What does landrace mean?

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I have asked this question on the pepper forum, started a thread about it on the veggie forum but I have yet to get an answer I can understand. And i have done way too much research on the net. What does landrace mean? Even the answers I've got give me the idea that nobody agrees. Lol

Salem, NY(Zone 4b)

The original description of landrace was that a particular crop became accustomed to the area where it was grown only after several thousands of years due to subtle mutations and it changed and was then adapted to the area.

Two excellent examples you can check via Google are the case of Ethiopian Wheat and also the many cultivars of rice.

Some folks do talk about local adaptation to an area but quite frankly I've never seen that happen in the short number of years that were discussed.

TIme and time again someone will say that they picked the biggist tomato or biggest pepper, etc., saved seeds from those larger fruits and then created a newer adapted variety. I Don't agree.

So landrace to me and many others is what I said above and takes thousands of years for adaptation.


Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

There's a guy in a seed swap I've participated in for several years now who is big on the landrace concept, but I think his approach isn't the same as the adaptation over thousands of years definition.

He doesn't separate out single varieties when he plants, just plants all kinds of seeds together and then saves seeds from the plants that do particularly well, taking care not to save seeds from plants that don't perform well. He's not so much trying to adapt plants to his location or preferences (as I understand it) by, for example, growing one variety of tomato and saving seeds from only the biggest fruits. Rather, he's sifting through a wide variety to find the ones that perform best for him.

He saves seeds from the best plants in his crop (sometimes further narrowing it down by saving seeds for "best early melon" or "sweet corn with big ears") and plants them again the next year, sowing other seeds with them if he's obtained some additional varieties.

In a smaller way, I suppose I created the start of a landrace type mix of seeds when I saved seeds together for all of my best-producing, best-tasting tomato varieties a couple years ago... I was making bruschetta from a pile of my favorite tomatoes (the less favorite ones went into sauce), and I decided to ferment the pile of seeds in my strainer. While it would be fun to just start seeds from that mix next year, I'll probably end up choosing specific must-have varieties instead, as usual.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Most of the definitions ive read say there is a minimal amount of cultivation (human intervention) but not everybody agrees I'm confused. I think critter is on to something but the process should take along time. IMHO. But if it takes 1000s of yrs what makes it different from a wild?

Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

Maybe Joseph (the guy I mentioned) is using the term a little differently... I know he's mentioned that part of the value of growing "landrace" crops is having a large amount of genetic diversity in your seed "population," giving you the best chance of having a decent crop in any given year. I probably should quit contributing somebody else's info indirectly... I'm sure it's like playing "telephone," and I'm likely to get something backwards LOL.

Salem, NY(Zone 4b)

Lisa, what makes adaption happen over thousands of years are the small mutations that occur with the wheat situation which differentiate them from edible species.


Above the Ethiopian Wheat story,


Above, a general Google search re landraces/

And if you read some of those general links you'll see that landraces are by no means just about wheat and rice, since pigs and cattle and horses and much more have developed as landraces.

Carolyn, who did the Google search for you that she suggested above. LOL

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Thanks Carolyn, I did do a bunch of googling over the past couple months, that's how I got more and more confused. Lol I didn't have time to do it today so thank you. I know the term includes flora and fauna. I will check out those links when I have more time.

Critter, please don't stop with the contributions since there doesn't seem to be one easy definition. I do understand the aspects and benefits of a large gene pool and genetic diversity, along with the cumulative effects of spontaneous mutations. If the mutation was beneficial then the plant lives on if not well...

I will check out those links but I really wanted an easy definition. Lol

Westbrook, CT(Zone 6a)

And here I thought 'landrace' referred to the 1893 Oklahoma 2 million acre giveaway. On this forum, you learn something new every day!

Salem, NY(Zone 4b)

There never will be one definition of landrace, the same as there never will be one definition of what the word heirloom means, whether for tomatoes or otherwise.

It is known that genetic diversity exists within a single OP tomato variety but unless trained to see it's easy to miss differences in internode lengths, subtle changes with leaf shapes, subtle differences in terms of ripening, etc.

As to sowing a bunch of seed for a single variety, not all seeds are equal in terms of the endosperm that they have which is related to seed viability and not all persons are equally adept at being successful at seed sowing.

And variability with respect to seed size and the amount of endosprem is more often seen with saved seeds than with purchased seeds.

But for sure OP's and hybrids alike can show seed variability.

Just a few things to think about. ( smile)


Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I understand that spontaneous mutations just happen and are seen in seed/plant variability, but can't the variability also be from an inadvertent x ? Why is the variability seen more in saved seeds?

Don, I like your definition better, Much easier to understand. Lo,

Salem, NY(Zone 4b)

And variability with respect to seed size and the amount of endosprem is more often seen with saved seeds than with purchased seeds.

But for sure OP's and hybrids alike can show seed variability.

lisa, I spoke only to variability in terms of seed size and the amount of endosperm and only in terms of saved seed b'c seed saved by home growers is more heterogeneous than seed that's sold b'c almost all seed companies that I know sort their seeds to get a uniform size and get the debris out , you know, stuff like pieces of tomato tissue, dead maggots, and stuff like that.

The kind of variability I'm talking about rests with the DNA of each specific variety in terms of biological diversity and doesn't have anything to do with any cross pollinations, which can lead to totally new varieties.

Does that help?


Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Yes, that helps. Thank you.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> large gene pool and genetic diversity,

The most usefull meaning of "landrace" (in my opinion) is to refer to the way gene ratios are selected for in populations, over many generations. I believe the original use of the term was to describe how crops evolved in specific regions under "traditional" cultivation - meaning from the invention of agriculture until roughly the Industrial Revolution.

I always thought that (over thousands of years), the main advatage was that it selected for pre-existing genes, consevring the genes that were beneficial in that region, and decreasing the frequency of undesirable genes. But it makes sense that the practice would also c onserve any new, useful mutations that did appear.

One connotation is something like "NOT selected by scientists for minimum gene variety, marketability and reproducible, marketable varieties".

There is also a connotation of "if you preserve as much genetic vaqriety as possible in the POPULATION of seeds you save, you have a better chance of getting some crop to mature in an unusual year, and less chnace that most of a crop will be wiped out by one pest.

It suggests "this is not one specific, named cultivar, it is a bag full of variety".

That's just the way that I like to use the word. I think it is a good "Humpty-Dumpty" word: what YOU mean by it is up to YOU.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Rick, that would be my definition. Kind of like hybrid vigor. I'm on a FB forum and somebody ask this question. I was surprised at how many different answers there were. But, can you explain what would make this different then wilds?

I think it's wilds that are selected, because of different positives ie. earliness, taste, disease resistance. So wilds that are domesticated but not to the point of being genetically identical.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

When you go back as far as 5,000 or 10,000 years, everything was wild!

I read somewhere that the first major crops (grains, mostly, I think) were domesticated (or evolved into greater usefulness) through unconcscious selection at first. Wheat grains that did not "shatter" and fall to the ground too early were "selected for" because people were able to gather them more easily. They could only save and re-plant what they were able to gather and store.

Whatever genes made the seeds tend to survive a year of primitive storage tended ti be selected for, I'm sure. If it died in a granary, it would not pass on genes to the next year's crop.

By replanting the grains that were easiest to collect collect an d store for a few dozen or hundred years, they "selected" for the non-shattering and "long-storing" genes whether they were trying to or not.

By only gathering and replanting grains that survived through diffcult weather or years of heavy pest infestation, they "selected" for genes that were best able too survive the full range of local condidtions.

Once people figured out that plants tend to breed somewhat true, they probably started selcting consciously for traits they valued. After hundreds or thousands of years of that, and not much importation of strains from far away, whatever they had on hand to re-plant each year tended to have more of the genes that survived and were harvested and saved for re-planting.

I'm just saying the eame thing in different ways.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I understand what your saying but I'm using info that's in my head from that FB forum and there was some discussion on the difference between wilds and landraces. I'm getting some of that discussion mixed with this one unintentionally. Then there is phenotypes and genotypes. My background is in Population Biology so Im always interested in the idea of genetically different flora/fauna looking the same in isolated locations because they have evolved to fill the same niche. Ie if it died in the granary in Syberia or Egypt. Ok I'm making my head tired! And boring everybody else.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

I was wondering that Rick. :0)

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> My background is in Population Biology so Im always interested in the idea of genetically different flora/fauna looking the same in isolated locations because they have evolved to fill the same niche

I was recently shocked and horrified to discover that the entire system of grouping and naming bacteria over the last few hundred years was almost entirley bogus. They were grouped according to how they look and act and metbolize and what their cell walls are made of.

So everyone thoguht that similar-looking bugs would be relaqted, right?


Instead these sneaky little so-and-sos evolved to fill every niche and compete within that nich.

Totally unrleated bugs evolved to look an act just like each other.
Very closely related bugs diverged radically to take advantage of different niches.

So now everything is changing. Sneaky living things!! Always outwirting stodgy biologists who expect things to make snese to us!

And I happen to be struggling with some commercial Brassica rapa seeds:
Bok Choy, Tatsoi or Chinese cabbage?
Narinosa group, Pekinensis group or Chinesis group?
chingensai, shakushina or I-forget-how-to-spell ptai sai.

To quote Sc otty from Star Trek: "It's ... green!"
To quote Shakespear, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

That's why there are Theories. Not much engraved in stone. What do you mean struggling with them?

Salem, NY(Zone 4b)

Rick, speaking as a retired Microboiologist who taught Medical students infectious disease and related topics such as the imuunological response, etc., at two med schools and when she moved back East to help care for her parents still taught all aspects of Microbiology at a private liberal arts college, and that meant bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites, I'm not too sure I'd agree with your comment above that the naming and grouping of bacteria srarting 100 years ago, at least, was bogus.

Yes, groups were formed initially, as in Genera, based on what was known at the time, but then the availabilty of metabolic rks and end products happened and that further defined assignments to Genera and species, and then when DNA ID came along that too helped as well as many other tests.

In my time of teaching there were reassignments of species, reassignments of Genera, how well I remember what happened to the Aerobacter genus, but I can't say and won't say that the entire area of grouping into genus and species was bogus starting 100 years ago.

About landraces. I don't agree with everthng that's been written here about how to define them, but you know, I'm reading a very good book, it's raining out and I'm going back to the LV to do that rather than get involved in this landrace discussion. LOL


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

True, "bogus" was a wrong word to use for bacterial taxonomy.

Because I'm more interested in evolutionary "family tree" than in morphology and current metabolic specializations, I always focused on taxonomy as a way of describing ancestral groupings.

For a long time, taxonomy was based on apppearance, metabolism and nature of cell walls (or reaction to stains). I seem to recall,l going back to my junior high school days, that textbooks cavalierly stated that "close in appeaqrance and func tion suggested close in ancestry".

Now, maybe I have forgotten that those textbooks included many qualifications and reservations about those assumptions.

Maybe I made the mistake of assuming that gernera and famlies contained related species and not just "similar-looking" species. And I agree with Lisa (and would go even further) that everything is a theory "until ALL the facts are in", and we will never have "all" the facts on a substance.

The DNA evidence greatly surprised me by causing so MANY species to be moved around to different genuses.
Instead of "bogus", I should have said something like "the morphological, microscopic and metabloic evidence was amazingly misleading for determing how closely related bacterial species are. Their ability to evolve "convergingly" to fit their phenotypes into ecological niches is amazing.

Over the long run, long enoguh for a population of microbes to adapt, environment determines microbial aprearance and metbolism more than the original genome. They are so adaptable that two "brothers" can be very dissimilar and two "unrelated strangerts" can look like twins.

As if one strain of wheat could evolve to look like one turnip and one lettuce.
Or a carrot and a Convolvulus could both evolve to look and taste a lot like lily pads.

I assume ti has to do with how fast microbes evolve and how strongly they are selected: generations measured in minutes, and million or billions of indivuduals c rowding itno the space one carrot would occupy. And they have been evolving for millions or billions of years, whereas crop spec ies have only been subjected to agricultural selection for 5-10 thousand years.

As to landraces, I agree that the term is used in many different ways by different people. That probably works perfectly as well as long as each group has some agreement between the speakers and the listeners as to how THEY are usig the word.

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