Cannabis Cultivation: Choosing Which Strains to Grow – a 3 part series

cannabis cultivation

Choosing which strains to grow in your commercial cannabis facility should be most largely influenced by demand. The recreational cannabis market has seen steadfast strains consistently sell well. But, it has also seen strains come and go as perceptions of plant strains influence the market. The type of patient needs and their numbers likewise influence demand at the medical level.

Cannabis is a complex plant. It can be overwhelming trying to understand how the varied aspects of marijuana influence a person’s appreciation for it. However, the aspects influencing a person’s preference for specific strains can be boiled down to two basic elements: how it makes them feel and the flavor appeal. The challenge for cultivators is choosing plants that produce the desired effects and flavors, yet also generate healthy and robust harvests.

Recently, our understanding of what makes specific strains produce their various effects and flavors has developed rapidly. These types of conversations use to be dominated by discussions of the Sativa-Indica dichotomy. This was followed by comparisons of THC-CBD and other cannabinoids. But now we see increased discussion around terpenes and flavonoids. Advances in breeding, genetics and horticulture technologies have also taken great strides. These areas of origin, makeup and cultivation combine as key factors in considering which strains to grow for commercial cannabis.

PART I: Origins, Landrace Strains and Cannabis Varieties

Cannabis originates from Central Asia and was spread outside of the region by humans. Consequently, cannabis grew as both a wild and cultivated plant in regions across the world. Cannabis plants that developed a consistent set of characteristics through adaptation and/or cultivation are referred to as landrace strains. Some believe that genetics carried by landrace strains are optimal because they perpetuate natural chemical profiles and resiliencies. They are, thus, more in line with natural-based medicine and more inclined for larger, healthier yields.

The characteristics of these plants divide them into cannabis subspecies: Indica, Sativa and the lesser known Ruderalis. Purity is uncommon and most strains that we see today are hybrids, which display a variety of attributes.



Cannabis ruderalis grows wild in the Northern Himalayas, Northeastern Europe and Midwestern United States. It is shorter, with a larger stem-than-leaf ratio. It is also more resistant to mold/mildew/pests and contains virtually no THC. When bred with Sativas and Indicas, it can produce autoflowering hybrids.

Due to these attributes, Ruderalis is not used on its own for medical or recreational marijuana. While it’s mostly grown for commercial hemp, recent success breeding with Sativa and Indica strains should increase its use.

Indica and Sativa

While described as a species alongside Sativa and Indica, it’s argued that Ruderalis is a subspecies of farmed Sativas that escaped into the wild. Another theory is Ruderalis were rogue drifters gone wild from Central Asian Indicas.

New taxonomy research leans toward defining Indicas and Sativas based on their ethno-botanical evolution. Indicas are plants that were primarily grown for their psychotropic effect, while Sativas were generally grown for industrial use. This taxonomy, while possibly more accurate, doesn’t fit common descriptions of what defines Indica versus Sativa.

Despite new taxonomy research and the rarity of pure Indica or Sativa strains, there are common qualities for each that are helpful to keep in mind. Here are a few:


Indica-dominant plants are described to:

  • Have maintained their origins closer to Central Asia
  • Have shorter growth cycles
  • Produce broader leaves
  • Grow shorter and more robust
  • Produce an intoxicating effect that is more sedative and full-body
  • Common Indica-dominant landrace strains are:
    • Afghani
    • Hindu Kush
    • Ketama
    • Lashkar Gah
    • Pakistan Valley
  • Popular Indica-dominant hybrid strains are:
    • Grandaddy Purple
    • Bubba Kush
    • Northern Lights
    • White Rhino
    • Super Skunk


Sativa-dominant plants are described to:

  • Originate in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Americas
  • Have longer growth cycles
  • Produce skinnier leaves
  • Grow taller and thinner
  • Produce an intoxicating effect that is more uplifting and heady
  • Common Sativa-dominant landrace strains are:
    • Acapulco Gold
    • Colombian Gold
    • Durban Poison
    • Kilimanjaro
    • Malawi
    • Panama Red
    • South African Kwazulu
    • Thai
  • Popular Sativa-dominant hybrid strains are:
    • Jack Herer
    • Super Lemon Haze
    • Strawberry Cough
    • Maui Wowie
    • Candyland

As we have mentioned, it more common to find hybrid strains, which tend to be Sativa- or Indica-dominant. Commercial cultivation of cannabis has multiplied the variety of hybrids, with each one possessing attributes from its Sativa or Indica lineage. Popular hybrid strains are:

  • Blue Dream
  • Girl Scout Cookies
  • OG Kush
  • White Widow
  • Gorilla Glue

We’ve now touched on a more comprehensive overview of cannabis subspecies, origins, landrace strains and varieties. With it, we have a better perspective of the history and complexities that have commonly been overlooked. We put to rest the outdated ideas of the Indica-Sativa dichotomy and genetic purity of strains. We can move forward and take a closer look at elements of different strains.

In the second part of Cannabis Cultivation: Choosing which strains to grow, we look at how the chemical compounds that interact with the human endocannabinoid system influence the feel and flavors in different cannabis varieties.

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