Fossilized Cannabis Reveals The Plant is 27.8 Million Years Old - RxLeaf
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Fossilized Cannabis Reveals The Plant is 27.8 Million Years Old

Philip Ghezelbash
cannabis, landrace, strains, landrace strains, medical cannabis, benefits, qualities, recreational cannabis, genetics, crossbreeding

The fascinating evolution of the original land race cannabis plant. 

The cannabis market has exploded, and as growers learn more about using genetics to their advantage, a wide variety of strains have emerged. With just a quick look online or at your local dispensary, you’ll find hundreds of modified breeds for every possible occasion.

But all this variety has its origins somewhere. Actually, we can trace all cannabis strains to a small number of original cannabis plants known as landrace strains.

What Exactly is a Landrace Strain?

A landrace strain is essentially an isolated plant that has not been crossbred with other cannabis varieties. They tend to be indigenous to specific regions, and developed their particular qualities as the strain adapted to their unique environment.

As such, landrace strains are often named in accordance with their region: Pure Afghan, Durban Poison, Panama Red, and so on.

cannabis, landrace, strains, landrace strains, medical cannabis, benefits, qualities, recreational cannabis, genetics, crossbreeding

Cannabis historians believed landrace strains originated in Asia.

Landrace really only refers to the genetic purity of a cannabis strain. Landrace strains won’t necessarily produce a better product. In fact, the reason there are so many crossbred strains on the market is that breeding a plant for a specific trait ensures a specific, quality finished product.

Being genetically closer to the original wild cannabis species is really the main drawcard for landrace strains. They hold particular intrigue for historians, scientists, and purists.

“Clocking” the Age of Cannabis

Scientists have long searched for cannabis’s origin. Or, at the very least, for the original wild landrace strain of this infamous medicinal plant. Common thought placed the original plant in locations across Asia. However, scientists weren’t so sure of the precise original location.

That was until recently when a study of fossilized pollen found the location of the first cannabis species.

Accurately determining when and where cannabis evolved was extremely difficult due to the lack of a strong print fossil record – impression of leaves or fruits in rocks. For a plant, like cannabis, that lacks a good fossil record, paleobotanists can use a “molecular clock”. This allows them to estimate when cannabis and its sister species Humulus (hops) diverged from a common ancestor. The molecular clock uses DNA to measure time, and calibrates the clock with fossil dates of related plants.

Using this method, they estimated that cannabis first diverged from a common ancestor 27.8 million years ago.

cannabis, landrace, strains, landrace strains, medical cannabis, benefits, qualities, recreational cannabis, genetics, crossbreeding

Hops and cannabis derive from the same common ancestor.

Once researchers had figured out when cannabis first diverged from a common ancestor, the question of where still remained. Paleobotanists then turned to microfossils, such as fossilized pollen, to fill in the records. They found that pollen from the closely related cannabis and hop plants are almost indistinguishable.

To overcome this problem, scientists realized that because cannabis typically grows in open grasslands, and hops grow in forests, the pollen could be classified by identifying other plants that commonly occur alongside it. Researchers used plants that are typically seen in open grasslands to identify the fossilized pollen as cannabis.

How Scientists Dated and Located Fossilized Cannabis Pollen

Fossilized pollen is usually used to date the layer in which it is found, which tells a lot about the environment at the time. However, in this case, the pollen was the unknown. Researchers aged it with radiocarbon dating.

Radiocarbon dating measures the amount of radiocarbon (C14) left in a fossilized animal or plant. C14 degrades at a known rate, and so by testing the amount of C14 left in a fossil, its age can be accurately calculated.

By using this analysis, the oldest fossilized cannabis pollen was located in the Ningxia Province, China. Researchers dated the pollen at 19.6 million years old. But with cannabis diverging 27.8 million years ago, this date wasn’t close enough.

Further research of the region and tracking of a plant called Artemisia, which has a close alliance and parallel evolutionary pattern to cannabis, pinpointed the northeastern Tibetan Plateau as the cannabis center of origin. At the time, the Tibetan Plateau created an environment that supports the theory that cannabinoids developed to protect the plant from UV rays and herbivores. These are both issues in the high altitude, open grassland Tibetan Plateau.

cannabis, landrace, strains, landrace strains, medical cannabis, benefits, qualities, recreational cannabis, genetics, crossbreeding

Cannabis stems from a single location on the Tibetan Plateau.

Further Landrace Strains

Fossil pollen records tell us that cannabis dispersed into Europe 6 million years ago. Then later East into China 1.2 million years ago. By mapping the distribution of pollen over time, scientists were able to see that European cannabis went through repeated genetic bottlenecks.

Following the warm and wet Holocene period, forests replaced open grasslands. Cannabis retreated to the small pockets of open space that it could inhabit. In these small and isolated areas, the population of cannabis shrank. These separated cannabis populations then evolved differently, eventually creating the separate and distinct landrace strains of the European-evolved sativa and the Asian-evolved indica.

By tracing cannabis evolution back to a single location on the Tibetan Plateau millions of years ago, we have uncovered the site of the original cannabis landrace strain. Over thousands of years, the original cannabis strain moved across continents, becoming isolated in certain areas.

The original landrace strain had to then develop to new conditions, eventually leading to a variety of landrace strains. Each developed unique geno-phenotypical characteristics reflective of adaptations provoked by their local environment. And these ancient strains have become the mythologized landrace strains that we idolize today.

Philip Ghezelbash

Philip Ghezelbash is an ex-personal trainer with a science background who currently operates New Zealand's only health specialized writing studio. He is passionate about presenting complex science in an easy to digest manner and is a firm believer that cannabis has substantial potential to be used as a medicine for degenerative disease.

2 Comments
  • AvatarAvatar
    Charles Ankner

    ” . . . the greatest service which can be rendered to any country is to add a useful plant to its culture; especially a bread grain, next in value to bread, is oil.”, Thomas Jefferson, 3.sup.rd President of the United States of America, Memorandum of Services to My Country, 1800, Charlottesville, Va. USA.

    “Damn it Charles, no damn good will ever come of this cannabis crap! Plus, it’s illegal!” Excited utterance of Frank G. Ankner, father of instant inventor, 1978, Lake Worth, Fla. USA.

    It is known in the field of plant husbandry, and in many related fields of endeavor, that a shoot to root temperature differential causes physiological ontogenic changes in plants (i.e. a shoot to root temperature differential during plant development causes physical changes in plant characteristics). Depending upon the plant species or variety, purposeful and selected changes in plant characteristics during development caused by providing shoot to root temperature differentials may be exploited for industrial, scientific, and medical uses.

    Referring to FIG. 1, which depicts a phylogenetic diagram (100) of the Cannabaceae sensu lato (110) plant family, Cannabaceae sensu lato (s.l.) is a small family of flowering plants of about one-hundred-and-seventy species grouped in about eleven genera, including by their common names: hemp, hops, and hackberries.

    C. celtis L. (the “hackberries”) is the largest genus, containing about one-hundred species. Hackberries have also been scientifically classified as the plant family Celtidaceae (130).

    The genus C. humulus L. (“hops”) and C. cannabis L. (“hemp”) each contain only three species. The C. humulus L. and C. cannabis L. genus plants have also been scientifically classified as the plant family Cannabaceae sensu stricto (120).

    All Celtidaceae varieties are dioecious perennials (i.e. male and female flowering plants living longer than two growing seasons).

    The Cannabaceae sensu stricto (“s.s.”) family are all dioecious having either twining or erect stems. C. humulus L. genera plants have “bines” and are perennials, while C. cannabis L. genera plants have erect stems and are annuals (i.e. living only one growing season).

    Referring again to FIG. 1, the genus Cannabis was formerly placed in the Nettle or Urticaceae (140) genus; or the Mulberry or Moraceae (150) genus. Later, along with the Humulus genus, Cannabis was placed in a separate family–Cannabaceae s.s. (120), as illustrated in FIG. 1.

    Recent phylogenetic studies strongly suggest that the Cannabaceae s.s. family arose from within the former Celtidaceae family, and that the two families should be merged to form a single monophyletic family, the family Cannabaceae s.l. In layperson’s terms, C. humulus L. and C. cannabis L. genera varieties are genetically like “little trees”.

    Being genetically related to, and arising from, the former Celtidaceae family, some varieties of family Cannabaceae s.s. share the trait of root systems which can tolerate temperatures well below 32.degree. F. for long periods of time.

    C. humulus L. varieties are perennials as are former Celtidaceae family plants (trees). Being perennials, the plant shoot dies back to the root crown every growing season; that is, the plant goes dormant each growing season and “re-sprouts” at the start of the next growing season.

    In a related way, C. cannabis L. varieties share some common traits with Celtidaceae trees, although all C. cannabis L. varieties are annuals. One trait some C. cannabis L. varieties share with Celtidaceae trees and some C. humulus L. varieties, is a root system tolerant of temperatures approaching or below 32.degree. F. for long periods of time.

    However, most Cannabaceae s.s. varieties possessing this “low temperature root tolerance” are typically and errantly thought to be intolerant overall of temperatures below approximately 50 to 60.degree. F.

    In fact, some C. cannabis L. varieties can tolerate low root system temperatures throughout development. Additionally, some C. cannabis L. varieties can tolerate increasingly lower root system temperatures when the plant shoot is maintained at known “optimal” temperatures for a particular varietal strain.

    This Cannabaceae s.s. low temperature root tolerance trait coupled with known physiological ontogenic changes caused by shoot to root temperature differentials during plant growth, may be exploited to modify the plant’s physiological ontogeny, and thus improve desired plant organ development for industrial, scientific, and medical purposes.

    In known horticultural and agricultural systems, the temperature of the growing medium, such as soil, soil replacements, liquids, air-misting, aquaponic reservoirs, and the like, maintain the plant root system temperature within a few degrees of the air/gas mixture about the plant shoot. In other words, in known systems, “the roots are as hot as the shoot”.

    However, by maintaining a plant shoot to root temperature differential by lowering the root temperature, the dissolved oxygen saturation level of the nutrient solution within the growth medium may be increased which in turn increases the oxygen and nutrient uptake of the plant. In basic terms; the lower the growth medium nutrient solution temperature, the more oxygen may be dissolved within the solution. This increased dissolved oxygen increases the permeability of the plant roots to water and minerals, which increases plant nutrient uptake, thus increasing the growth rate and overall health of the plant.

    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/published-patent-applications-mean-business-saint-brand-cannabis/

    June 12, 2019 at 8:08 pm Reply
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    Albert W Johnson

    I’ve got prostrate cancer I need the right combination help me please thank you for your time

    June 16, 2019 at 1:20 am Reply

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