The buds and leaves of the cannabis plant receive the praise for the plant’s benefits, but it’s a much smaller part of the plant that produces the unique set of cannabinoids and terpenes that make up your favorite strains.
From the Greek word, “Tríchōma,” trichomes are tiny, crystal-esque appendages that cover the buds and sometimes the outer parts of the leaves and are what produces the desired cannabinoids as well as each plant’s uniquely aromatic terpenes and flavonoids.
Trichomes are found on a variety of different plants for a variety of different reasons. Most often they work to protect plants from harmful predators and harsh weather conditions. Some carnivorous plants actually use their trichomes to catch prey because of their stickiness. Animals and other pests are usually deterred from eating or going near cannabis plants because of the bitter taste and potent aroma produced by the trichomes. They also protect the plant, and most importantly its flowers from harsh weather conditions. Trichomes can also inhibit the growth of some fungal diseases.
As the cannabis plants begin to flower, the trichomes begin to form along the outer surface of the above-ground vegetation. They transport the vacuoles and pastids from the stalk and into the head of the gland. The cells metabolize in the gland head and will eventually become cannabinoids.
The concentration of the cannabinoids produced within the trichomes depends on various environmental and genetic factors. It often has to do with how much light the plant is getting, but largely depends on the specific makeup of each strain.
While there are a huge variety of trichomes across all different species of plants there are three types that are commonly found on cannabis plants.
- Bulbous trichomes are the smallest of the three and can be as small as 10-15 micrometers. This makes them small enough to be made up of a handful of cells. They can be found on the surface of the whole plant.
- Capitate sessile trichomes are larger and more abundant than bulbous trichomes. They contain both a head and a stalk.
- Capitate-stalked trichomes are the largest, ranging from between 50-100mcm in width and can be seen by the naked eye. This trichome is most desired when a grower is harvesting a crop because they produce the highest concentrations of the plant’s chemical compounds. These trichomes are comprised of the stalk and head which is held together by a waxy cuticle layer.
While trichomes work to protect the plant from harmful external elements, it’s also important that the plants are kept in the right conditions as not to harm the trichomes. Too much physical contact, excess heat or light, or too much oxygen can all have negative effects on the development of trichomes or their ability to produce the desired cannabinoids and terpenes.
Limiting physical contact and exposure to external agitators will help to preserve the trichomes and in turn preserve the cannabinoids and terpenes necessary for its intended purpose.