Fossilized Cannabis Reveals The Plant is 27.8 Million Years Old

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

“Clocking” the Age of Cannabis
Scientists have long searched for the origins of cannabis. Or at least, for the original wild landrace strain of this infamous medical plant. Common thought places the original plant in locations across Asia. However, scientists weren’t so sure of the precise original location.
Accurately determining when and where cannabis evolved was extremely difficult due to the lack of a strong print fossil record, or an impression of leaves or fruits in rocks. For a plant like cannabis, that lacks a good fossil record, paleobotanists can cause a “ molecular clock.” This allows them to estimate when cannabis and its sister species humiliated (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.
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 out 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. In this case, the pollen was the unknown. Researchers aged it with radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating measures the amount of radiation (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 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, th date wasn’t close enough.
Further research of the region and tracking of a plant called Artemsia, which has a close alliance nd parallel evolutionary pattern to cannabis m, pinpointed the a northeastern Tibetan plateau as the cannabis center of origin. At the time, the Tibetan Plateau created an environment that supported the theory that cannabinoids developed to protect the plant from UV rays and herbivores. These are both issues in the high altitude, open grasslands Tibetan Plateau.

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