This article appears in Volume 5 – Issue 1 of SKUNK Magazine.
SKUNK CAUGHT UP with an esteemed member of the Royal Family of Dutch Genetics, Sensi Seeds’ Alan Dronkers. The elusive cannapreneur rarely gives interviews, but was more than happy to share a few thoughts on the bud breeding biz with us.
AN OBVIOUS QUESTION FIRST: WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE STRAIN?
For my tastes, it has to be Northern Lights #5 x Haze. It’s been over 15 years since this strain was perfected and released to the public and in many respects she remains unsurpassed. There are few other varieties expressing the Haze taste and high so powerfully.
Before NL#5xHaze, only a select circle of growers with access to the original Haze genotype could experience those qualities at their best. And true Haze plants were very difficult to grow successfully, even if they could be found. NL#5xHaze captures the sublime qualities of the legendary Haze and adds the best features of indica.
Northern Lights #5 – the mother of this hybrid – is one of the finest indica genotypes we’ve ever seen. She lends her weight in every way – enhancing the effect, the yield and the taste of the Haze.
Jack Herer always deserves a mention. Mr Herer himself is a very important activist, which is why Sensi named one of their best creations in his honour. Jack Herer, the strain, is another excellent balance of sativa and indica – she’s even more potent than NL#5xHaze and can finish faster. Jack’s buds are solid and incredibly resinous, even if they don’t get to the same outrageous size as NL#5xHaze.
Our very high opinion of Jack Herer has been confirmed by the Dutch Bureau of Medicinal Cannabis. Since the start of Holland’s state-sponsored medi-wiet program, patients with a prescription for medicinal cannabis receive one particular strain from their local pharmacies. Those official-looking yellow containers marked ‘Bedrocan’ are actually full of Jack Herer buds.
ARE ANY PLANTS UNIQUE TO THE HEMPFLAX COLLECTION?
It depends how you look at it. There’s certainly no other library of distinct genotypes equal to the one preserved here. This collection is unique, whether we’re talking about the number of individual plants, the range of cannabis types they represent, or the important qualities each one possesses.
Also, the breeding work performed at the facility allowed us to accumulate a base of knowledge that’s nearly as valuable as the plants themselves.
In the nineties and earlier, we were able to accomplish a lot with the medicinal and psychoactive plants in the Sensi collection. In recent years, all breeding work has been focused on fibre-hemp strains for HempFlax.
The end result is a very good understanding of the genotypes, including their more subtle qualities. Some features are obvious in a plant; others may only show themselves in its offspring or when bred with a particular individual. The only way to catalogue all the variations and possibilities is through decades of trials, observation and detailed recordkeeping.
WHAT ABOUT UNIQUE SENSI SEEDS BREEDING PLANTS?
There are lots of hybrids that represent intermediate steps in different breeding programs. These genotypes were very useful in creating stable seed-strains, but were never released as hybrids themselves. That means they’re not ‘famous’ plants, so it’s very unlikely they exist anywhere outside the facility.
Certain famous breeding plants came to Sensi Seed Bank as clones many years ago, so some of these might exist in other collections. There were opportunities for other breeders to obtain the same clones, if they’ve been collecting since the Eighties.
Since then, breeding has become very competitive, leading to much more secrecy and less sharing of information. There’s less sharing of genes too, but that was never very common. When heritage genes and important breeding-stock were spread around in the past, it was usually because the people studying and preserving them were unable to continue such work and passed their precious plants on to people who could continue to protect and perfect them.
In normal circumstances, most breeders guard their gene-stock very closely.There’s no way to be sure which plants still exist in their original form outside the facility. I just know that we have them all here!
In another way, the important genes are definitely out there, all over the world, because Sensi Seeds have been available to the public for a long time. The genes exist in many different combinations and proportions, but they’re all available.
When we first released Jack Herer, there was nothing else like her. Unique flower formation with long spirals of swollen calyxes and amazing resin density – we’d never seen buds like that at the facility and we’d seen a lot of plants by that stage.
In the last ten years, other breeders have released varieties displaying that special bud formation or variations of it – sometimes as a rare occurrence, sometimes quite reliably among certain strains’ best phenotypes.
That’s just one example. I’ve seen many signs that Sensi Seeds are being worked with and played with all over the world. Some people are just having fun; others have been working seriously and making further stabilised hybrids from Sensi strains.
YOU SEEM HAPPY ABOUT THAT.
Of course! We’d never seek to control the genes or restrict people from working with them, even if such a thing were possible. The idea that any person or business can ‘patent’
a set of naturally occurring genes is a dangerous one. Just ask Dr. Vandana Shiva.
Sensi Seeds has many registered strains – defined by the way each hybrid expresses its genetic makeup to display a particular set of qualities. But no one actually owns the genes, the building blocks underneath it all. People are free to use them as they wish.
Some breeders will give credit where credit is due if they release a new hybrid based on established strains and we appreciate a mention. If not, we don’t get too upset.
IS IT TRUE THAT THE QUALITY OF F2 SEEDS IS INFERIOR TO THE F1 OR PARENT GENERATION?
No, not necessarily. Seeds in the F2 generation will definitely show more variation than the parent generation.
Randomly produced or poorly selected hybrids often have unfavourable qualities in their genes that may be unseen in the F1 generation, but become inbred in F2 offspring.
When seeds are made from a good F1 hybrid, every part of their genetic makeup can be traced back to selected parents. If every plant in a strain’s breeding history has a good pedigree, variation in later generations can be an advantage. The range of variation in the offspring often produces very interesting phenotypes. Serendipity definitely plays a role in cannabis breeding.
The aim of breeding is to produce seeds which consistently display certain selected traits.This is done by identifying desirable qualities and crossing selected offspring with each other and with the parent generations.
The originators of a strain have advantages, such as being able to cross any generation back to the original breeding plants and (in years gone by) the ability to grow many seed-offspring for selection. On top of that, breeders who control their plants’ light cycles can take several steps in the hybridisation process each year.
Those three things—preservation of genotypes, manipulation of photoperiod and selection from large numbers of offspring—allowed many decades of breeding work to be performed in the Netherlands in the short time when such things were possible.
For most growers, preserving a spectacular phenotype as a mother plant for as long as possible is much easier than trying to reproduce her special qualities in seed offspring.