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What Are Trichomes and What Are Their Function on the Cannabis Plant?

Even those with an elementary level of understanding about the cannabis plant will know that there is more to it than meets the eye.

Jason SanderJason Sander · Oct. 5, 2020 · 6 min read
What Are Trichomes and What Are Their Function on the Cannabis Plant?

Even those with an elementary level of understanding about the cannabis plant will know that there is more to it than meets the eye. One of those important parts is trichomes. So what are they, why do they exist, what are the different types of trichomes, and what functions do they serve? Read on for all the interesting details you need to know.

Trichomes Defined

Trichomes are those delicious looking little hairs or crystals that you see when you take a look at your cannabis flower or leaves. Back in the day, many of us didn’t have or perhaps didn’t know about grinders - so we broke up our buds by hand. If you fall into this category of old school cannabis consumer, then you’ve had the sticky, fragrant trichome resinous glands on your fingers afterward.

Also sometimes called frosting or kief, the term trichome comes from the Greek word “Tríchōma,” meaning ‘growth of hair’. These crystalline hairs cover the leaves and flowers of maturing cannabis plants, and remain on the harvested flower and develop into further deliciousness during the curing process. More on the importance of curing your harvested cannabis flower in future articles.

Trichomes Up Close

The shiny, sticky, great-smelling coatings of frost known as trichomes just look like little crystals or hairs to the naked eye. However, put under a microscope, trichomes on the cannabis plant look like thousands of little amber-colored mushrooms. Trichomes are integral to cannabis, and they hold the power as the very essence of why we love the plant. Trichomes are essentially the mitochondria of the cannabis plant, they are the powerhouse if you will. Trichomes contain hundreds of known cannabinoids, as well as the terpenes, aromas, and flavors we know and love.

Put simply, trichomes hold the key to what makes you love all of your favorite cannabis cultivars. While cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terps do show up all over the plant, trichomes hold the highest concentration of all three. This is why trichomes are what’s extracted from cannabis flowers in the process of making concentrates and infusions.

Trichomes are one of the last parts of the cannabis plant to mature, taking a close look at them is usually a good indicator that it’s harvest time. While they’re growing, they tend to appear to be clear and translucent, but when it’s the best time to harvest, they look opaque.


What is the Function of Trichomes?

As is the similar case with other plants, trichomes on cannabis act as a defense mechanism or signal another function. These glands can be found in different forms on various plant species in the natural world including algae. They also serve a lot of different purposes. For instance, if you’ve ever seen a carnivorous plant like a venus fly trap, its tiny hair trichomes signal that prey is lurking and that it’s time for dinner.

As female cannabis plants continue through their maturing process in the natural world, they are vulnerable to many different enemies. These include animals, insects, as well as harmful UV rays from the sun. Maturing trichomes are bitter, and render cannabis leaves and flowers unsavory. This protects the plants from insects and animals that want to eat them. Additionally, trichomes can help shield plants from certain types of fungi as well as protect them against strong winds that can cause damage.

The Life Cycle of Trichomes

As the cannabis plant begins blooming, cannabinoids start to synthesize inside of the trichomes. As it starts to produce its flower, trichomes are formed on the perimeter surface of the plant that grows above ground. At this point, cells are formed that will ultimately become cannabinoids.

As is the case with most above-ground plants in our natural world, how quickly a cannabis plant develops trichomes depends on the genetics of the cannabis variety as well as how it’s being grown. How the plant is grown as well as the impact from the environment affects how much trichomes are concentrated with cannabinoids. Plants with the most trichomes don’t necessarily equate to high cannabinoid and terpene concentration. One of the most important factors that impact how trichomes synthesize cannabinoids and terpenes is UV light. Generally speaking, plants that take in the broadest spectrum of light tend to produce higher cannabinoid concentrations. This is also dependent on the specific cultivar as well.

The lifecycle of trichomes is indicative of the lifecycle of the plant they form on. For this reason, keeping a close eye on trichomes is an integral part of growing. Fully formed trichomes is one of the best indicators of a plant being ready to harvest. When the trichomes appear cloudy and white, the plant should be ready to harvest. While each cultivar is different, and this doesn’t always hold true, the appearance of trichome coloration is a benchmark in determining harvest time for cannabis plants.

"How the plant is grown as well as the impact from the environment affects how much trichomes are concentrated with cannabinoids."

Trichomes can act as a defense mechanism on the cannabis plant, but they are also volatile and can be delicate. This is the case whether the cannabis plant is still growing or has been harvested. Trichomes can possibly be damaged or reduced in potency by factors like:

  • Too much light or too little
  • Excess heat or not enough
  • Physical agitation or shaking
  • Lack of oxygen or too much
  • Too much time on the plant or too little

If trichomes are exposed to the above, they can potentially be damaged. While still on the plant, growers should only touch plants when absolutely necessary. Additionally, when harvested and trimmed for consumption, rubber gloves must be worn to reduce the damage to trichomes. This is because the oils on the skin of our hands can degrade the trichomes and reduce the potency of cannabinoids or terpenes.

Ultimately, trichomes will degrade over time, but proper care can slow this process down a lot. In addition to proper trimming, careful techniques of drying and curing will also help to preserve trichomes. Extracting trichomes by making concentrates like kief, hash oil, wax, and so on also will prolong the shelf life and the cannabinoids inside of them. Storing your flower in glass containers instead of plastic can also help slow down the degradation process.

Different Types of Cannabis Trichomes

The resinous glands found on the cannabis plant, known as trichomes come in three different types. Although each of the three trichomes is different in size and shape, they all produce cannabinoids and terpenes. The three different types of trichomes found on the cannabis plant are:

  • Bulbous trichomes
  • Capitate-Sessile trichomes
  • Capitate-Stalked trichomes

Bulbous trichomes

Bulbous trichomes are the smallest of all three. These glands are almost not visible to the naked eye, and they also tend to be the most scarce. Most staminate and pistillate plants contain bulbous trichomes.

Capitate-Sessile trichomes

These are medium trichomes that are denser than their smaller bulbous counterparts. These cells of these trichomes secret cannabinoids that accumulate on the outer membrane.

Capitate-Stalked trichomes

The largest of all three cannabis trichomes, capitate-stalked contain the highest concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes. These are the trichomes that growers tend to look for the most when determining if it is harvest time.

Don’t Assume About Trichomes

It’s important to note that just because cannabis plants or flower happen to be covered in a layer of trichomes doesn’t mean it will give you the desired effect. Each variety of cannabis is different - from the seed to the way the plant was grown, when it was harvested and how long ago, how the flower was cured, and so on. While the appearance of trichomes on cannabis flower is a good indication of high quality, it certainly doesn’t mean that we should assume that automatically.

HashDash - Informing the Cannabis Consumer of the Future

We hope you found value in our article on trichomes. These amazing essential components of the plant are arguably the most important area of study as we learn more about cannabis. We truly believe that they are the key to discovering the vast therapeutic benefits of plant medicine. As with so many things about the cannabis plant, we are learning more all the time - and new information can be obtained daily. As cannabis legalization increasingly becomes a hot-button topic politically, the study of trichomes and funding for it could also increase.

Be sure to check back to our blog often, because we post fresh content every week! Connect with us on social media: @hashdash on all platforms.

HashDash is compiling an entire information database that will continue to answer your questions regarding all things cannabis as well as where to find the best dispensaries in your area. Be sure to sign up for HashDash to discover your cannabis matches if you haven’t already. As always, thanks for reading, and happy consuming!

Jason Sander
Jason SanderJason is a versatile writer and marketer with over ten combined years of experience working with clients in various industries. He couples this expertise with six years of writing for the cannabis sector as well as a passion for the business side, and the science behind the plant medicine.




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