What Are Heirloom Cannabis Strains?
3 min

What Are Heirloom Cannabis Strains?

3 min

Landrace strains are those native to specific regions of the world. By comparison, heirloom strains have been removed from their native environment to be grown in other areas of the world. Read on to discover more about what makes heirloom cannabis unique.

The term "heirloom" refers to something of value that has been passed down from prior generations. When it comes to plants, the term is often applied to strains that have remained unchanged for at least several decades. These strains are prized for their purity and history, but what does this all mean when it comes to cannabis?


In the cannabis world, heirloom strains are those that have existed for generations. They are considered to have pure genetics because they have never been crossbred with any other strains. These strains developed through natural pollination by wind, animals, and even humans.

Like many other plants, cannabis' genetics have been manipulated over time to produce more specific characteristics like colour, high THC levels, and pest resistance. Heirloom strains are effectively the predecessors of these newer modern strains. As such, heirloom strains typically contain almost entirely sativa or indica genetics.


Heirloom Vs. Landrace Cannabis: The Finer Points

The difference between heirloom strains and landrace strains is primarily one of logistics. Landraces occur naturally in specific regions of the world. Similarly to heirloom strains, landrace strains have genetics that have never been crossbred with other strains. These strains are considered to be "native" or "endemic" to certain regions of the world.

By comparison, heirloom weed is grown from seeds that were removed from the regions they naturally occurred in, and were transported to be grown elsewhere. In a sense, heirloom strains are landrace strains, just grown elsewhere.

There are four geographic regions in the world that are believed to be the primary origins of landrace cannabis strains. These are South Asia, Africa, South America and Central Asia.

Landrace strains that are native to South Asia include Aceh, Cambodian, Nepalese, and, perhaps most importantly, Thai. The Thai landrace strain gained much notoriety for its use by American soldiers during the Vietnam war, and later by cannabis breeders who sought to take advantage of its energising effects.

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African landrace strains are revered for their overwhelming sativa effects. These strains include Durban Poison, Swazi Gold, and Red Congolese. Durban Poison is widely considered to be one of the purest sativa strains available on the market today.

Durban Poison (Dutch Passion) feminized

Parents: Durban x Unknown Indica
Genetics: Sativa-dominant
Flowering Time: 8-9 weeks
THC: 14%
CBD: Unknown
Flowering Type: Photoperiod

Central Asian landrace strains originated in the Hindu Kush mountain range that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. Strains that originated from this region include Hindu Kush, Afghani Kush, and pure Afghan. These strains are well-known for their pure indica effects, their durability in the wild, and their ability to produce hash and kief of legendary quality.

Afghan Kush (Zativo Seeds) feminized

Parents: Afghani
Genetics: 90% Indica / 10% Sativa
Flowering Time: 7-8 weeks
THC: 17%
CBD: Low
Flowering Type: Photoperiod

There are also many landrace strains that are native to South America, although some experts believe these were actually heirloom strains that were carried over, grown, and treated as native strains. These strains are well known for their high THC content and energising buzz. They include now-famous strains such as Acapulco Gold, Colombian Gold, and Panama Red.

Acapulco Gold (Barney's Farm) feminized

Parents: Central America
Genetics: 20% Indica / 80% Sativa
Flowering Time: 9-10 weeks
THC: 23%
CBD: 0-1%
Flowering Type: Photoperiod


Where Do Heirloom Cannabis Strains Come From?

As previously mentioned, heirloom strains were transported from the region that they naturally occurred in to be grown in other areas of the world. While much of this work is believed to have occurred in the 1960s and ‘70s, landrace strains were actually being transported to other regions long before that.

Travellers making their way from India to the Americas and the Carribbean certainly brought landrace cannabis seeds back with them. It is believed that servants were responsible for bringing cannabis seeds, as well as other goods, to their masters in the Americas. However, the history surrounding the early days of heirloom strains is rather vague. As such, much of the progress in creating heirloom strains is attributed to the travellers of the 1960s and ‘70s.

As hippie subculture established itself during this era, marijuana use became more accepted in the West. Between the mid-1950s and the 1970s, a safe route of travel was established between Western Europe and Southeast Asia. This route came to be known as the The Hippie Trail, and mainly ran through Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, and Nepal.

The Hippie Trail was considered to be a form of "alternative tourism" primarily because of its primitiveness and low cost. The hippies that followed this trail made a point of collecting cannabis seeds from the regions they crossed, bringing them back home to the West. In fact, they were so successful in this enterprise that the trail also came to be known as the "Hashish Trail".

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Many of these seeds eventually found their way to the legendary growers of Hawaii and Northern California. The fertile soil and climate of Hawaii were ideal for growing strains from equatorial regions such as Thailand, India, and Vietnam. Meanwhile, the slightly cooler climate of Northern California proved to be excellent for growing strains that originated from the Kush mountain range.


What’s The Point Of Heirloom Cannabis?

The primary benefit of growing and smoking heirloom strains is being able to enjoy their unadulterated genetics.

When it comes to growing cannabis, the purer genetics of heirlooms and landraces makes them much more stable for crossbreeding. Crossing modern hybrid strains can lead to unpredictable results. Instead of getting a 50/50 hybrid out of opposing strains, it's much more likely that the resulting hybrid will be either indica- or sativa-dominant. Heirloom seeds simply produce offspring that are much more similar to their parents than hybrid seeds.

Additionally, heirlooms and landraces contain a more natural ratio of cannabinoids than modern strains. This is because many modern strains are genetically bred to produce a monstrous level of THC. This in turn means reduced quantities of other cannabinoids and terpenes usually found in the plant, including CBD. As such, heirlooms and landraces are generally considered to be more pure and natural than modern hybrids.

Luke Sumpter
Luke Sumpter
With a BSc (Hons) degree in Clinical Health Sciences and a passion for growing plants, Luke Sumpter has worked as a professional journalist and writer at the intersection of cannabis and science for the past 7 years.
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