Look closely at your cannabis for a second. Do you notice the light that reflects off its leaves?
Look harder and you’ll learn that the plant’s sheen is caused by tiny crystals that cover the flower.
These tiny crystals are called trichomes, and they’re responsible for more than just the beauty of the plant. They also produce the cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes that give each strain a unique scent, flavor and effect.
These powerhouses aren’t unique to weed: all plants have them. This article delves into exactly what trichomes are, what they do and why they’re important.
Keep reading to become an expert on trichome essentials.
Key Takeaways: Cannabis Trichomes
- Trichomes grow on the surface of most plants and protect against pest and environmental stressors.
- These mushroom-shaped growths produce most of the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids in cannabis plants.
- Cannabis is ready to harvest when its trichomes take on a cloudy, milky appearance.
What Are Trichomes?
Trichomes are tiny appendages that grow on the surface of most plants. In cannabis, they produce most of the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids in the plant that make each specific strain unique.
The word “trichome” comes from the Greek word for “growth of hair.” In modern tongue, trichomes are the sticky, crystalline growths that cover a plant’s surface. Trichomes can grow anywhere on a plant but are most often found on the plant’s flowers and leaves.
Cannabis isn’t the only plant that contains trichomes. Other plants, algae and lichens all produce these tiny growths as well, though their trichomes serve a different purpose than those found on marijuana.
Trichomes serve a variety of purposes depending on the plant. Some plants utilize them to catch prey or defend against predators. Oftentimes, trichomes also protect plants from dangerous UV rays.
For the cannabis plant in particular, trichomes are a total powerhouse. Not only do they produce the products that give cannabis its signature qualities, but they also serve as the defense mechanism.
The pungent aroma produced by these sticky crystalline glands produce a pungent aroma and a bitter taste that deters predators from munching on its leaves.
What Do Trichomes Do?
Trichomes are a plant’s first line of defense against the elements. Plant cells produce trichomes for pest and disease protection.
Sticky and bulbous, these glands can trap and hold tiny insects attempting to prey on the plant’s leaves and flowers. At the same time, they secrete terpenes in these glands to ward off pathogens and environmental stressors while keeping the plant humid.
Since these glands produce cannabinoids and terpenes, humans find them far more desirable than insects or other predators.
Essentially, they produce all the good stuff in your weed: trichomes synthesize the cannabinoids that give cannabis its relaxing and psychoactive effects and the terpenes/flavonoids that give the cannabis plant material its potent flavor and scent.
Medical marijuana patients owe some of their relief to trichomes, as they’re said to contain therapeutic effects that lend to the wide array of benefits associated with cannabis. It’s trichomes, after all, that create compounds in the plant that interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system.
Because of their high cannabinoid content, trichomes are often isolated and used to produce cannabis concentrates.
When Do Trichomes Appear?
Trichomes develop just as cannabis plants reach their flowering phase.
As cannabis plants start producing flowers, trichomes grow on the plant’s surface. There, they begin to metabolize a vast variety of cannabinoids, like THCa and CBDa.
Later, once these cannabinoids go through decarboxylation, they produce the effects that give cannabis its signature qualities.
What Do Trichomes Look Like?
Looking closely at your cannabis flower, you’ll notice that it has a white, slightly opaque sheen. That sheen is caused by the trichomes, tiny mushroom-shaped growths with a stalk and a bulb-like head.
When they first appear during the flowering stage, trichomes have a clear, crystalline appearance. This clear sheen eventually grows into a cloudy or milky appearance, before turning amber as cannabis plants mature.
Bulbous trichomes are miniature clear growths that evenly coat cannabis leaves and flower.
This type of trichome is so tiny that they’re invisible to the naked eye. Nevertheless, they are responsible for the cannabis flower’s crystalline sheen. These tiny, clear growths are the biggest reason why flower can feel sticky when freshly harvested.
Their purpose is still up for debate: growers aren’t certain of their role in synthesizing cannabinoids.
Capitate-sessile trichomes are tiny mushroom-shaped bulbs. These growths are just as small as bulbous, but they grow in a higher volume. Capitate-sessile trichomes grow on the underside of the sugar and fan leaves of the cannabis flower.
Out of all the types of trichomes, this type is perhaps the most vital in giving the marijuana plant its signature properties. They contain the secretory cells that are responsible for the majority of cannabinoid and terpene production.
Capitate Stalked Trichomes
Trichomes found abundantly on the surface of cannabis flowers, capitate stalked trichomes are perhaps the most recognizable of these varieties. Capitate-stalked trichomes have a larger mushroom-shaped bulb than the capitate-sessile and are the only type that is visible without a microscope.
Capitate-stalked bulbs contain secretory cells that transfer nutrients to the head of the plant through the stalk.
Stalked Glandular Trichomes
Stalked glandular is the general category that the three types above fall into.
They are recognizable by their signature mushroom shape. While some have a visible stalk that supports the bulbous head, some–including, ironically, the bulbous trichomes–have a very short stalk and are not visible without a microscope.
Stalked glandular trichomes are the location of cannabinoid and terpene synthesis.
What Do Trichomes Look Like When Ready to Harvest?
Trichomes not only produce the cannabinoids and terpenes essential for weed’s signature properties. They’re also the best indicators of when cannabis flowers are ready to harvest.
When harvesting cannabis, trichomes should have a cloudy or milky appearance. As cannabis plant’s matter matures, their trichomes become clear before taking on the milky sheen. Eventually, this opaque shine turns amber.
Each stage of trichome growth indicates harvest time to growers.
- Clear: A clear appearance means that the potency of the cannabis plants has not fully developed. The plant is not ready to be harvested at this stage.
- Cloudy/Milky: Milky trichomes indicate peak potency. This stage is the perfect time for growers to harvest. Many growers and users claim that plant matter harvested in this phase has more of an invigorating effect than other phases.
Amber: An amber sheen indicates that the peak harvest time has passed. However, though amber indicates lower potency, some say that harvesting plant matter at this stage is ideal for producing relaxing, sedative effects.
Wrapping Up: Cannabis Trichomes
The importance of the trichome is obvious. Without these powerhouses, marijuana wouldn’t have the flavor, scent, and effects that we all know and love.
Their usefulness doesn’t stop there: trichomes are vital in knowing when the plant is potent and ready to harvest. They can even indicate the resulting effects that the plant can produce.
Essentially, these tiny growths are incredibly important for the stoner experience. Without them, we couldn’t enjoy the unique flavor and aroma of specific strains. We couldn’t reap the therapeutic and pain-relieving benefits of marijuana plants.
And most importantly, we couldn’t get high.