No matter whether you’re into cannabis for medicinal or recreational reasons, trichomes are the most interesting parts of marijuana plants for any consumer. Trichomes are the tiny white ‘crystals’ sprinkled on and around the buds of flowering cannabis plants. This blog will explain just what trichomes are, what purpose they serve, and what it is that makes them so attractive to cannabis connoisseurs.
Trichomes As Cannabis Coiffure
The word ‘trichome’ traces its origins to Greek language, where the word τρίχωμα (trichoma) means ‘hair’. In a sense, that makes these miniature trichomes the ‘haircut’ of cannabis plants – cannabis coiffure, that is.
In biology, trichomes are a catchall term for tiny hair-like structures found on nearly all plant species as well as on lychen and algae. Much like our own body hair, trichomes serve multiple purposes. In the plant kingdom, you’ll find them in all shapes, sizes, and locations; from the roots to the flowers and leaves. In the particular case of cannabis, trichomes are mainly found on and around the flower buds: exactly the part that matters most to consumers.
Loaded With THC And Other Compounds
Cannabis enthusiasts mainly appreciate trichomes for the active cannabis components they contain. These include cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, CBG, and dozens more organic compounds. They also contain the terpenes that give all strains their distinct scents and flavour combinations.
Cannabis Trichomes In All Shapes And Sizes
Trichomes on cannabis are microscopically small; often measuring less than one tenth of a millimetre. The crystal-like frosting we can see with the naked eye hides an entire world of dazzling beauty upon closer inspection. A microscope or a zoom lens is your ticket to discovering science fiction-like vistas full of spectacular shapes and colours. If you want to shoot pictures of trichomes (highly recommended!), a DSLR camera or a mobile phone macro lens is useful equipment.
Glandular And Non-Glandular
There is a staggering diversity of trichomes, each with their own specific function. . Some are monocellular, but most consist of multiple cells. Crudely speaking, we can distinguish glandular trichomes from non-glandular ones. Glandular trichomes have hollow glands that contain all sorts of organic compounds. Three types of trichomes are particularly common on cannabis plants:
- Bulbous trichomes
- Capitate sessile trichomes
- Capitate stalked trichomes
This last type is of particular interest for growers and ganja gourmets, because these are the plant’s main source of cannabinoids and terpenes. Shaped somewhat like a transparent mushroom, the ‘heads’ of capitate stalked cannabis trichomes are glands filled with THC, CBD, and other interesting substances.
- Secretory cells
- Secretory vesicles
- Stipe cells
- Basal cells
- Hypodermal cells
- Epidermal cells
From a functional perspective, glandular cannabis trichomes are tiny factories that produce and/or store a wide range of useful compounds. And even though we tend to enjoy these compounds after we harvest them, weed plants actually use them to deter harmful insects and other threats. The sticky resinous coating they secrete can trap tiny critters and take them out of action. Many cannabinoids are thought to be chemical weapons: insect interlopers that eat them tend to get too stoned to do much damage if they’re not killed in the first place. Trichomes also seem to protect cannabis plants from certain kinds of fungi and UV light by the resinous substance that makes them so sticky.
Still, the plant kingdom features a huge diversity of trichomes, each with its own specific functions and anatomy. Let’s go over a few examples to illustrate the point.
Anyone who’s ever walked into nettles knows the stinging sensation these plants use to defend themselves. This unpleasant feeling is caused by nettle hairs which are in fact glandular trichomes, only with their ‘heads’ on the bottom end. Attached is a needle=like tube sharp enough to penetrate the skin and release the substances that cause the tell-tale sting and blister effects.
Some species of carnivorous plants have protruding ‘antennas’ with bulbs covered in drops of liquid. These are in fact super-sized trichomes that secrete their own kind of resin similarly to glandular cannabis trichomes. This super-sticky fluid attracts and then traps flying insects. Once they’re stuck, the trichomes then secretes solvents that allow it to digest its prey. Creepy as this may sound, it is still a useful function of plant trichomes!
Non-Glandular Cannabis Trichomes
Many plants also feature trichomes without any glands, which are aptly named non-glandular trichomes. These serve other purposes, often linked to protecting the plant in one way or another. Root hairs are a common example of non-glandular trichomes that increase root surface to promote nutrient uptake.
Tiny hairs covering the stems and leaves of many plant species are another brand of trichomes. They protect the epidermis (outer skin) of plants against hazards like dehydration, cold, and heat. Cannabis plants also rely on non-glandular trichomes for their growth, but these are less interesting to weed lovers for their lack of (psycho-) active compounds.
Trichomes On Flowering Cannabis
Our beloved marijuana plant don’t start to show their true trichome potential until the flowering phase of their life cycle starts. Although trichomes are present on the plant from the start of the vegetative phase, their numbers increase when flowering commences, while some types swell up with increased supplies of active compounds. This makes plants highly attractive to predators (including humans!) and more vulnerable to fungi. It’s only natural for these ladies to look for some personal protection in the form of unique cannabinoid and terpene cocktails once the first buds emerge.
The initial signs of flowering female plants are usually the reproductive organs called pistils. These are the white stringy structures (which later turn orange and brown) that serve to collect male pollen. The first white trichome ‘crystals’ soon emerge around these pistils. If you don’t spot them in time, you’re sure to smell them soon enough. Even though marijuana plants use their scent to repel harmful insects, they seem to have the opposite effect on growers: they are drawn to the smell like flies!
Harvest Time: Recognising Ripe Cannabis By Trichomes
Experienced growers can determine the best time to harvest by looking closely at the quantity and colour of trichomes. You often hear people say they tell the perfect harvest time from the brown and white pistil ratio on the buds. Nonetheless, inspecting the trichomes on the colas from up close is usually more accurate. These slowly mature until they die and drop the glandular heads from their stalks.
You can regard the life course of these coveted capitate stalked trichomes as a parabolic curve. Initially, they contain mostly CBGA, the precursor to THCA, THC, CBD, CBG, and all the other cannabinoids. Harvesting too early means ending up with predominantly CBGA in your buds; wait too long and all the acid variants of the high-inducing molecules (primarily THCA in this case) are gone. This means that somewhere around the peak of that parabolic curve, you can pick the perfect moment to start your harvest.
Cannabis Trichomes At Their Best
If you look at a flowering cannabis plant through a magnifying lens, you can see the colours of the glandular trichomes on the buds. These are transparent at first, but as flowering progresses, more and more of the bulbs start to turn opaque. Some take on a milky white hue while others go orange and amber. Most growers agree that the best moment to harvest is when about half of all trichomes are milky white and opaque, because that signals the optimal THC and CBD mix needed to produce a good high. If the proportion of CBDA (and consequently CBD after decarboxylation or combustion) to THC(A) in the mix increases, the psychoactive component of the high starts to decrease. That may be an advantage to some, but most growers don’t feel is a desirable outcome.
Pay close attention, though, as the ripeness of trichomes tends to vary between plants, branches, and even individual buds. Fortunately, there is no need to harvest all of a grow at once, you growers can spread their chances by harvesting piecemeal as their crops mature. Furthermore, cannabinoid and terpene profiles also differ between strains and even between individual plants. Add to this the knowledge that we all have our personal preferences, and you’ll see how perfect harvest timing is a matter of knowledge, intuition, and personal taste.
No matter what your own taste is, though, at least now you know more about the magical world of terpenes and their many uses. Be sure to check our grow blogs for more information on harvesting, drying and curing cannabis and its trichomes. In addition, always remember that trichome quality starts and ends with ordering the finest cannabis seeds you can find online. If you feel like giving that grow a go, the Amsterdam Genetics cannabis seeds collection is waiting for you right here!