Cannabis is an extremely complex plant. If you’ve ever taken a closer look at the plant itself, you’ve likely noticed a bunch of tiny, glistening crystals that cover the buds and leaves like a blanket. They’re what’s known as trichomes, and they play a very important role in cannabis composition.
1. What are trichomes
The word trichome originates from the Greek term tríchōma, which translates to “growth of hairs.” Trichomes aren’t exclusive to cannabis, however. They’re also found on several different plant species and can be wildly diverse in both structure and function.
Here, we’ll take a deeper look at cannabis trichomes to gain a better understanding of what they are and the important role they play in the chemical structure and cultivation of cannabis.
What Are Trichomes?
Trichomes are defined as “fine outgrowths or appendages on plants, algae, lichens and certain protists.” When viewed with the naked eye, trichomes look like shiny crystals that cover cannabis flowers and leaves that surround budding blooms. If you were to take a closer look at these tiny crystals with a magnifying glass or microscope, you’d find them to be shaped like tiny opaque mushrooms.
However, trichomes don’t just give cannabis flowers a crystalline sheen that turn them into delightfully frosty buds. They actually serve a very important function in regard to cannabis compounds.
Trichomes are responsible for producing the precious cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids that lend to the chemical composition of the cannabis plant and produce the wide-range effects for which it’s so famous. It is trichomes that are full of that rich THC resin used for extraction.
If you’re a fan of cannabis concentrates, you’ve got trichomes to thank. To produce concentrates like wax and shatter, trichome resin is separated from the rest of the plant with solvents like alcohol or butane. The result? The popular cannabis concentrates known for their powerfully potent effects.
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What Is The Function Of Cannabis Trichomes?
The functions of trichomes are vast. On the plants in which trichomes appear, they serve various important functions – for instance, in some species, trichomes are responsible for keeping plants protected and healthy. Some plants even use trichomes to catch their prey. One example is the Venus Flytrap, whose sticky trichomes help the lobes at the end of each leaf snap shut whenever prey comes into contact.
When it comes to cannabis, trichomes serve a few different purposes. For one, they deter various garden pests when female plants begin to flower. Blooming buds on cannabis plants can become a feeding ground for aphids, caterpillars, ants and other insects. With their strong scent and unpleasant aroma, trichomes discourage predators from feasting on the plant’s precious buds.
Trichomes also protect cannabis plants from larger predators. If you’ve ever grown outdoors, you know that deer, rabbit, squirrels and chipmunks love to snack on budding cannabis. The sticky, resinous trichomes can help deter these plant-loving animals from destroying your harvest.
Cannabis trichomes also offer protection from environmental elements. They help protect plants from the sun’s strong UV rays, acting as a sort of natural sunscreen. Moreover, when the wind blows at dangerously high velocities, trichomes can help protect cannabis plants from these otherwise damaging gusts. Trichomes are also known to insulate plants by deterring frost from reaching leaf cells and can help reduce evaporation when exposed to extreme heat.
Different Types Of Trichomes
Among the various plant species on which trichomes appear, you’ll find quite a varied number. When it comes to cannabis trichomes specifically, however, there are three types of trichomes that appear most frequently.
When it comes to cannabis trichomes, bulbous trichomes are the smallest of the small. Bulbous trichomes are so tiny that they’re practically invisible to the naked eye, despite covering the entire surface of the cannabis plant. While these contain a small concentration of cannabinoids and other cannabis compounds, they’re far too small to carry a significant capacity.
Their size is about 10-15 micrometers, meaning you likely won’t see them without using a trichome microscope. To get an idea of just how small a bulbous trichome is, you can compare them with the width of a human hair, which is approximately 40-50 micrometers.
Capitate Sessile Trichomes
Capitate sessile trichomes are a bit larger than bulbous trichomes. They’re also much more common. They likewise cover the entire cannabis plant and contain higher levels of cannabinoids and other compounds.
Capitate sessile trichomes take on the “traditional” trichome mushroom-like shape, in that they have a small, single stalk and noticeably bulbous head. They typically reach sizes of up to 25-100 micrometers and contain 8-16 cells each.
When it comes to cannabis trichomes, capitate-staled trichomes are where the magic happens. These are the most abundant trichomes found on the cannabis pant, and where the highest concentration of cannabinoids and other compounds are contained.
Capitate-stalked trichomes appear on the cannabis plant during the flowering period, ultimately covering the area of the calyxes – the small leaves that protect the cannabis bud. They’re the largest of the three cannabis trichomes and are visible to the naked eye, ranging in size from around 50-500 micrometers. The trichome head of capitate-trichomes is where high concentrations of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and other compounds are produced.
The Production And Lifecycle Of Cannabis Trichomes
The production of trichomes begins when cannabis plants begin to move into the flowering stage of development. Once they begin to produce the flowers they’re famous for, trichomes begin to appear upon the surface of the plant’s lush flora. When trichomes emerge, cells within the gland’s bulbous head begin to go through the process that will eventually turn them into cannabinoids and other compounds.
Just how quickly are cannabis trichomes produced? It all depends. The genetics of the specific cannabis strain has a lot to do with how quickly trichomes are produced and mature. UV light also plays a big role, as this can significantly affect cannabinoid synthesis that takes place within the head of the trichome.
The lifecycle of a cannabis trichome corresponds to the lifecycle of the cannabis plant itself, and they are therefore a huge indication of when marijuana is ready to harvest.
Trichomes And Harvest Time Of Cannabis Plants
Harvesting cannabis plants at the right time is crucial. The color of the trichomes themselves is what largely determines when a cannabis plant is ready for harvest.
When they initially appear, cannabis trichome heads and bodies tend to be a clear, crystalline shade that begin to turn cloudy and milky as the plant matures. When you notice trichomes turn from clear to a cloudy, milky hue, it’s a good indication that harvest time is close. At the end of their lifecycle, trichomes turn a gorgeous, golden amber.
How long do trichomes take to turn amber? When the majority of trichomes have turned cloudy and milky, this marks the beginning stage of when they’ll make the transition to their amber hue. After all trichomes have turned cloudy, it typically takes about two weeks before they’ll then begin to turn amber.
Trichome Color: How To Know When Marijuana Is Ready To Harvest
The period during which trichomes are transitioning from cloudy to amber is when harvest time is at its peak. Different effects will be experienced depending on trichome color.
Typically, cannabis plants that are harvested when most trichomes are still a milky white color will result in more pronounced cerebral, psychotropic effects.
Cannabis plants that are left to wait until most trichomes have turned amber will result in effects that are more pronounced in the body.
Harvesting cannabis plants when trichomes are a combination of both milky and amber will offer more a balanced effect between the two.
Experienced growers typically suggest harvesting plants when about a quarter of the trichomes begin to turn amber. A great way to check if trichomes are ready for harvest is by using a trichome microscope, or simply zooming in on them with your mobile phone.
The importance of keeping your eye on and preserving precious trichomes should never be underestimated. Not only can they help you know when marijuana is ready to harvest, but held within trichomes are the beneficial cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and other compounds that ultimately hold the benefits of the beloved plant itself.