Like other cannabis varieties that have traveled far from their place of origin and into modern day, the historical lineage of Durban Poison is still fairly easy to follow with a bit of effort.
Many different African varieties were brought to the U.S. in the 1970s by world traveling hippies and smugglers. Though they weren’t imported in anywhere near the quantity of the more common Colombian, Mexican or Thai buds, it wasn’t at all uncommon for a “lid” or two of Nigerian, Swazi or Black Magic African (which was more than likely some sort of Congolese landrace) to circulate amongst well-connected heads in those earlier eras.
The variety most know as Durban Poison has taken a circuitous route to its modern incarnation. Buffered by oceans and fronted by golden beaches, the South African city of Durban is a subtropical paradise in an area of the continent that has been continuously inhabited for over 100,000 years. It’s worth noting that many areas of southwest Africa surrounding Durban are also well-known for their many diverse and unique landraces (such as those from Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland). If the 1987 Super Sativa Seed Club catalog is to be believed, the imported buds from which this strain of Durban Poison originated may have been grown in the area around Pinetown, which is 10 miles inland from the city of Durban itself and more than 1,000 feet higher in sea level.
In the pre-internet era, high quality cannabis genetics were a difficult commodity to procure, and until the Dutch seed boom of the 1980s these genetics were either collected by travelers or procured from imported buds. Because of their origin, nearly all were unsuitable for either indoor or northern latitude cultivation. Unfortunately too, most of the seeds found in those buds were not intentionally bred but rather accidentally, which is why varieties like the Thai landraces were so often associated with intersex characteristics.
The original Durban Poison, as it was already known when first collected by the legendary American breeder Sam the Skunkman in the late 1970s, sprung from 100 seeds found in some unique imported bud from Africa. It should be no surprise that Durban Poison originally suffered from those same intersex issues as well in early generations, though intensive breeding for five seasons in California would go a great way towards removing that trait.
As has happened for countless millennia, as humans moved so to do our crops with us. When the Skunkman changed his home base to the Netherlands in the mid-1980s, he brought an impressive collection of genetics with him from the United States. Most of the varieties that came with him — Skunk #1 and Haze most notable among them — revolutionized cannabis cultivation across the globe shortly after his and their arrival. Also lurking in that early collection was Durban Poison: a short-flowering, mold-resistant plant that offered sativa characteristics without the impractical 100-plus days of flowering required by other sativa-types. The Durban would even finish outdoors in the gloomy, short season of the Netherlands as well, which certainly caught the attention of many growers there.
The early Dutch seed companies each actively incorporated some form of Durban (both pure “copies” as well as new hybrids) in their catalogs, all originating from the Skunkman’s original seeds. Many of these breeders would also add the new darling of the Dutch scene — the soon-to-be-ubiquitous Skunk #1 — into Durban Poison to increase the resin, bud size and aromatic qualities of the flowers.
In the decades since this rise from obscure and humble circumstances, the legendary Durban Poison has maintained a small but persistent fan base. Among the multitude of Early Durbans, Power Plants and Durban Skunks that are widely available in both seed and clone form currently, there’s one particular cutting that seems to have become ubiquitous in areas of high intensity cannabis cultivation in North America. This example of Durban Poison is not at all a pure, un-hybridized African landrace but rather has been crossed with something else — Skunk #1, Northern Lights or both would be my best guess — to give it “chunk and thunk,” as one might say (i.e. increases in bud structure and potency, respectively).
This is not to disparage the many virtues of this particular specimen — it has the trademark anise-and-mint aroma of the Durban Poison, pleasantly astringent with a bright sweetness that vaguely hints at rotten things.
No discussion of this variety would be complete without mention of its psychoactive effects. Even when the THC potency levels of the flowers push into the 20 percent-plus zone, the effect is never jagged, over-stimulating or “racy” in the way of some Hazes or Southeast Asian landrace varieties. At its best, Durban Poison is clear and lucid in the classic fashion of near-equatorial narrow leaf drug-type cannabis. The “probable hybrid” clone version discussed here captures this effect excellently and is perfect for thoughtful and artistic pursuits as well as active ones too. Recently an associate who is an accomplished journalist asked me what the best cannabis is to consume for inspiration and I almost instantly chose Durban Poison as my prime suspect.
Durban Poison is currently enjoying a renaissance lately among cultivators, connoisseurs and cannabis cups. With the current popularity of the Girl Scout Cookies and Cherry Pie hybrids, which each incorporate DP into their recipe, it’s a fair guess that some form of Durban could currently be found at most dispensaries and in many grow rooms across the land as well. Durban Poison is truly and literally everywhere these days.
Originally published in issue 13 of Cannabis Now Magazine.