.Skunk Strain

A woman walks toward me on Seabright Avenue in Santa Cruz. She is fastidiously buttoned up and well heeled, she carries a tiny dog, clearly from out of town.  She stops me: “Do you live here?”

I say, “Yes, I do, ma’am. How may I help you?”

“Well, I love Santa Cruz. But I do not understand why everywhere I go in this town I smell skunks. I do not see them, but I smell skunks everywhere here.”

I nod, “They’re shy. They like to stay in the backyard.”

The pungent Skunk strain of cannabis is the legendary genetic building block of thousands of strains produced today. What most folks—even locals—don’t know is that Skunk cannabis was first developed and grown in Santa Cruz County 50 years ago.

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It’s flying skunk, it’s a sativa high, it’s… a band?

I tend to miss the most obvious connections. As the ’70s ended, long before I heard that Santa Cruz was the epicenter of the Skunk cannabis growing world, I briefly served as a singer and guitar player for a country rock band called the Skunk Band. We opened for Larry Hosford.

When I asked the Skunk Band’s leader where they got the band name, he handed me a joint. I still didn’t get it. While I was too innocent, or rather too dense, to appreciate the name of the band, I did appreciate how I played my guitar on their pungent weed. My stint with the Skunk Band faded from memory and I forgot about them and their weed for 40 years. Then I met Wayne.

In 2018 I moved to Watsonville, in south Santa Cruz County, when I found a farm out in the vineyards that let me set up my Airstream trailer for a crash pad. I became friends with Wayne. Wayne would not stop rattling on about his frozen weed seeds.

At first it sounded like stoner-babble but little by little his ramblings about his seeds and some character he called Sam the Skunkman began to form a larger tale. I started researching the story of the legendary Sam the Skunkman, and Wayne’s story turned out to be true.

It goes like this: in 1978 Wayne bought 100 seeds of Flying Skunk from Sacred Seeds, a psychoactive strain he and his grower buddies loved. He paid $1 a seed to a guy named David Watson, who developed the cannabis seed strain in Watsonville, California.

But life happened and Wayne could not grow out the seeds. He read on the back of the seed package that they would keep much longer if they were frozen, and that’s what Wayne did: He froze all 100 seeds. Like Bilbo Baggins’ obsession with The Ring, Wayne never could stop talking about his frozen seeds.

My All-Encompassing Disclaimer

In researching this story of the first Skunk strain and Sacred Seeds, I spoke with three Santa Cruz seed producers from the ’70s about Skunk—and I got three different stories. All I know for certain is that these guys can smoke me under the table.

I have no idea if the controversial Sam the Skunkman is a genetics genius, a marketing genius, a benevolent scientist or a fast-talking opportunist.  Maybe he is all of those. His story has become legend, and while we may each believe different portions of it, I take the legend itself as folklore of our times.

Whether you accept Sam the Skunkman’s story as Johnny Appleweed or not, we know he did create the first cannabis seed company in the country, Sacred Seeds. We know the seeds he sold in 1978 were called Flying Skunk, a strain that became the building block for thousands of strains we grow today.

He did evade the clutches of the law to recover his hidden seeds. And we know that the first F1 hybrid strain that preceded Skunk No. 1 was lost.

TRIPLE THREAT Sam the Skunkman combined Colombian sativa with Acapulco Gold and Afghan indica. Photo: Sacred Seeds

Roots of Skunk

The legend goes that before he took his seeds to Amsterdam in 1982 and became Sam the Skunkman, our hero called himself David Watson.

Hmm… a pothead dodging the law to grow a plant that is a felony moves to Watsonville and calls himself Watson.

Why not? It’s elementary, my dear Watson.

His former associate Phil Noland tells me, in the ’70s, Watson used a tiny greenhouse, 10 feet by 20 feet, near Mt. Madonna. He combined Colombian seeds (sativa) with Acapulco Gold and Afghan (indica) seeds, to bring down the enormous height of the Colombian sativa plant and mitigate the odor to make it more grower friendly.

He also wanted to reduce the long maturation period of the pure Colombian strain. Look at the front of the Flying Skunk seed package from 1978 and notice the thin blue font that says, “Extra Early.”

After the police busted his Watsonville seed operation in 1982, Watson sneaked back onto the crime scene and recovered his safely hidden 250,000 seeds.

They changed cannabis history.

He took his seeds to Amsterdam to share with Nevil Schoenmakers of The Seed Bank of Holland, who used Watson’s Skunk No. 1 to make Skunk-based sativa brands that proliferate worldwide today.

David’s Skunk No. 1 strain was wildly popular in Amsterdam; he became the toast of the town and started calling himself Sam the Skunkman. 

The Lost Strain

The first F1 strain that preceded Sam’s Skunk No. 1 is lost. The ancient landrace genetics are gone. Extinct. Unless some crazy hippie had a stroke of cryogenic madness, the first strain is no more, gone like smoke in the wind.

It would be preposterous to think that some nutso stoner froze the original hybrid cross. But Santa Cruz is where preposterous happens. Wayne is our nutso.

Wayne knows a lot about his seeds: “The intense odor of this first strain made us call it Skunk. The difference between these seeds and the ones that grow Skunk No. 1 is these are the F1 strain, the first crossing of Colombian, Afghan and Acapulco Gold strains. They are not true breeding (true breeding takes five generations)—these seeds will give you an array of phenotypes.”

Why Skunk Matters

What is this strain called Skunk? It is very high in sativa, which makes you creative, focused, inspired and happy. Skunk is not like the heavy indica-based dispensary herb that is so popular with young folks.

A 20-something turned me on to cannabis that looked like brown glass, a dab of concentrate. We used a blowtorch to smoke it out of a quartz bowl, at which point I renamed it Flat on My Back on the Floor Weed, because that’s how I ended up. I lay there, listening to ocean waves, and we were in Sacramento.

Sativa will not make you pass out on the floor. Sativa may make you dance on the floor. It may make you paint the floor. It may make you think you are the floor, but it will not knock you out.

I’ve got nothing against passing out, and if you want to do that, fine, delve deep into indica. It’ll make your body feel good.

But if you are trying to brainstorm what you could say to your wife about last weekend, Skunk is your junk.

Time Capsule Seed

In February of 2020 Wayne gave me 40 of his frozen seeds. We didn’t know if they would sprout.

I felt like Frodo putting on The Ring for the first time as I laid the seeds between damp paper towels on a plate. Are these seeds too old to germinate? I found myself looking at them throughout the day, keeping the towels damp.

On the third day one cracked open and a tiny white sprout appeared. Over the next two weeks 38 of the 40 seeds sprouted at an incredible germination rate. I put the sprouts in potting soil, and in May I replanted them into a hoop house.

One would expect the Sacred Seeds that Wayne bought in 1978 would have an array of phenotypes that express their Afghan or Colombian/Mexican origins, and that is what happened.

In Wayne’s hoop house, one plant might be squat and purple, with five wide leaves per stem that look Afghan (indica), and the next plant might be incredibly tall (I had to cut their tops off four times) with seven narrow leaves of a Colombian (sativa.) But the thing is the smell.

My Airstream is 100 feet from the hoop house and inside my trailer it smelled like I live with a skunk.

We were going for seed production, so Wayne shook the male flowers all over the female flowers. I kept trimming the tops. In mid-November we hung the plants upside down in a shed. And finally, it was time.

My first inhale did not seem to do all that much.

I inhaled again.

Pleasant enough, but I wondered if this weed works. Was the legend of the first Skunk strain bullshit?

I hit it a third time, deep. Then I looked at my guitar fretboard and could see all the notes like I was looking at a piano keyboard.

I thought of the Jimi Hendrix Chord (E7 #9) and a way to play it above the 12th fret appeared in relief on the fretboard.

I played with effortless focus. Would Aldous Huxley say that I had opened the “doors of perception”?

Happy Weed

After I started writing about Wayne’s seeds, Sam the Skunkman emailed me from the Netherlands and said that the famous Skunk No. 1 he made in the ’80s “was a 3-way hybrid of Afghan X Colombian X Acapulco Gold. These were true breeding (meaning the phenotypes grow out to have the same physical characteristics). The F1 strain that I made before that was not true breeding.”

So, one would expect the Sacred Seeds that Sam sold Wayne in 1978 would have an array of phenotypes that express their Afghan or Colombian/Mexican origins. And that is what we see; out in Wayne’s hoop house, one plant might be squat, with five wide leaves per stem that look Afghan (indica), and the next plant might be incredibly tall, with seven narrow leaves of a Colombian (sativa).

Wayne’s vision is that everyone who wants to feel great could start by germinating 12 seeds, discard the males and grow their six plants that the state of California allows. He thinks of himself as a holy man.

He is a holy man; he had a colostomy.

When he came home from the hospital I screamed like James Brown, “Whaaaow! Poppa’s got a brand new bag!”

Wayne and I sit on his porch smoking the flowers grown from his time capsule Skunk seeds and I ask him how it makes him feel.

“It’s the most creative weed I’ve ever used. You start laughing, talking, it puts you in a good mood. It’s more fun, it’s happy weed.

In high doses it gets psychedelic.” Combining these ancient landrace genetics resulted in a new strain that features the uplifting high and citrus flavors of its sativa side, together with the short flowering time, feeling of relaxation and heavy yields that are characteristic of indicas.

It was Jeff Nordahl of Jade Nectar, a cannabis wellness company, who named Wayne’s seeds Grandpappy Skunk. I stood with Jeff in the noon sun on his mountain top in Boulder Creek.

He turned to me, squinted and said, “Those seeds you gave me that Wayne froze in 1978 are the grandfathers and grandmothers of the first Skunk.”

I like to smoke it as is, but some growers are selecting the phenotypes they prefer, to access landrace strains that are centuries old, or more likely thousands of years old. 

The way I have encountered this psychoactive strain again and again makes me think that there is something beyond coincidence here. In the end, the story of the Skunk strain is a circle that coheres—a circle of legend, genetics, of a place that believes in its own magic, and of our desire to open Huxley’s “doors of perception.”

To learn more about Grandpappy Skunk seeds, go to SantaCruzMountainSeeds.com.


  1. I live I aromas. I know a guy here who grows sativa that smells like pine sol. Trippy thing is he crossed those very same strains in the 70s. Every 2 to 3 years he let’s a mail from those batch of seeds pollinate a female. He’s been growing the strain since the 70’s. I’m getting to grow the strain myself this year. I’d love to get my hands on some of your genetics. Let’s link up! Ry*************@gm***.com 8312533379 Ryan the lion Logue

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  2. Love hearing about strains originating in our neck of the woods. I was born and raised in Salinas and now live in aromas. Know lots of old growers from our area who are part of the history here. Most are old farmers like myself but what do you think keeps us old farmers mota-vated? Sativa strains just like the ones in this article. I wanted to cross a Durban poison to this skunk strain this year. I hope to hear back from you skunkman. I’m definitely part of the skunk tribe. I was just in Santa Cruz yesterday at a pow wow. God bless legalization!

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