The enduring appeal of time-honored classic cannabis varieties continues to surprise many people in the cannabis industry. Some of the most famous and best selling varieties today can be traced back to the 1980’s and earlier. White Widow, Orange Bud, Blueberry, Mazar etc are some of the original classic lines that come to mind when we think of the best strains of yesteryear and no doubt you will have a few personal favourites of your own to add to that list. Quite a few of the established seedbanks will tell you that they are pleasantly surprised to see the continued popularity of their ‘classic’ cannabis strains despite lots of work to bring out new varieties and lots of time and money spent travelling the world looking for fresh new genetics.
One of the consistent messages we hear from growers, head-shop owners and seed-resellers is that there are too many ‘ordinary’ and bland cannabis varieties on the market today with hybrids and hybrids of hybrids; the problem is that no-one really knows where they came from, not even the breeders themselves.
We hear a lot of people asking for some of the retro-varieties to be re-introduced and often growers have original seedbank catalogues from the 1980’s and they want to know what has happened to their old favourite varieties. In the case of Dutch Passion all of our work remains safely stored away in several deep-freeze genebanks. We use several locations to store our ‘legacy’ seeds for two reasons: Firstly it is safer if the genetics are spread across different locations and secondly, we have so many seeds from various stages of numerous original breeding projects that there are too many for a single location. In some cases we have several thousand seeds from a single part of a single project conducted decades ago and now we are so glad that we did keep these seeds when so many other people simply threw them away or sold them without thinking about the future.
Although Dutch Passion began selling seeds in the 1980’s our breeding work, seed stock and genebank date back to the 1970’s. These seeds are priceless to us, they can never be replaced and they are especially important because they are from pure original cannabis varieties at a time when there was very little cross-breeding taking place. Contrast that with the modern situation where there are literally hundreds of new seed producers, many of them who simply take seeds of unknown origin from other seedbanks to hybridise and cross, not really sure what they have ended up with or what genetics they really have.
If you want a totally pure original version of e.g. Haze or Afghani where would you go? Probably you have two choices, you either go exploring the relevant part of the world yourself looking for the best wild specimens (and try to bring them home) or you go to one of the original seedbanks. If you are really lucky you will know a professional breeder with original cuttings/seeds but the average home-grower doesn’t know these people.
Those with the foresight to start their genebanks in the 70’s and 80’s have the seed equivalent of gold-dust when it comes to breeding. It allows new plants to be grown, plants that can be guaranteed to be free from unwanted modern genetic contamination. Of course germination rates from seeds that are 30-40 years old is low, but some seeds will always germinate; the oldest seeds ever to be germinated are 2000 year old Judean Date Palm seeds which were found by archaeologists excavating King Herods Palace in Israel.
Dutch Passion have pretty strict rules which govern how many of our seeds we can recall from our genebank, we have to balance the importance of ongoing breeding work with the fact that the seeds themselves can never be replaced. The difficulty is that you often need several hundred very old seeds to get a viable breeding program going from a small number of seedlings. Breeding with original genetics is a serious business and you can’t afford mistakes.
One example of a recent reintroduction of an original is our pure indica Night Queen variety. Night Queen was hugely popular in the early days of the Dutch Cannabis scene but fell out of popularity when indoor growing took off in the 1990’s and more exotic tropical varieties were able to be grown indoors for the first time. Night Queen was retired to the genebank but we were often asked to re-introduce her. In 2012 we did introduce her, but only because we were able to work decades-old original seed stock. We are also re-introducing Blue Velvet following repeated requests; Blue Velvet is a sister of Blueberry and comes from the 1990’s collaboration between Dutch Passion and DJ Short. Blue Velvet is another reintroduction made possible only because original seeds were carefully stored for later use.
So why do some of the older legendary varieties remain so popular with the self-sufficient medical and recreational home-growers? One reason has to be the fact that the older varieties have had many years to be stabilised by breeders who know the varieties intimately and can assure a reliable and predictable performance. The safety of growing a best-selling variety from an established seedbank is an important factor that influences seed sales (the average home-grower often grows around 10-20 plants over the course of a year, sometimes less than that). You can see the logic from their viewpoint, the preference to select ‘safe’ choices for their grow-rooms rather than take a perceived risk with an unproven variety from a newer seedbank.
Without doubt there is also a strong nostalgia value associated with some of the old classics. After 25+ years in the business of supplying seeds and speaking on a daily basis with customers, re-sellers and head-shop owners around Europe we get a good picture of the seed market for the home-grower. There are lots of growers that rarely grow any varieties outside of a small group of their personal favourites. It’s a strange business to be in as you can spend weeks (and even months) looking for new genetics from different parts of the world and then spend years to bring them to market only to find your customers are happy to stick to their old favourites.
Some customers have been growing the same 3 or 4 varieties for years and see no purpose in risking a change even though there may be some new varieties which we feel quite sure they would like. In some cases we have offered free seeds to regular customers to try, yet the customer will still insist that they are content with their existing varieties. It sounds a bit weird, but for some home-growers the best way to guarantee the quality of their future crop is to stick with their most trusted varieties, why change a winning formula? We see the same thing in the new market for AutoFem seeds. AutoMazar is the best selling auto in our collection but that is probably because it was also one of the first; we have lots of customers that refuse to try growing other auto’s because they are happy with AutoMazar. Perhaps in 10 years time we will be referring to AutoMazar as a ‘classic original AutoFem’. One thing for sure is that we have stashed away thousands of AutoFem seeds to make sure we are prepared for whatever the future of AutoFem breeding may hold.
During the last 20 years there have been hundreds of seedbanks emerging in Holland, Spain, Canada, USA and almost everywhere else. In that time there have been thousands of new varieties made commercially available yet it is notoriously difficult for them to challenge the success of the established classics. One reason may be the coffeeshop influence. Many people walk into a coffeeshop during a holiday in Amsterdam and take a look at the menu, often the well known names are the ones that still sell the most, especially if they come from one of the top growers. Varieties like Power Plant, Skunk #1 and White Widow are still a regular feature on the coffeeshop menu’s today many years after they were first released. How many people have grown a variety primarily because they had a great first experience of it in a coffeeshop? It must be thousands of people, maybe tens of thousands.
The fact that some of the original Dutch cannabis varieties are still going strong means that the genebanks are still alive with plenty of good original genetics. Long may it continue.
Originally publihsed in Weed World Magazine 104