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Ultimately, what this means is that seed hunters have a harder and harder task in front of them. Some breeders argue that many landrace strains have already disappeared or are endangered because of these practices.
But in addition to this issue is the continually evolving nature of the cannabis plant. When landrace strains are moved and cultivated in different surroundings, they also begin to adapt. The plant itself will go through adoption of different characteristics as it changes. This means that “landrace” strains cultivated in different locations become something else.
Landrace strains play an important part in commercial development of the future global industry. Collecting their seeds also help preserve natural biodiversity of the species.
THE BACKBONE OF MODERN STRAINS
One of the best-known landrace strains is called Cannabis ruderalis. Technically it is not really a “strain.” It is mostly referred to as a subspecies of Cannabis. In terms of characteristics and effects, it falls somewhere between sativa and indica. Ruderalis is native to cold, Russian climates with short growing seasons. As a result, these stubby plants have also developed the ability to flower automatically. In direct contrast, sativa and indica plants can only flower when exposed to the right kind of light. By crossbreeding this auto-breeding characteristic into either, breeders can use this genetic ability in other kinds of plants.
Landrace cannabis strains are important for one thing – genetics. They have been left to develop in a natural environment. They are also different from so-called “heirloom strains.” Heirloom strains are established by human cultivated crops. This includes strains native to South and Central America. It also includes strains descended from landrace cannabis. Angola Red, for example, an heirloom strain, was developed from a landrace breed found in Africa.
Seed hunters have travelled the globe for decades in search of landrace strains. In the last few years, this practice has suddenly become more popular. Breeders from established companies usually fund these trips.
In essence, cannabis strains can be traced just like family trees. New strains can be created by the mating of a single male and female cannabis plant. They are mapped, in fact, just like human genetics. Landrace, cannabis, in other words, is the beginning of the cannabis family tree.
Landrace strains make up the genetic backbone of many well-known hybrids including Afghani, Hindu Kush, Durban Poison and Red Congolese. This is why their addition to new cultivation is so popular.
Back in the 60s and 70s, landraces were pretty much the only plants available, and they were highly sought-after. Supply was limited and cost prohibitive. Cannabis growers would explore the ‘Hippie Trail’ through Turkey, Lebanon, Afghanistan and India to search for the highly-coveted landraces.
Pure landrace strains still exist but are exceedingly rare. The majority have become diluted, removed from their native environments and exposed to new growing conditions, changing the plants forever. Every new phenotype edges further away from the original strain.
Why Landrace Strains Are Rare
Master breeders, employing selective breeding and advanced techniques, continue to create new marijuana hybrids boasting unique traits. For homegrowers researching the next project, there are two terms that pop up all the time – landrace and heirloom. Are these two one and the same? More importantly, what are they and what is their contribution to the diversity of the species?
Landrace strains are cannabis plants indigenous to a specific geographical location. Over time, these plants have adapted to local conditions like soil, climate and the presence of other flora and fauna. Environmental changes cause the plants to evolve, resulting in variations in physical characteristics and genetic make-up: the phenotype and genotype. Every original landrace strain carries its history and geographical roots in its genome.
Heirlooms can trace their roots to the cannabis connoisseurs of the 60s and 70s who trekked through the Hippie Trail to get hold of landraces. They brought the seeds home, cultivating them under different growing conditions. Eventually, they started cross-pollinating the strains, giving birth to novel hybrids.