a landrace strain, and the sativa morphology, or structure, was much more common.

Things changed again as marijuana became more illegal and instead of importing landrace strains from outdoor farms in other countries, people began breeding tall landrace sativa strains from places like Thailand and Columbia with shorter landrace indica strains from places like Afghanistan and Iran. These new polyhybrid strains were suited to indoor growing, but over time, the structure and effects of original landrace strains became blended together, and many of the unique effects people enjoyed from imported cannabis became harder and harder to find in American grown weed. 

These days, most of us have gotten used to hybrid marijuana strains. Seeking out the unique traits preserved in vintage landrace strains might not appeal to everyone. Tokers seeking very specific effects, though, along with strain-hunters and those interested in cannabis history, will find a veritable cornucopia of vintage ganja to comb through these days!

Landrace Indica Strains

For some patients, the powerful body effects of landrace indica strains are what they’re really after. Usually recommended for nighttime use or serious pain relief, landrace indicas can envelop the body in warming, calming sensations not entirely unlike opioids and other sedative drugs. Popular in regions with long histories of hash making, landrace indica strains like Hindu Kush have become legendary all across the world. Some of the favorite landrace indicas from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India, and Nepal haven’t changed much over the years and are still being sold all across the globe.

The short stature and dense bud structures of indicas make them more economical to grow in tight spaces than sativas, so this morphology flourished in closets and basements across the U.S. during its prohibition. Most stoners have tried strains that are very similar, genetically speaking, to true landrace indica strains. But what if you’re looking for something a little more thought-provoking?

Landrace Sativa Strains

Enthusiasts of landrace sativa strains are often after the stimulating, cerebral, and psychedelic effects that are attributed to these “leaner” cannabis varieties from all over the world. In the past, many people turned to cannabis primarily for its uplifting effects on mood and enhancement of food, music, & socializing. Hybrid marijuana strains can still have that effect, but sooner or later that effervescence turns into exhaustion. Landrace sativa strains can provide all the smiles and stimulation with none of the snores, but this once-abundant type has become increasingly rare!

The hunt for vintage sativa lineages usually starts with heritage from tropical or warm lowland regions of the world, namely Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America. Almost all modern sativa strains in the U.S. have lineage that can be traced back to landrace strains obtained in Thailand, Columbia, and South Africa!

Popular Landrace Strains

Consumer interest in rediscovering landrace strains means there’s a growing list that you can find available, so let’s narrow in on some of the most popular requests when it comes to choosing landrace strains!

Mexican Landrace Strains

Mexico has a wide range of climates that are perfect for growing landrace sativa strains! Over the years, many sativa varieties from other countries have found homes in Mexico and the country has become famous for localized varieties coming out of Michoacán, Chiapas, Oaxaca, and of course Acapulco, Guerrero!

Ahhh, the legendary Acapulco Gold. I’m sure the younger ones among us have shared with an elder only to be surprised by their indifference for our best smoke. “When I was your age,” they might have said, “it didn’t look this pretty, but it sure doesn’t feel like it used to. I haven’t felt anything like Acapulco Gold since I was your age!”. Said by many to have gone extinct years ago, the name has been popping up lately, in some cases with positive feedback!

We recommend checking out the Acapulco Gold BC1 (meaning first generation back cross) from Mountain Organics, who claim to have crossed a forty year old Acapulco cut and a ‘Maya’ landrace to produce the seeds. The effects are said to be motivating and intensely euphoric with a taste similar to freshly-brewed coffee! 

Oh, by the way, if you’re expecting the gold colored buds of vintage imports, don’t hold your breath. The gold and red colors that yesterday’s landrace strains were named after actually came from being dried and cured in the sun, not their genetics! 

Composite Illustration by Gentlemantoker.com

Hawaiian Landrace Strains

Hawaiian weed is known for it’s lighthearted and giggly effects that can wash away the day’s stress and leave you grinning ear-to-ear. For a taste of the care-free island life in your next toke, Sweet Island Skunk is a hybrid with Hawaiian landrace lineage that’s still popular in modern strains. For example, the midwest U.S. has become well known for Golden Goat and it’s stimulating and psychedelic head high.

But what about older Hawaiian vintages like Maui Wowie, Kona Gold, and Puna Budder?

They’re still easy to find by meeting the right people on the islands, but there’s so many imitations and replications of Hawaiian landrace sativas that it’s hard to narrow down which ones really provide the real island mystique. After all, a big part of that magic comes from the climate and sweltering Hawaiian sun and not just the genetics themselves. As laws change across the country, we expect native Hawaiian genetics to make a resurgence, but for now we think the Hawaiian Seed Company is a great place to start!

Finally, if you can track down Molokai Frost, it’s said to be one of the most faithful stateside stabilizations of Hawaiian buds that started with an authentic Hawaiian clone. 

Iranian Landrace Strains

Compared to Mexico and Hawaiian landraces, Iranian landrace strains are as ancient as they come. Cannabis growers in the region have been selectively growing consumable cannabis for thousands of years. Without the contributions of these age-old farmers, we probably wouldn’t be here today talking about landrace strains!

In one way or another, we’ve all tried some Iranian landrace genetics. In fact, one of the most popular indica strains from licensed cultivators is Verano’s Mag Landrace. Although they’ve kept the details somewhat secret, Verano claims it’s a genuine propagation of a plant located and brought directly back from Iran. Like many landrace indica strains from the Middle East, the Mag Landrace is a bit more complex than just a strong body high, but as the hours roll by, most users will find themselves slowing down into a deep, dopey slumber.

Because of the long history of cultivation in the region, fans of Iranian landrace strains will probably find strains they like from nearby Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Typically, these landraces will be ‘indica’ strains but there are also many landrace sativa strains from these regions. The options here are far too great to list, but a good starting point is the Indian Landrace Exchange

Benefits of Landrace Strains

Although landrace strains may lack the all-in-one potency of favorites like Sour Diesel and OG Kush, the narrower range of effects might actually allow a much higher ceiling for a heavy user that has different needs throughout the day. On the other hand, infrequent cannabis users might prefer the predictability of landrace strains, which can help new patients figure out the effects that benefit them best. Daily smokers might enjoy turning their normal ritual into a unique opportunity for an intimate connection with the past, too. It's like smoking a living dinosaur, man! How cool is that?