The famous Irish playwright Oscar Wilde said, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” The same applies to the legendary pot strain Lemon Skunk: It’s rarely pure these days, and discovering its origins is by no means simple.
By Callum Francis
He’s widely known as the Lemon Man. For the past 12 years, he’s plied his trade in relative anonymity, nurturing his prized possession: Lemon Skunk. For over 25 years, in Las Vegas growrooms, a closed network of growers shared cuttings and seeds of Lemon Skunk with only a few of their brethren.
The Lemon Man, now 29, was connected to the Lemon Skunk crew through family. He began growing in his mid-teens, but like many cultivators, he heard the siren song of Amsterdam, its cornucopia of genetics beckoning him. At the age of 17, he departed for Holland. Naturally, he arrived on Dutch shores with his American export.
“It was 1999,” he says. “I kind of kept going back and forth, networked around, met some really good people – wonderful mentors.”
He began to share his cuttings, and breeders went to work with Lemon Skunk. By 2007, it had won first place in the High Life Cup for DNA Genetics. DNA’s version of Lemon Skunk was a cross of the Lemon Man’s female with a male Skunk #1, courtesy of Flying Dutchman. In his just-released HIGH TIMES Field Guide to Marijuana Strains, HT senior cultivation editorDanny Danko cites Lemon Skunk as “a mostly sativa strain specifically selected for its zesty lemon characteristics,” praising it as “an easy-to-grow masterpiece of genetic achievement.”
One of Amsterdam’s resident cannabis experts, known as “The Nose,” describes its smoking characteristics: “It’s fruity, very stony, with a nice taste. It’s a very good smoke.”
But this is where things get a little murky. As the Nose explains, “Amsterdam is an impatient place when it comes to genetics. People get hold of something nice; they start messing with it, seeing what they can come up with. It becomes very convoluted, because cuttings and seeds get distributed widely. They’re manipulated, then passed on, and people lose track of where the strains come from.”
The Lemon Man tells me that Lemon Skunk is actually an old-school Original Skunk #1 that originated in California. But over the course of 25 years of cultivation in Las Vegas, its fame as “Lemon Skunk” took hold, since the strain was renowned for imparting a hint of citrus along with its strong, mellow high. Its success in Amsterdam was deeply gratifying for the Lemon Man – especially when Arjan, the chief of the Green House coffeeshop and seed-company empire, crossed Lemon Skunk with Super Silver Haze to create Super Lemon Haze.
The Green House’s creation, which has been measured at a whopping 23 percent THC, won the Cannabis Cup in both 2008 and 2009 and took second overall this past year. However, in a recent phone call, Arjan said that he can’t place the Lemon Man, nor can he confirm that Super Lemon Haze’s original genetics were acquired from him.
The Lemon Man now lives in Colorado and runs the Verde Wellness Center, a dispensary in downtown Denver, which he opened just over a year ago. It serves 500 patients and, at any given time, has some 10 to 20 strains available. The Lemon Man is a pleasant, low-key personality, consumed with meeting the ever-changing requirements of the state’s burgeoning medical-marijuana scene, which includes rigorous oversight of Verde’s gardens. When I relate my conversation with Arjan to him, the Lemon Man shrugs his shoulders and hardly seems thrown off.
“That’s Amsterdam,” he explains. “I was responsible for bringing the genetics over, and a lot of people got a hold of them.”
Still, Arjan’s inability to place him causes the Lemon Man to scratch his head. He refers me to a YouTube video from the 2008 Cannabis Cup. It’s an episode of the Italian television program Le Iene, a hip, satirical show that reports on politics and cultural trends; on it, Arjan is interviewed about Super Lemon Haze. Very clearly, he tells the interviewer that Lemon Skunk originally comes from Las Vegas.
“I don’t know what to tell you, but I’m the Lemon Man, I’m from Vegas, and I brought Lemon Skunk to Amsterdam,” the Lemon Man states matter-of-factly. “But I’m not going to argue with Arjan – he’s an amazing individual who has done tremendous things for cannabis and the industry. Super Silver Haze always was a wonderful strain; it had really good genetics. Lemon Skunk was always a great strain, too, and they really made a wonderful combination. I think the Super Silver Haze, with that element of sativa, brought Super Lemon Haze to another level.”
So we’ll leave it to the cannabis historians to figure this one out. But the Lemon Skunk still grows strong, and the lucky medical patients of Colorado can sample the legend for themselves. In an industrial area of Denver, where the Verde gardens are situated, the Lemon Man has saved his current garden of Lemon Skunk until the last possible minute so that a photographer can capture it in all its blooming glory.
In his strain guide, Danny Danko describes Lemon Skunk’s performance as follows: “It grows tall yet boasts a high calyx-to-leaf ratio, making for colas that are easy to trim and a joy to smoke. Sweet, fruity and covered with bright orange hairs, she also packs an impressive punch, with a soaring high that seems to have no ceiling. This citrus strain definitely has pedigree.”
No argument here. The Lemon Skunk lives up to its hype, both in appearance and smokeability.
“I’ve done soil; I’ve done the aeroponics,” the Lemon Man explains. “Right now, we’re actually using ebb and flow – a flood-and-drain system. I really do like the soil a lot. I’m really a soil person, and we’re going to have another room dedicated to soil. You’re going to lose a little bit of your yield, but I like the hydros, too – even though they’re very finicky and you have to keep a close eye on everything. This system is pretty simple. It definitely requires a lot of reservoir changes and that you be precise about nutrients.
“I like to keep things as organic as possible,” the Lemon Man continues. “I’m really big into the worm castings and stuff like that, but with a lot of these systems, it’s challenging to be 100 percent pure organic. Plants are like us – they really don’t need a lot sometimes. Many people, when they begin gardening, they either overdo it with nutrients or overwater everything. We run each strain on a different reservoir so we can dial in their feeding needs. I think it’s good to feed everything on a light dose. Every strain responds differently when it comes to feedings. People always ask: ‘What cycle [do you run], what do you run your pH at?’ – all that stuff. But it’s all strain-specific.”
Lemon Skunk is certainly not alone in the Verde garden.
“I’m working with some really nice OG Kushes. They’re not big yielders, but the quality is worth it – super-potent, super-nice. In fact, I’ve noticed that a lot of the Kushes seem to do really well in hydro systems. We’re also working with J-1, an old Jack Herer cross, as well as an OG Sage cross that came out really nice. And our Master Kush has been very intriguing.
“But figuring out what’s right for each strain is a trial-and-error thing,” the Lemon Man concludes. “That’s where the art of growing comes in.”
Visit the Verde Wellness Center at 5101 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, CO 80220, or call 303-474-4489.