Some cannabis strains have had a profound impact on the modern cannabis space. Most of these strains were created decades ago by pioneer cannabis breeders with a vision to create something different and special. Through selective breeding of some of the commonly imported landrace strains of those times, these breeders created strains so unique that their impact is still felt in modern cannabis breeding programs.
These cornerstone strains are the foundation of new strains that are legendary in their own right. Since the creation of these strains date back to times when legal cannabis was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, some of these breeders protected their true identities behind aliases and handles in a similar way that people maintain an identity on some internet communities. Cannabis development occurred mostly in the United States and the Netherlands. Since Amsterdam has been famous for years for its lax cannabis law enforcement, a tremendous amount of strain development has occurred there—much of it from genetics from America. Many U.S. cannabis breeders established themselves in Amsterdam and did business there, but since cannabis is now legal on both sides of the Pond, that situation has changed a bit, with many people returning home.
A few of the people and companies included here made their mark in more recent years, but their contributions to the world of cannabis are significant due to their award-winning strains that impacted modern cannabis breeding. Today, new strains emerge constantly and the new cannabis “flavor of the week” may soon be forgotten, but the strains on this list have staying power, and just about all of them are still found in dispensaries nationwide. Let’s take a look back to learn more about some of these special strains and their impact on current cannabis genetics.
The story of Haze goes back to the ’60s and early ’70s. This legendary sativa has roots in the Santa Cruz area of California where the mysterious “Haze brothers” (R. Haze and J. Haze) used some of the popular sativa imports of those years to breed something new that would thrive and finish outdoors in California’s mild and temperate climate. Crossing Mexican and Colombian sativa strains started the Haze breeding process. The best females from this cross were then bred to a strain from southern India. To complete the genetic circle, the resulting females from these three strains were bred to a Thai male.
As you might guess, the result was very unstable, with numerous phenotypes, most of which had long finishing times that made them difficult to grow even in California’s forgiving climate. Some of these plants were quite good, with traits that made them noteworthy and special. The classic Haze strain that ultimately resulted from this breeding, is a classic with such exquisite and tasty terpenes that once you’ve tried it you’ll likely never forget it. Even strains that contain Haze are usually obvious with just one sniff. The piney, minty notes are very distinctive.
Haze has been a foundation strain for a host of Haze spinoff strains, including Super Silver Haze, Super Lemon Haze, Amnesia Haze, SAGE, Jack Herer, Jack Flash (a short stature, quick-finishing spin-off of Jack Herer), and several others. You can still purchase seeds of the original Haze today, and it remains a timeless classic. Its pure form is certain to please anyone with a preference for sativa strains.
Skunk #1 is another legendary strain with roots in California. A tremendous number of classic strains contain this potent and stable cornerstone strain. The strain was originally produced by Sacred Seeds, which was really just a group of friends who were growers. One of the main players in this tribe, David Watson (aka Sam the Skunkman) started with classic Acapulco Gold and Colombian Gold, two heavily imported varieties during that time. To that cross, they added a pure Afghani indica to the mix for a sativa-dominant strain that eventually stabilized into a plant with excellent consistency. Skunk #1 is known for potency, excellent plant structure, and dense buds that have an outstanding calyx-to-leaf ratio.
During the ’80s, Skunk #1 made its way to Amsterdam where breeders crossed it with other strains to create a wide variety of “skunk” strains. Through selective breeding, the Dutch companies produced a skunk with very different flavors that are sweet rather than sweet-and-skunky like the original California version.
Skunk #1 was used to create several notable strains, including Shiva Skunk, Big Bud, Super Skunk, Mazar, Critical Mass, Ultra Skunk, Orange Bud, and Lemon Skunk, to name just a handful. There is no question that Skunk #1 has had a massive impact on cannabis breeding in America as well as Europe, and it remains a popular strain for breeding to this day, as well as a popular strain in its pure form.
A frosty classic with a unique and balanced high, this potent Dutch strain is the building block for the entire “white family” of strains, which includes White Rhino, Great White Shark, and several others. Controversy surrounds White Widow and its development, with two notable breeders claiming the honor of creating it.
What most people can agree on is that White Widow was first introduced to the public by Greenhouse Seeds in the mid ’90s and won a cannabis cup competition the following year—which immediately made the strain desirable and sought by cultivators and consumers alike. From there, the stories diverge.
One side of the argument maintains that White Widow is actually a select version of an established strain called Arnhem’s Wonder created by Dutch cannabis breeder Ingemar De Sjamaan nearly a full decade earlier, in the mid ’80s. By the late ’80s, Arnhem’s Wonder earned respect and recognition by winning the High Life Cup. Greenhouse Seeds was next to acquire these genetics. In Seedfinder EU, Arjan Roskam, the founder of Greenhouse, explains the creation of White Widow: “Ingemar (De Sjamaan) invented White Widow already in 1987 … It was called Arnhem’s Wonder and already won the first High Life cup in 1989 … For those who don’t believe this, please call Coffeeshop Catweazle or Roger from the grow shop; they worked with Ingmar for a long time. Roger has always sold the clones he had. He had a famous grow shop in Nijmegen. I bought the male and female among other plants in 1992 and only crossed them in 1994. I did not have to do any breeding on the White Widow at that time because Ingemar had already done it for us. And to this day, you can still buy original clones of the White Widow in that area of Holland.”
This account differs greatly from another member of the Greenhouse Seed team, Australian cannabis cultivator Scott Blakey, who goes by the name Shantibaba. Blakey maintains that he acquired some of the White Widow genetics while traveling in the Keralan region of Southern India. After meeting a farmer there, he sampled some of the man’s indica plants and bought some seeds that he brought back to Amsterdam. Later, he crossed these genetics to Brazilian sativa, and the result became the White Widow strain. After internal conflict and disagreement at Greenhouse, Shantibaba left and joined Mr. Nice Seeds, where he called his genetics, Black Widow, because Greenhouse owned the White Widow name. Both seed companies maintain that the genetics go back to Southern Indian indica and Brazilian sativa.
This classic indica-dominant but nicely balanced strain is one of the early purple strains that was developed on (you guessed it) the West Coast, Oregon to be exact. Pioneer cannabis breeder DJ Short is known for his love of Thai, and his books on cannabis breeding describe the common varieties that cannabis enthusiasts who were around back then remember fondly—specifically a highland Thai Short calls Juicy Fruit Thai, and a Chocolate Thai. Both of these Thais live up to their names with regard to flavor. Short combined sativa genetics from Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and Thailand to create his Blueberry. A critical cross in this creation was a Purple Thai created from Oaxacan Mexican and Chocolate Thai. These sativa strains were crossed in various ways, and a pure Afghani was brought into the mix to add a healthy dose of indica.
The resulting Blueberry often develops pleasing bluish-purple colors thanks to the Purple Thai that’s included in the genetic mix. Blueberry tastes like sweet blueberries and has a color to match, which makes it quite extraordinary (good job, Mr. Short).
Blueberry has been used in the breeding of numerous noteworthy strains, including Skywalker, Bubbleberry, Blue Cheese, Blue Dream, and several other strains in the “blue family.” Other strains that share genetics with Blueberry and were grown and worked with by DJ Short are Flo and Blue Moonshine. Blueberry remains a popular strain and also makes a great cornerstone strain to use in breeding endeavors.
This indica classic is another strain originally from the West Coast, but this time the Pacific Northwest rather than California—although some claim that it was first created in California before going to the Seattle area. The sweet, spicy, and subtle skunkiness of Northern Lights has made it a memorable classic for decades. It’s been used extensively in breeding projects in both America and Amsterdam. Early in its history, there were 11 phenos that were grown, the two most highly regarded being No. 1 and No. 5.
The exact genetics of Northern Lights are not absolutely certain, but most people agree that they contain Afghani and Thai. Although its roots are in America, much of the Northern Lights breeding has taken place in Amsterdam by Sensi Seeds. This strain is known for its rapid flowering time and hardy nature. It thrives in most places where it’s grown. This fact, along with Northern Lights’ sticky potency and pleasing terpenes, has made it immensely popular in its pure form and as a cornerstone strain in breeding projects.
Northern Lights has been used to create a tremendous number of notable strains. This, and its long history, is why it made this iconic strain list. Strains that contain it include many cup winners and industry standards like Shiva Skunk, Super Silver Haze, Black Domina, Hash Plant, Aurora B, and too many others to list. As one of the purest and hard-hitting indica strains out there, Northern Lights and its genetics will no doubt continue to play a huge role in future strain development. It has huge potential as a medical strain for a variety of applications, including insomnia and pain relief. It remains immensely popular in its pure form and is one of the easiest strains to locate in dispensaries and adult-use cannabis stores. Anyone who loves indica and hasn’t tried Northern Lights should seek it out immediately—they’ll be happy they did.
The amazing Chemdawg has a background quite unlike the other iconic strains in this article because its lineage is largely unknown, but its impact on modern cannabis genetics is undeniable. The fact that it’s a parent to both OG Kush and Sour Diesel—two cannabis strain legends in their own right—is reason enough for why it makes this iconic strain list. Both OG Kush and Sour Diesel have spawned their own families of strain, making Chemdawg and its uncertain genetics even more intriguing.
Popular legend varies a bit about Chemdawg’s origin, but most agree that this strain was created in Colorado. A potent batch of bud was purchased by a Massachusetts resident, who happened to be a grower, from a group of Colorado growers at a Grateful Dead concert in 1991. The Coloradoans referred to the bud as “dog bud” (since its strength made people roll over like a dog) or “chem weed” for its chemical-fuel aroma and flavor. The combined term Chemdawg eventually emerged from this, and the strain is known by this name to this day. The Massachusettsan was enamored of the flower since it had such unique and pungent terpenes.
A relationship emerged from this meeting, and following the Dead tour the Colorado crew sent some additional Chemdawg flower back east to their new friend. From that batch of flower, the East Coast grower found several seeds—a baker’s dozen—and tucked them away to put to good use. Fortunately, the proud new owner of these seeds was an accomplished enough grower to eventually establish the strain on the East Coast. One of the first plants he grew, he called “’91 Chemdawg” and another plant was a pheno that earned the name “Chemdawg D.” Four of the 13 seeds were eventually sent back to Colorado, where an additional pheno was cultivated and named “Chem 4.”
Today, there are a few phenos available, including sativa-dominant and indica-dominant versions, and the strain has become particularly popular in Colorado and other states.
So, there you have it: thumbnail sketches of cannabis strains that have had a huge influence on the modern cannabis space. Aspiring cannabis breeders would be wise to recognize the significance of these strains and how their genetics continue to play a role in potent strain development. Those who appreciate cannabis owe a debt of gratitude to the various people who played a part in the development of these strains. Each deserves congratulations for a job well done!