What makes heirloom strains so special and how are they different from other kinds of cannabis found around the world? We’ll answer these questions and more in this article. Cannabis strains whose seeds or genetics have been preserved and passed down for generations. Learn more about heirloom cannabis from Leafly. We take a closer look at exactly what heirloom cannabis strains are, and whether you should be trying to get your hands on some!
What Are Heirloom Cannabis Strains?
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.
What’s the Difference Between Heirloom and Landrace Strains?
So what makes heirloom strains so special and how are they different from other kinds of cannabis found around the world? You may have read on this site about landrace strains and why they are so coveted. We wouldn’t have heirloom strains today if not for landrace seeds. But despite their similarities, there is quite a distinction to be made between landrace and heirloom varieties.
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).
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.
Origins of modern strain hybridization
The origins of modern strain hybridization go back to the 1960s with the Hippie (aka Hashish) Trail that ran from Western Europe through the Middle East to India and Thailand. Hash enthusiasts would collect the seeds of landrace strains found along the way and bring them back to places like the Netherlands and the United States, where they would try to recreate the phenotypes of the originals. These varieties, specifically ones grown in California and Hawaii, would end up becoming what are now known as heirloom strains.
Landrace varieties native to the areas along the Hippie Trail ended up performing very well in Northern California, particularly Indicas from the Hindu Kush mountain range, as the terrain was similar thanks to both locations being on or near the 35th parallel. Sativas from Thailand grew very well in Hawaii due to the similar equatorial/tropical climate and the rich, fertile soil. In both cases, however, plants did produce slightly different phenotypes as a result of the different terrain and geographical conditions, making them distinct from identical seeds grown in their places of origin.
What makes heirloom cannabis strains so desirable?
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.
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.
Modern cannabis hybrids can be particularly unpredictable with their phenotypes and as a result might contain an unnatural ratio of cannabinoids and terpenes (for example very high CBD/ very low THC), considerably varying from their parents, which underwent natural selection and are more genetically stable as a result. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot produce a stable hybrid. Some of the most popular and reliable strains currently available in dispensaries and seedbanks are hybrids of heirloom strains, which means they ultimately trace back to landrace varieties.
What’s In A Name?
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.
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.
Ultimately the difference between landrace and heirloom strains boils down to them having the same genetics but grown in different areas. Both are prized for their genetic purity, stability, and reliability. Perhaps they do not offer the eclectic terpene and cannabinoid profiles of the most recent hybrids available today, however, there is something to be said about cannabis varieties with the genetics they have attained through natural selection. They have an unmistakable charm that connoisseurs will come back to time and time again. Sometimes keeping it simple is the best way to go.
Cannabis strains whose seeds or genetics have been preserved and passed down for generations. Heirloom strains differ from landraces in that they have been brought from their place of origin and cultivated by humans in a new environment.
“I prefer the genetics of an old school heirloom strain to a modern hybrid any day.”
What is an heirloom strain?
An heirloom strain is a cannabis strain that is cultivated in a geographically distinct location from where it originated, and has genetics that have been preserved over an extended period of time, often for generations or longer.
Heirloom strains have not been crossbred and usually display characteristics of pure indica or sativa plants rather than a hybrid of both. Heirloom strains have not been genetically manipulated and are meant to be pollinated openly without direct human interference.
Are heirloom and landrace strains the same?
No; landraces are wild cannabis strains that grow throughout the world free of contact with humans, so they retain their genetics and characteristics specific to that environment. Heirloom strains have not been genetically crossed or pollinated in a specific way, but have been brought from their place of origin and cultivated by humans in a new environment, which may alter it. Heirlooms are landraces grown in a non-native enviroment.
Heirloom Cannabis Strains: What Exactly Are They?
An heirloom is defined as something valuable, which is passed down through the generations. But when we talk about heirloom weed strains, we aren’t referring to some dusty old bag of pot handed to you by your granny. What we mean when we talk about heirloom strains is that these cultivars have been around for a long time.
Today we’ll discuss what heirloom cannabis strains are and whether they are worth hunting down in your local dispensary.
What Are Heirloom Weed Strains?
There is some variation in how botanists define heirloom plants. Generally speaking, they are cultivars that have remained unchanged for at least 50 years. The seeds of heirloom strains are passed down through generations of gardeners, and both the offspring and parent plants display very similar features.
The seeds of heirloom strains are passed down through generations of gardeners.
Heirloom cannabis strains are ‘open-pollinated,’ meaning that they are pollinated naturally. Pollination could be due to the wind, birds, or insects, and in some cases, even by human hands. However, heirloom weed differs from ‘landrace’ cannabis strains. Landraces are marijuana plants that grow in the wild with no interference from humans.
For obvious reasons, there aren’t as many heirloom weed strains as there are heirloom tomatoes or pears, for example. If you want to try heirloom marijuana, you could have a real task on your hands.
So, is it worth the extra hassle to try and find one of these traditional varieties of weed? Or should you stick with what you know? Let’s take a closer look.
What’s the Difference Between Heirloom Weed and Landrace 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.
During the 1960s and 70s, many stoners embarked on a journey through the Middle East and Asia. The route is now affectionately known as the ‘Hippie Trail.’ These pot pioneers saw marijuana growing in its natural habitat and sampled some indigenous landrace strains. Of course, they would also have had the opportunity to bring back some of their precious seeds.
During the early days, landrace cannabis strains were pretty much the only available option. However, that did not remain the case for long. Obviously, once you grow a seed away from its natural home, it is technically no longer a landrace. And it was not long before breeders began experimenting by cross-pollinating these strains to create new and exciting varieties.
Cannabis breeders developed most heirloom weed strains in the states of Hawaii and California. They found that Hawaii’s tropical climate and fertile soil was ideal for growing strains originating from Thailand and India.
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.
And so, in these two states, the very first marijuana hybrids were born. These are what we now know as heirloom weed strains. It is rare to find heirloom strains for sale today, and even rarer to find pure landraces. However, all of the weed we now know and love originated from these few varieties.
Heirloom Weed vs. Hybrid Strains
Most of the cannabis strains that are available today are hybrids. These hybrids have been bred over and over again to produce specific qualities. Whether it be astronomical THC levels, hefty yields, fast flowering times, or increased resistance to pests and mold; all of these qualities have come about as a result of selective breeding.
Combining the best of both wor…
There are hundreds of different strains available today. However, there are three primary ‘families’ of marijuana with which every pot lover is likely to be familiar. These are the Kush, Haze, and Skunk, families. These classic strains have passed their genetics on to many modern-day hybrids.
Kush strains are probably one of the closest things you will find to a landrace strain today. These plants are direct descendants of the Hindu Kush strain, native to the Afghani/Pakistani border. This strain was imported during the 1970s and quickly soared in popularity due to its relaxing, sedative effects. There are plenty to choose from, including:
At the other end of the spectrum, Haze strains are famous for their uplifting, energizing effects. These strains also originate from the 1970s. Breeders combined the genetics of landrace strains such as Acapulco Gold and Colombian Gold with Thai and Indian sativas. The original Haze, sometimes known as Neville’s Haze, has also given birth to many well-respected strains. Some of these include:
Skunk strains have a combination of indica and sativa genetics, although the ever-popular Skunk #1 is slightly indica-dominant at 65%. These varieties, best-known for their pungent aroma, also originated in the 1970s. The first skunk strain resulted from crossing Acapulco Gold and Colombian Gold with an Afghani landrace. Some notable modern-day strains with Skunk genetics include:
The Benefits of Heirloom Weed Strains
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.
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.
Confused by cannabis genetics?…
This situation can be prevented somewhat by backcrossing offspring with your desired properties with one of its parent strains. However, it can take several generations of backcrossing and a lot of patience to stabilize a new strain fully.
Heirloom weed strains have genetics that are closer to landrace varieties and are therefore far more stable. As we previously mentioned, heirloom seeds produce offspring that are usually very similar to their parents. As a result, the results are more predictable.
Heirloom Weed May Have Higher Cannabinoid Content Than Other Hybrids
Another potential benefit of heirloom cannabis is that it may be better than many hybrids in terms of quality and cannabinoid content. People who cultivate other heirloom fruit and vegetables swear that their produce tastes better than intensively farmed, genetically-modified crops. They may be even more nutritious too.
Similarly, some believe that landrace and heirloom weed strains contain more beneficial compounds than strains repeatedly bred over several generations. While it is hard to either prove or disprove this theory, there is some logic behind it. For example, many new strains are bred specifically to have an insanely high level of THC. While this is great if all you want is to get completely high, it does come at a price.
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.
We recognize that it is human nature to want to try new things and have as much variety as possible. However, by creating so many hybrids, we could be sacrificing part of what made marijuana great in the first place!
Heirloom Weed Strains: Final Thoughts
These days, brand new cannabis strains are springing up all the time. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more challenging to find weed that is just the way nature intended. Although there is no denying the appeal of these new creations, there is also something to be said for keeping it simple.
It is becoming more and more challenging to find weed that is just the way nature intended.
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.
When you smoke an heirloom cannabis strain, you are smoking a little bit of history. And these days, that is a novelty in itself. So, if you have the chance to try one of these classic buds, be sure to snap it up. You may find that you are pleasantly surprised!