Cannabeginners: The History of Romulan

Possibly the first “celebrity” cannabis cultivar.

Like many of the earliest cultivars bred in modern times, the exact origins and history of Romulan are more shrouded than the Jem’Hadar. 

Who Created it?

Like Blue Dream, the exact origins of Romulan are a bit of a mystery, but unlike Blue Dream, there is pretty wide consensus around who the original breeder was, and also like Blue Dream, there is a Santa Cruz connection. Romulan is widely believed to have been bred by the cultivator Romulan Joe (formerly known as Mendocino Joe), who was involved with Sacred Seeds along with other legends like Skunkman Sam and Maple Leaf Wilson. Sacred Seeds was based out of the Santa Cruz area until they were raided in 1982, and the members split up around the globe, and Mendocino Joe made the trek up to Victoria in British Columbia (BC), and became Romulan Joe. Once he got up to Canada in the 1980’s, Federation Seeds (now Next Generation Seeds) got a cutting from Romulan Joe and now they are the main suppliers of Romulan genetics.

Or at least, that is one story. Another story that can be found online is that “Legend has it that Canadian growers started breeding this strain in the 1950s,” suggesting that it was a mix of “Korean, Columbian, Afghan, and Mexican genes.” Whoever created Next Generation Seed Company’s page on the Seedfinder website claims to have “had many conversations on the origin of this strain” with Romulan Joe, and the purported facts of those conversations echo that alternate storyline. According to Seedfinder, Joe said “the original breeders started growing in their backyard and greenhouse in the 50s, after being introduced to cannabis in the Korean war and bringing home seeds to Victoria.” In the 60s and 70s, as Mexican and Colombian genetics made it to BC those got mixed in, and finally in the 1980s when Afghani genetics got to Canada those further got crossed into Romulan. That final step of Afghan genetics being added to the mix might be Romulan Joe’s contribution, as Afghani genetics had arrived in California before BC. As it is not clear who wrote that page on Seedfinder, it is impossible to verify if that person has ever truly spoken to Romulan Joe. 

What are the Genetics of Romulan?

As there are two main stories about who first bred it and where it was first bred, it shouldn’t surprise you that there are at least two competing theories about the genetics. The first theory is that it is a cross of a North American Indica landrace with White Rhino. This theory seems somewhat dubious, as cannabis was not native to the Americas until it came over with colonizing armies in the form of hemp, which over years adapted to become cannabis, with higher cannabinoid and terpene contents. That doesn’t mean there can’t be such a thing as a North American landrace, but there is little evidence of those existing before people brought them here to be cultivated (which makes it definitely not a landrace, as those are cultivars bred by nature not humans). 

A more believable version of that first theory is that Romulan was bred from a Afghani indica landrace, which in 1996 Federation Seeds saved “from near-extinction by crossing it with the popular White Rhino indica.” Due to generations of back-crossing, it is estimated that under 3% of the White Rhino genetics remain, making Romulan fairly close to a pure indica Afghani landrace. Some sources refer to the original Afghani landrace genetics as being from “a group of cultivars in the 1980s called Blue Indicas.” The Blue Indicas are believed to have gotten their name because they have elevated levels of anthocyanin and can turn bluish-purple in cold climates, like up in BC. 

The alternate theory, which holds that Romulan originated way back in the 50s in Canada, says it is a mixture of Korean, Columbian, Afghan, and Mexican landrace genetics. While it certainly could be a combination of all those landraces, it seems odd that something which is half sativa-leaning Mexican and Colombian genetics would be a pure indica. If the source on that Seedfinder page is to be believed, this theory of Romulan’s genetics is the one supported by Romulan Joe himself, which would lend some credibility to it if one can believe that page. According to the lore, the Mexican and Colombian genetics were hidden by phenotypic selection for plants that presented as indicas (they grew smaller and denser, which is better for colder climates like in BC). 

A Cultivar with an Out of This World Flavor

Romulan has a unique scent flavor unlike many of the cultivars you will find in dispensaries today, it is both earthy and piney (like rich in pinene) and also sweet and citrusy. Romulan’s scent has been reported to be “a chemical blast of pine (think Pine-Sol, but less toxic), with varying degrees of citrus, black pepper or lavender playing supporting roles.” The flavor has been described, almost poetically, as having “a zesty aftertaste with skunky notes jumping around the back of my tongue, but they’re both minimal compared to Romulan’s thick, resinous pine flavors.”

Star Trek Romulan costume, photo by Doug Kline

What is a Romulan, and Could it be the First “Celebrity” Cultivar?

Given the underground nature of the cannabis industry in the early days, it is hard to know for sure what the first celebrity cultivar ever was, but if rumors are to be believed that Canadian cultivators have been growing Romulan since the 1950s, it could be one of the first cultivars named for a famous person, show, or movie. As Star Trek fans will know, a “Romulan” is a member of an alien race from the planet Romulus. Romulans are known to have foreheads with a huge V in them. An old joke about the cultivar Romulan is that it is so potent it can “dent your head,” and that is believed to be the origin for the name. However, Star Trek wasn’t created until 1966, which means there was more than a decade of Romulan existing when it was known by another name, and what that original name was has been lost to history.

So no matter who bred it, or what its exact genetics are, the next time you are looking for some new bud to try, look for some Romulan and dent your head. 

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