When it comes to cannabis, bigger doesn’t always mean better. In fact, the tiniest element of the plant is arguably the best. Known as trichomes, the blanket of frost found on your favorite strains is responsible for producing compounds that provide a wide scope of healing benefits, as well as terpenes, the aromatic oils that give a strain its unique smell and flavor. Cannabis trichomes play a key role in the quality of any strain and perform tasks throughout a cannabis plant’s life. Keep scrolling for a full rundown on all things trichome-related.
What Are Cannabis Trichomes?
Originating from the Greek word “Tríchōma” meaning the growth of hair, trichomes are tiny white growths that kind of look like something from a sci-fi movie. However, they are actually incredibly important production factories for hundreds of known cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Trichomes are responsible for the unique effects, scent, and potency of each strain. They are found primarily on the flowers and sugar leaves of cannabis.
Trichomes appear on many plant species throughout nature, taking on a variety of physical forms and purposes. For example, certain carnivorous plants have trichomes that help them catch prey. On cannabis, trichomes provide essential survival functions. When female cannabis plants growing in the wild start to produce flowers, they become vulnerable to insects, animals, and other environmental factors. Since trichomes possess a bitter taste and strong smell, they make the cannabis flowers unappealing to animals. Additionally, trichomes protect the plant against winds and certain types of fungal growth. They can even act as a natural sunblock, shielding cannabis from the harmful effect of UV rays.
The Different Types of Cannabis Trichomes
Trichomes come in many different shapes and sizes, but only three types are commonly found on the cannabis plant.
- Bulbous trichomes: despite their name, these small trichomes are basically microscopic and appear on the entire surface of the plant. They have a width of 10-15 micrometers, which means you will need a magnifying glass in order to spot them. While they contain the same compounds as other cannabis trichomes, their small size means that they have a more limited capacity.
- Capitate sessile trichomes: these slightly larger trichomes contain both a head and a stalk and are more abundant than the bulbous variety. They grow to be about 20-30 micrometers wide, about the width of a wool fiber. However, they are small fries in comparison to the bountifulness of the third type of trichome.
- Capitate-stalked trichomes: ranging anywhere from 50-100 micrometers wide, these trichomes are the largest and most plentiful of the three and can be seen with the naked eye. They are composed of a stalk and head, which is where cannabinoids and terpenes are produced. Growers often look at these trichomes to determine harvest time.
While all three types of trichomes produce cannabinoids, it is the capitate-stalked variety that is of greatest interest to growers. They appear in large quantities and produce the highest concentration of essential oils due to their size.
The Trichome Life Cycle
Just like the plant they grow on, trichomes have a unique development cycle. The life of a trichome begins as cannabis plants move into their bloom phase. As they start to produce flowers, trichomes grow along the surface and transport plastids from their stalk into the gland head. From there, cells in the gland head metabolize and form the basis for what will eventually become cannabinoids. Trichome rate and concentration in the cannabis plant depends on both environmental and genetic factors. UV light plays a big role in cannabinoid and terpene synthesis within the trichome head. Normally plants that receive a broader spectrum of light will create higher concentrations of cannabinoids.
Determining When To Harvest
A trichome’s life cycle closely mirrors that of the cannabis plant, with the first real changes taking place about three to four weeks into the flowering stage. After that, you have to closely monitor your trichomes to determine the right time to harvest. In the early stages of development, trichomes are clear or translucent in color. But as they grow and mature, they change from clear to cloudy and eventually take on an amber hue. Once they become cloudy, they have reached full maturation and cannabinoids are at their peak quality. It’s recommended that growers should begin harvesting their plant when about half of the cannabis trichomes are cloudy.
But proceed with caution. Whether alive or already harvested, trichomes are super vulnerable to harm and degradation. Many elements can cause damage to them, including:
- Physical contact
It is possible to extend the life of trichomes beyond the plant they come from by using an extraction method. There are a wide variety of ways to mechanically or chemically remove trichomes from the cannabis plant. The easiest way is by mechanically removing them with a grinder, which produces kief, a powdery substance that can add a kick to your food, joint, or bowl. Chemical methods are also possible, such as using butane or propane to create waxy hash oils.
Remember to take care when handling the flowers and when trimming, drying, or curing to keep your plant’s trichomes in good shape. With proper attention and dedication, preserving trichomes will help you take advantage of the hundreds of medicinally and therapeutically beneficial compounds belonging to the cannabis plant.