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South Africa - Rooibaard


darko.gh

This article is the third of a new series focused on the most important landraces of cannabis. All the thousands of strains of cannabis we use today are derived from a limited number of landraces, which have been used for medicinal, religious and recreational purposes during centuries. Cannabis originated in central Asia, and from there it has spread to all corners of the world. Sometimes helped by nature, sometimes by man, cannabis seeds have conquered inimmaginable distances, spreading their genetics, adapting to new environments, changing their carachteristics, and therefore resulting in countless combinations. Some of these combinations stabilized themselves through imbreeding, and resulted in landraces. Some of these landraces have preserved themselves, isolated in remote areas of the planet with no contact with other cannabis strains for long periods of time.

My name is Franco, my passion is cannabis, and my work is strain-hunting for Green House Seed Company.

And this is the history of:

South African Rooibaard

South Africa is an amazing country, with very diverse climates and people. One of the strongest ethnic groups in South Africa is represented by the Afrikaaners, descendants of the first groups of Dutch colonizers who fought against the British for their new land and the preservation of their culture. Eventually they lost the war, and they merged into the white ruling minority that kept the country under apartheid regime until 1994. But their language and culture survived, and today they live peacefully side by side with white anglo-saxons and blacks, trying to transform the nation into a model of democracy and economic boom. During my travels in South Africa I had many encounters with old Afrikaaner smokers, people who have been growing cannabis since the 1950s or 1960s, under a very repressive regime with no tolerance for the plant. And from those people I first heard the stories of the Rooibaard (Afrikaaner for red beard), a plant that was considered the best smoke on African soil south of the Equator, way before the Durban Poison was created in the 1970s. According to the stories, the Rooibaard was discovered somewhere in the Transkei region, a vast coastal area stretching south of Durban for hundreds of kilometers. At the time the Transkei was a “homeland”, a segregation area created by the apartheid regime to host hundreds of thousands of slaves and plantation workers. It was not considered part of the South African state, and this allowed the construction of gambling resorts, a booming industry at the time. The Transkei became rapidly a holiday spot for rich white South Africans looking for gambling thrills and good bud. Some legendary entreprenurial carachters gave birth to a very lucrative trade, organizing the transport and distribution of Transkei weed to Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, and later on to Europe and the international markets. But not all weed coming from the Transkei was the same. There were many variations on the same sativa landrace, with some areas consistently producing higher grade bud than others. The most amazing of all weed was always the Rooibaard, a skinny-bud sativa with long red hairs and a reddish glow in the resin.

The Rooibaard became the choice of growers around South Africa, but at the time very few white people were growing cannabis, weed was exclusively produced by black communities on rural land. So nobody ever kept a mother plant. People relied on the seeds to keep the genetics alive, but like it happened for the Durban Poison, eventually the traits merged with other lower-grade weed and the Rooibaard got lost.

When I traveled through the Transkei in 2006 I spent a great deal of time looking for this landrace, and even though I came very close more than once, I can honestly say that I never felt like I really scored it. During my travels I came across several isolated areas where cross-pollination with other strains or landraces is not a real issue, but the seeds I recovered were never uniform, always showing several phenos and few isolated individuals with traits that vaguely resembled the descriptions I heard and the rare pictures I had seen. What I was really looking for was a tall, long internode sativa plant, with a very typical long thin bud, covered in thick, long and dense red hairs, and with a reddish glow on the resin, almost a golden shine similar to that of single-malt whyskys. And in the hills of the Transkei I found many good sativa individuals, some of them with amazing red hairs, but not quite as they should have been. The sativa phenos that I found all had less reddish of a look, and the hairs were never extremely thick nor dense. I found several plants with a very golden resin, and with reddish calyxes, but I was sure not to be in front of the real Rooibaard.

During the many nights spent next to the campfire, several of the people that helped me in the hunt told me that they had seen and smoked the real Rooibaard up until the 1980s, some say until the 1990s, when it was still available in some selected Johannesburg and Cape Town groups. But all of them agreed that what we found was a watered-down version of the original. Too many years of large scale marijuana production in the areas, with very little attention to pulling the males, have created a big mix of traits and carachters, resulting in a landrace that is now known as TK, or Transkei, and that carries the inheritance of the original Rooibaard, mixed with genetics imported from India, and other parts of Africa, over the last 40 years. One time only I had the chance to see a bud that was truly covered in thick, red hairs, and smelled very sweet and fruity for a sativa. A ranger of a Game Reserve (national parks for large herds of animals) showed it to me, and said it was from a secret patch he was growing.

I spent a few hours smoking it, I truly enjoyed it, great taste and a very uplifting, energyzing high. But I could not find a single ripe seed in it, so I could not retrieve the genetics. The man who gave it to me knew, and laughed when I made a remark about the green seeds. Was it the real deal? I don’t know, and probably I never will know. On one hand I hope that the Rooibaard is still there, hidden in the thick vegetation or under the powerful glow of a MH lamp inside a mother room, somewhere in South Sfrica; jealously preserved in great secrecy, to be enjoyed by few selected individuals. On the other hand I know that today there are several young growers in South Africa who are trying to recreate the Rooibaard, by breeding the TK into some orange red-haired strain (the favorites of choice being the Californian Orange or the Orange Bud). It is a small scale, scattered experiment, and the results are likely to be enjoyed in the privacy of very selected groups, never reaching the international markets. But it’s the proof that a great landrace from the past has not disappeared, it has just gone underground to protect itself from globalization. South Africa is a huge country where man and nature live a very intertwined life, and where globalization and progress run faster than anywhere else on the African continent.

South Africans are getting used to high-grade outdoor bud from Lesotho, Swaziland and Malawi, asx well as indoor high-grade from Canadian and Dutch seedbanks, grown hydroponically in Cape Town or Johannesburg. The markets evolve rapidly, and travel and internet speed up the process even more. But the legendary Rooibaard still one of the most-wanted buds for South African smokers. In 2010 South Africa will host the FIFA World Cup and millions of tourists will have a chance to see their teams play in one of the most amazing countries in Africa, and some will sample some South African bud. I wonder how many will get to sample the real Rooibaard.

Franco – Green House Seed Co.

This content is copyright of Green House Seed Co. © Green House Seed Co. All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited other than the following:You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content. Nor may you transmit it or store it in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.


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Could not have explained it better (the history ect) Great article. If anyone gets the chance to tour SA i highly recommend the Transkei (wild coast) probably the most beautiful untouched piece of land in SA.

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i got a chance to smoke some good rooibaard a few years ago. got a fat bankie for R50-00. Was really good smoke! havent heard of the rooibaard in a few good years.

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Rooibaard is alive and well. Very confusing article. Sorry Franco, I dont think this is a very well written article and sorry you did not find it. Just my opinion.

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About us

Strain Hunters is a series of documentaries aimed at informing the general public about the quest for the preservation of the cannabis plant in the form of particularly vulnerable landraces originating in the poorest areas of the planet.

Cannabis, one of the most ancient plants known to man, used in every civilisation all over the world for medicinal and recreational purposes, is facing a very real threat of extinction. One day these plants could be helpful in developing better medications for the sick and the suffering. We feel it is our duty to preserve as many cannabis landraces in our genetic database, and by breeding them into other well-studied medicinal strains for the sole purpose of scientific research.

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