When different people look at a picture painted on canvas, some view the picture, some see the colors, others see the message left by the painter and some see the way the processes go together to build up the structure of the picture. Breeding a plant is complicated and it takes knowledge of the subtle complexities that contribute to genetics, chemical compounds, dominance linked by sex, and it takes a 6th sense in designing and layering flavor, aroma, effect, yield, shape and size, resistance to disease etc….into a plant that will fulfill all the desired requirements.
While it may not be possible to teach a person how to look and see facets of a plant…it is possible to explain aspects that have helped me learn, combine and create strains that bred true or grow as F1 hybrids.
Terpenes are the major components of resin, and of turpentine produced from resin. The name “terpene” is derived from the word “turpentine.” In addition to their roles as end-products in many organisms, terpenes are major biosynthetic building blocks within nearly every living creature.
Terpenes are organic hydrocarbons found all over the plant. They have been my main guide and most useful tool since before we were able to do lab testing. While scientific proof is not complete with explaining how units of scent and concentration of each terpene combines, it does seem nowadays (with the aid of lab testing and terpene profiling) we can finally see on paper things that before could only be verbally described. Personally I have an innate and profound feeling that the terpene profile of a plant will be the key to identifying a species of Cannabis and tracing the parent lines, as well as DNA mapping of a plant in the future!
Therefore knowledge of aromas and terpenes in their most basic unit is a good beginning point for any new breeder to work on. There are several hundred different terpenes found in nature on trees, flowers, fruits, stems, nuts etc…and some of these aromatic hydrocarbons have been proven to interact synergistically with Cannabinoids to prove they affect a range of illnesses. In the living plant terpenes act as natural protection from bacteria, fungi, insects and various other stresses from nature.
For example Limonene is known to have anti-bacterial, anti-depressant properties, and anti-carcinogenic properties as well as having a relaxing effect. A terpene responsible for activating the CB2 receptor is Beta Caryophyllene or BCP and acts a non-psychoactive anti-inflammatory but since it binds very well to a cannabinoid receptor it is considered a cannabinoid…so there is a lot of work still to do to really understand the terpenes as a breeding tool.
An example of a terpene profile done in the USA from the Mr. Nice Seedbank on the strain Mango Haze shows that it is a plant that clearly displays an incredible variety of terpenes some of which are present in large amounts. This clearly illustrates how sophisticated a scent from a plant can be. When I check the parent line for terpene profiling of the MNS Mango Haze I see clearly the areas expressed from the female and from the male side according to terpenes alone. Yet it remains an area of Cannabis that needs a large amount of research and investigation to really confirm many breeders’ thoughts and feelings. This however, is only a matter of time!
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Looking at the available pure lines, geographically where cannabis grows in the world and how these climatic conditions vary are extremely important in the beginning of understanding the units we use to build a breed or a hybrid from.
Cannabis sativa’s are found predominantly close to the Equatorial areas of the world. The climates are hot, wet and humid with 12 hours or less of sunlight hours in general. These plants in land race form are tall with fluffy flower clusters, pineapple, spice, cat-piss and menthol aromas with sweetness. The leaflets are long and slender, the flower to leaf ratio is high, and due to the torrential rain and leaching of the soil the Sativa grows in low nutrient areas. Usually the majority of land race sativa that survive are mold resistant and extremely tall in stature with effects more on the cerebral areas of the human body in a high. These plants have long flowering periods and grow on strong fibrous stalks and stems.
Cannabis Indica usually originate from areas above 30 degrees plus or minus from the equator. These areas are colder drier have shorter flowering seasons and the plant stature is smaller and more compacted a little more resembling a Christmas tree shape in miniature. Their flower clusters are more compact and dense. Mold is a problem so the land races are quicker to finish flowering and in general shorter more squat plants. The arrays of aromas are in general fruitier, berry-like, wild fruits of a forest rich and strong. The effects are more narcotic and flavors are full, a more of a stoned effect emanates from plants in this category. Of course there are always exceptions and these may be what a breeder is after. The Cannabis Indica has a fatter leaflet and more Japanese maple type leaf. Pistil colors are red, brown and yellow and the resin gland structure tends to be more of a shorter neck and swollen cap like, if viewed through a microscope, compared to a long necked smaller round cap resin gland structure of Cannabis Sativa.
A third category called Cannabis Ruderalis exists. Generally it is used as a more auto flowering fiber strain. It may be more difficult for growers to identify. It is a combination of both Sativa and Indica elements but usually is lower in cannabinoid content, very quick to flower and seen as a nutritious seed crop as well as fiber and clothing strain. It can grow in most all climates existing and has a long history and value for food, rope and clothing. Cannabinoids and terpenes and flavonoids all exist but in lower concentrations in general compared to either Cannabis Sativa or Cannabis Indica.
Knowing these basic facts about these existing strains of Cannabis and as a breeder the most influential strains I have seen that developed Cannabis to what it is today are originating from the following countries:
2. Thai , Cambodian
7. South Africa, Congo
9. Turkey ,Lebanon
10. Brazil, Colombian
As these land races were gathered and brought back to places like Australia, USA, Canada, UK and Holland in the 60s till the late 80s, hybridization occurred within small communities and out of the ashes flew the Phoenix of new creations. Through natural trait selection of plants and due to their climatic condition and constraints grew a multitude of blends. A bit like the human population of the world, as it mixed and interbred new skin colors, bone structures, and so forth became dominant in certain areas of the world. Plants were selected in certain areas and communities for their particular traits best suited to those areas.
Real combination breeding began with the modern day travelers and gathers of seed. Many would go back to their countries and select males and female plants from different pure land races and combine them into hybrids, inbred these hybrid lines until they stabilized and produced the desired traits those people wanted from those plants. It is the origins of modern day agriculture and cannabis building blocks that remain the same today as they did 30 years ago like
3. Northern lights
My pre-bred method of visualizing a taste and understanding a flavor was to take different amounts of the building block strains as dried flowers. So I would have say 5 grams of dried flower of each of the strains in the pure form and work out the flavors by combining say 50% of NL, 25% Haze and 25% Skunk and grind them up into a powder and make a joint from the entire combination. It may not be the exact flavor but it gave me a close representative of what to expect if things combined well in the breed I was trying to accomplish. Many times it was more accurate than not!
Once you find a combination of the various true breeding parents and test the subsequent progeny seed S1, it is just a numbers game from here on in to see which parent plant is required to breed with the accompanying female plant to produce the same seed every time. Keeping these selected mothers and fathers once proven is how I gathered my library of plants. It takes time, patience and a lot of testing to be sure of what you are claiming, but once it is correct those parent plants will do the same job day in day out, as long as they are kept alive in a mother room all year round.
Since the late 80s and early 90s multi-hybrids are more the norm rather than the exception since most of the origins of the breeding plants have been mixed over the past 100 years with the trade and travel routes. To be honest finding an existing land race that is unadulterated will be more a fantasy for new breeders than a practicality. Having said that I do recall speaking to Rob Clarke about where we both thought any land race still existed and we did both agree North of Calcutta in the Assam and Nagaland tribal areas there maybe something still in a pure form. Possibly in remote parts of Africa there could be some surprises, but it is more a dream to dote on than something to base an exploration to, unlike 30 years ago.
Seed companies that have based their work on collection and selection of land races would have pure lines and breeding parents. Those seed companies that work with multi-hybrid plants and produce feminized seed only most likely do not have breeding plants and rely only on chemical induced pollen, which limits the strains development. Seed companies that are still looking to get land races should be warning enough for the growers to understand they can probably do the job better themselves!
Plant breeding is an abstract dimension that needs all senses working well to understand the complexities and subtleties of a flower…yet it all seems so simple to Mother Nature. Knowledge of strain dominance, genetic combinations and permutations is essential to walk this road with success. Things like aromas, terpenes, flavonoids, cannabinoids, yields, height, stem thickness, leaflet structure, pistil color, overall effects, chemo type, phenotype and genotype, quickness to flower, mold resistant, size of seed, color of seed, flower cluster density, flowering size, length of time to vegetate , curing, ripeness and so on…all need to be considered in a holistic approach to breeding. Inevitably one makes mistakes many more times than doing it right, but if you are patient enough and fastidious enough it is a religious feeling that Eureka moment when all traits synchronize and align, and you play God!