What's the difference, which one should you choose.
Why 'Race', 'Variety 'and 'Subvariety' are Often More Accurate Terms Than 'Strain': When discussing different types of cubes in general, let's use the words 'Race' or 'Variety' instead of the word 'Strain'. Cubes, like humans, come from all over the world... and like humans, there can be some variety from one cube patch to another. It is time for some racial tension here in the world of cubes. Most cubes are named after the place where their original wild spore specimen was discovered... so Race is a logical (if imperfect) word to use when describing these different types of cubes. At the very least, it is more accurate and far less confusing than the word 'Strain'.
In this thread, the word 'Strain' in quotation marks means something different than the word Strain without quotation marks. The word Strain refers to living dikaryotic mycelial tissue, the word 'Strain' refers to commercial spores.
The fungus known as Psilocibe Cubensis is a unique mushroom SPECIES. Shiitake is a unique mushroom species. Azures are their own species. Amanitas are a species... etc. It would be almost impossible and incredibly expensive to use two different fungus species and create a hybrid of the two. It'd be like successfully mating a human with a gorilla. However, a Caucasian human can effectively mate with an Asian human. Similarly, spores from one cube race can mate (or be mated) successfully with the spores of other cubensis races.
In the world of mycology, every single time a single spore's mycelium mates with another's to become dikaryotic, a unique Strain (no quotation marks) is created. Like baby humans, living cube Strains are each unique, and they tend to resemble their 'parents'. Each single viable spore print can produce thousands if not millions of unique strains. Most of these strains will produce mushrooms that look remarkably like the mushroom that produced the print from which they came.
The term 'Strain' is often used to describe the type of spores on a spore print or in a syringe filled with spores. When used in this context, the word 'Strain' is simply NOT ACCURATE (hence the 'Quotation marks'). It is a word used by vendors (who cater to hippies) in order to make magic shroom spores sound like different strains of marijuana. It is a word that suggests cubes are more varied from 'Strain' to 'Strain' than they actually are.
Marijuana is a plant, cubes are a fungus. Cubes come from SPORES, marijuana comes from SEEDS. Cubes breathe OXYGEN and produce CO2 as a byproduct (like animals). Marijuana, like all plants, breathes CO2 and produces OXYGEN.
The misuse of the word 'Strain' is widespread, and only encourages vendors to sell as many different 'Strains' as possible in spite of their obvious similarities. When people talk of commercial cube 'Strains' this leads to confusion and misinformation. Vendors (especially the shady ones) thrive on this misinformation.
An African, an Asian and a Caucasian are all undeniably human but there are obvious differences between each race. Even on a smaller scale... every single town (and sometimes neighborhood) in Great Britain features a slightly different dialect... and yet, there is still room for great diversity from one person to another in said towns... even though, when compared to a different race, most Brits tend to look alike.
Still, the world of genetics is often a funny thing, and sometimes spores will produce some surprisingly unique and unexpected strains... strains displaying recessive genetic traits and mutations that nobody could predict... again, just like humans.
These unique cubes can be selectively bred until these unique traits become common, even via multispore inoculation. This new, unique cube may be marketed as a new 'Strain' but it is really just a unique 'Variety' of cubensis spawned from its original race. Still, many vendors market each unique variety as a new 'Strain'. In general, every single commercially available cubensis 'RACE', is actually a domesticated VARIETY of the original specimen. Domesticated cubes contain intentionally limited genetics in order to increase the likelyhood of achieving the desired results, sort of like dog domestication and subsequent breeding.
Over time and multiple generations (spore to fruit to spore) a cubensis Variety can become genetically limited by inbreeding. This means results from multispore inoculation can become more consistent, and the likelihood of accidentally stumbling upon unique traits reduces. If a commercial cube's genetics become too limited, the inbreeding can produce undesired effects. In general, when it comes to life, too much inbreeding will eventually lead to problems.
Annother classification for different types of cubes is the 'Sub-variety'. For example, by using spores from each variety of cube, Workman crossed PF Albino (Probably a variety of the Matias Romero race) with Penis Envy (Probably a variety of an Amazonian or Columbian race) and produced the Albino Penis Envy. Albino Penis Envy is both a sub-variety of PF Albino and Penis Envy.
Since all this 'Variety' and 'Sub-Variety' talk can get very confusing, go ahead and use 'Race' if you prefer, even though it is not entirely accurate. It sure beats saying 'Strain'. There are racial differences between mushrooms, often due to natural selection based upon where they first grew... and sometimes varietal differences due to unnatural selection performed by mycologists.
Finally, there are different 'Brands' of cubes. A Sporeworks Brand syringe full of Penis Envy spores may have a slightly different ethnic diversity than a Ralphster Brand or Hawk's Eye Brand syringe of the same cube.
All of that said, vendors use the term 'Strain'... and n00bs learn the term from vendors. This incorrect term is SO widespread, it is even used in the same way by Paul Stamets. I'd love to use the proper terminology, and will do so from now on... but this will be an uphill battle. Most people recognize the incorrect term, and not the correct ones.
It seems the misuse of the word 'Strain' is only widespread in the world of magic mushrooms, but not in the rest of the mycological world. The fact that so many magic mycologists use incorrect terminology, further reduces our credibility in larger mycological circles. The misuse of this simple word can make our work seem illegitimate in the eyes of science.
The Truth About Different Types of Cubes: Most cubes look alike. All cubes grow in the same conditions. The differences between cube races, varieties or 'Strains' are, more often than not, minute. Some races are known for fast colonization, or large fruits... even high potency. BUT... these 'Facts' are often just vendor hype. Your results will most likely vary.
The Truth About Cube Potency: If you want something that is very potent, you should probably try a different species and avoid cubes all together... either that, or eat more cubes. Agar will potentially allow you to select a more potent substrain. A few cube races and varieties are reported as being more potent than others... but there is no scientific evidence to strengthen the potency argument. Everybody wants the answer to this question... but all we have is opinion. Most people agree there are differences in potency from one type of cubensis to another... but they seldom agree on which cube is the most (or least) potent.
The Truth About The Fastest Growing Cubes: Some cube races and varieties are known to grow at a faster or slower rate, on average, than others. There is evidence which suggests the fastest cubensis races produce the smallest shrooms and the slower races and varieties produce the most bulky fungus. Ultimately it all seems to even out in the end (with a few exceptions). Also, the slow cubes more frequently display unique macroscopic characteristics (in other words, they are more likely to look noticeably different from other races) while the fast ones usually look like average (or smaller than average) cubes. It tends to take more time to grow a large or unique cube. If you are looking for a cube which produces a LOT of quick bulk, you may be looking for a long time... and you'd better work with agar.
The Truth About Bulk: Race, variety or 'Strain' has little to do with bulk. With some work, any viable cube print should produce good flushes. Good isolation on agar, and good fruiting conditions are the only proven ways to get consistently bulky flushes. There are no quick and easy solutions. If you want bulk, first you are going to need diligent patience.
The Truth About Selecting Your Spores: The thing that distinguishes most races, varieties or 'strains' is where they originated and who collected the first specimen. If you are interested in Tasmania, try some Tasmanian spores. If you like the story of how SG30 was resurrected by Shdwstr, try SG30. If you think Penis Envy looks fun, try it. They are all cubes. Pick one that interests you, and see if you like working with it.
Multispore inoculation is a turkey shoot. You never know what you are going to get. Mother nature is unpredictable. If you intend to use multispore, it is suggested you work with a classic and/or popular cube variety. Cubes that have been popular for 10 or more years tend to be popular for a reason, and their genetics have probably been limited (in a good way) by being selectively bred over and over again... generation after generation. You are more likely to see consistent results via multispore, if you use a proven race.
So what's a Variety then?
Workman said: Mushrooom genetics are a little strange since a single mushroom produces spores that can then act as both parents for a new mycelium. Essentially, you are selfing or inbreeding each time you do a multispore grow.
Now consider a wild collection of Psilocybe cubensis with a high heterozygosity. This basically means that most or all of each pair of genes in the mushroom are different from each other. Its the same gene location with the same basic function, but different versions. For example, if there is a single gene for height, you might have a version that gives short mushrooms and a version that gives tall mushrooms. If heterozygosity is high, you have one of each which may result in medium mushrooms unless one of the height genes is dominant.
Now, when you do multispore from a single mushroom you randomly get a mix of all the genes. Sticking to our height gene example, you could get two short copies, two tall copies or one of each. Obviously the strains with two short copies will be short and the ones with two tall copies will be tall.
Lets say we liked the short mushrooms so we saved that one and took a spore print for later. In this example the tall version of the height gene is lost to later generations. There is a net loss of heterozygosity. Over the entire genome the loss is about 50% per generation.
So mathematically we can figure out how many sequential multispore generations we need until the heterozygosity is reduced to an insignificant level and the strain is stable even from multispore.
Starting with a presumably high (~100%) heterozygosity from a wild collection. In reality, the heterozygosity is probably lower than 100%, but its an easy number to start with.
You can see that the heterozygosity drops off quickly in the first few generations and is less than 1% after the 6th generation. This highlights the importance of choosing the best traits early on when there are more to choose from. Attempting to isolate traits in well established strains results in only minimal improvements unless spontaneous mutations increase the heterozygosity in a positive way (rare).
Popular classic strains in circulation have all been grown well beyond 6 generations and are relatively stable from multispore with little need for isolation.
New strains, from wild material or cross breeding between different strains of the same species, can be stabilized fairly quickly with 6 or 7 generations of sequential multispore grows.
Selection is most important early in the process and if good genes are bred out, they are gone forever. Archiving original or early generation prints is recommended for preserving heterozygosity for later selective breeding. Continuous isolation of a bad strain with hopes of significant improvement is futile.
Does that help?
*Special thanks to Livingston, apoonanor, Rose, george castanza, and Workman.