Featured Flower: Northern Lights
Learn more about your favourite cannabis flower or dive into something new as we explore the history, growing methods and unique properties of our most popular strains. This time we’re spotlighting Northern Lights, or NL, a classic breeding strain that’s popular, pungent and ultra fruity.
At a Glance
Aroma and Taste: Earthy, fruity and spicy
Common Dominant Terpenes: Caryophyllene, Limonene, Myrcene
Average THC: 15-27% Average CBD: <1%
What Is Northern Lights?
To answer this question and learn more, we spoke with the growing experts at Broken Coast Cannabis and HEXO, the company behind UP. Northern Lights is a classic strain and a popular choice for breeding — both Licensed Producers we spoke with cross it to produce offspring that carry its characteristic fruity, spicy aromas and resin-heavy buds.
As with many classic cannabis strains, Northern Lights’ beginnings are hard to pinpoint. The story goes that someone grew the first plant somewhere on the west coast of the United States from earthy Afghan landrace strains. From there, it’s said that Nevil Schoenmakers, a renowned cannabis breeder, discovered the strain and took it to the Netherlands, where it was crossed with fruity Thai (also a landrace strain) in the mid-’80s and popularized by Sensei Seeds, an Amsterdam-based cannabis seed bank. From there, Northern Lights became a popular, award-winning parent, producing hybrids like Super Silver Haze and Shiva Skunk.
Northern Lights’ dark green and purple buds are coated in crystals, and are best identified by their earthy, fruity aroma and spicy flavour. That’s all thanks to the plant’s terpene profile, which is heavy on the myrcene — also present in hops and lemongrass.
Broken Coast mixes Northern Lights with Haze to produce its Northern Lights Haze (Galiano), a potent sativa-dominant strain that features long, spear-shaped light green buds with glistening golden trichomes and massive foxtail calyxes (where the calyxes grow in a stacked formation).
“These two old-school strains come together to make a truly special plant. The Northern Lights improves on the Haze bud structure without losing the characteristics people love about sativa strains,” says Kevin Anderson, master grower at Broken Coast Cannabis. “It’s spicy from the Haze genetics, yet fresh and citrusy — not like anything else you will find.”
HEXO, meanwhile, crosses Northern Lights with juicy Blueberry to create Northern Berry UP20, which has big, dense buds with triangular tips. “Its fruity parentage offers up loud berry aromas, with spicy notes shining through from the dominant terpenes caryophyllene and myrcene,” says Agnes Kwasniewska, HEXO’s master grower. “The plant has heavy indica influences with a pungent, sweet smell.”
“This strain is one of the most challenging to grow, but it’s worth the effort,” says Anderson. The challenge? Broken Coast’s cross wants to grow tall and loose — not ideal for indoor spaces or high yields. “We want to try to keep her as compact as possible to improve the quality and structure of the flower,” says Anderson.
Northern Berry UP20 poses a growing challenge of its own. “The strain grows very large top colas. While this is a desirable characteristic, it does pose a challenge in humid and hot conditions, especially in the summer,” says Kwasniewska. “It has fairly strong, rigid stems to support them, but some extra support from netting is required toward the end of its growing cycle.”
Both HEXO and Broken Coast nurture their Northern Lights crosses indoors in rockwool, a growing medium that retains moisture well and provides lots of aeration for roots. And while Northern Lights has a typical flowering time of eight to 10 weeks, Kwasniewska says Northern Berry UP20 can bud more quickly in the summer heat.
What Is a Strain?
To understand what a cannabis strain is, think of it like a breed of dog. While all dogs share similar traits, there are distinct differences among breeds (you wouldn’t confuse a Great Dane with a dachshund, for example). When it comes to different cannabis strains, this means one may have a sweet, lemony aroma, while another may boast a pungent, sour, diesel-like scent.
These differences have been fine-tuned by cannabis growers over many generations. Growers will choose two plants with desirable traits and then cross (or breed) those plants together, creating an offspring with a stronger expression of those desirable characteristics. When breeding cannabis plants, growers are often focused on the unique aroma and taste, and the potential THC and CBD content. Just like no two Great Danes are identical, strains can vary from lot to lot and grower to grower.