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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.
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.
Origins of modern strain hybridization
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 IS HEIRLOOM CANNABIS?
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.
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.
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”.