The word trichome is derived from the Greek word “Tríchōma”, which translates as “hair”. As they are microscopic, you really need to zoom in on the frosty blanket of resin, that coats high-grade cannabis buds to see the fields of trichomes, that resemble masses of stalks with tiny mushroom heads.
But be cautious, a big crowd of trichomes doesn’t guarantee the weed is “loud”. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a trichome as “a filamentous outgrowth; especially: An epidermal hair structure on a plant”.
Botanical comparison of trichomes with hair can lead to confusion with the pistils, which are obviously visible to the naked eye as the hair-like strands protruding from calyxes of flowering female marijuana plants.
Cannabis trichomes deserve a more specific stoner-friendly definition, an explanation of their functions and overall importance.
We shall endeavour to bring you clarity. In our opinion, it’s best to consider trichomes as minuscule biological cannabinoid factories found predominantly on the flowers and sugar leaves of the weed.
Scientists have identified three categories of trichomes found on cannabis plants:
Capitate sessile trichomes
It’s number 3, the capitate-stalked variety, that’s of interest to weed lovers because they are the largest at 50-100µm wide and produce the oily medicinal/recreational goodies.
WHAT’S THE PURPOSE OF TRICHOMES?
In nature, it is believed, that trichomes facilitate quite a few essential survival functions of the cannabis plant. The gooey surface coating of the sticky resin provides a frontline defence against fungus, insects and hungry herbivores.
Some flies and certain fungi cannot penetrate the trichome barrier, while terpenes will foul the flavour of the lettuce for four-legged furry critters.
Furthermore, trichomes may also play a key role in cannabis growing in difficult climatic conditions. A layer of resin offers wild weed protection against damaging winds from the desert sirocco to the Siberian blizzard.
Trichomes even serve as organic sun block for marijuana plants, protecting them from the effects of UV rays from the sun. We shall explore the relationship between UV and trichomes a little further below.
WHY ARE TRICHOMES IMPORTANT TO THE CANNABIS CULTIVATOR?
Trichomes are an essential part of the cannabis plant, and learning about them can dramatically improve your skills as a grower and, in turn, the quality of your harvests. Without trichomes, we wouldn’t have THC, CBD, terpenes, and the other cannabis phytochemicals we know and love.
Aside from learning their botanical function, understanding the importance of trichomes' fluctuations in appearance and development will help you harvest your flowers at just the right time.
THEY PRODUCE CANNABINOIDS AND TERPENES
All growers should have an appreciation for the role trichomes play. Recognising that these small, mushroom-shaped glands are responsible for manufacturing cannabinoids and terpenes will prompt you to take extra care when pruning, harvesting, and trimming your plants.
THEY INDICATE WHEN IT'S TIME TO HARVEST
Trichomes serve as a bridge of communication between the grower and the plant. By simply observing their colour throughout the flowering stage, you can get a rough idea of their chemical composition. Skilled cultivators know the exact time to harvest their buds to ensure maximum cannabinoid levels and optimal effects.
As your plant transitions into the flowering phase, you’ll notice the first trichomes appear. Young and immature trichomes feature a clear, translucent appearance. They maintain this appearance for the first part of this phase before their chemical composition changes significantly for the first time.
- CAN I HARVEST WITH CLEAR TRICHOMES?
No. Clear trichomes are a sign that your plants still have some maturing to do. Avoid being impatient and harvesting your plants while your trichomes look like this, as it indicates that they aren't potent enough just yet.
Cloudy trichomes feature a milky and opaque appearance. This development means they are now expressing higher levels of THC alongside terpenes that contribute to a more energetic and cerebral high. If you prefer cannabis that makes you feel awake, alive, and creative, you should start to think about harvesting your flowers soon.
- HOW LONG DO TRICHOMES STAY CLOUDY?
Trichomes remain cloudy for approximately two weeks. Towards the end of this stage, they start to change appearance once again, indicating more developments in their phytochemical composition.
Towards the end of the flowering stage, trichomes turn an amber hue. During this time, they hold slightly less THC and higher levels of CBN. Otherwise known as cannabinol, THC degrades into CBN over time and with exposure to the elements. This molecule tends to contribute to a more stoning high, so harvest your flowers during this stage if you prefer a sleepy, physical high.
Between the cloudy and amber stages, you’ll notice a period where your flowers possess both hues at the same time. This is perhaps the best time to harvest your flowers, as they will provide a high that targets both the body and the mind. The buds will possess high levels of THC, but with a touch of CBN.
LIGHT DETERMINES TRICHOME PRODUCTION
Now that you’re clued up on the importance of trichome appearance, you should also consider how light affects trichome production. Cannabis plants evolved outdoors for millions of years, so it makes sense that natural sunlight fulfils their demands for photons and leads to greater trichome production.
Although the sun does an amazing job for outdoor growers, modern LEDs work to replicate this natural light source indoors. These devices mimic the spectrum provided by the sun’s rays, helping to optimise trichome levels as a result.
HOW TO INSPECT YOUR TRICHOMES
When taking a closer look at your cannabis flowers, you’ll notice a shimmering layer of resin on the surface of the buds. However, it takes more than the naked eye to really get up close and personal with these vital glands. Luckily, cannabis growers have identified the very best tools for the job.
Used by jewellers to assess the quality of precious stones, these devices do an amazing job of zooming in on trichomes. Many jewellers' loupes also feature a built-in light that helps to increase the quality of the image. You can also use these tools alongside your phone camera to take pictures of your trichomes and track their progress throughout the flowering phase.
Digital microscopes link up to laptops via USB to provide clear, zoomed-in images of trichomes. Use these cool devices to explore your plants in a whole new way. Take screenshots along the way to zoom in even further using your digital device.
Handheld microscopes are a useful tool for getting a closer look at your plants when strolling around your grow room or garden. They don’t require electricity, so you can carry yours around whenever you notice something of interest. The Carson Microbrite Plus Pocket Microscope works amazingly well at monitoring trichome maturity. It features 120x magnification alongside a bright LED to light up those sparkling glands. Simply adjust the zoom and focus until you have a perfect view of the subject.
Macros lenses augment the zoom of inbuilt smartphone cameras. Clip these devices onto the side of your phone—positioned over the back-facing camera—to take close-up images of your flowers and trichomes. Macro lenses offer the benefit of taking instant images. Use your phone to zoom in even further into specific parts of the image.
FUN STUFF TO MAKE WITH TRICHOMES
At this point, you are probably already making the connection between trichomes and extracts and you’re absolutely right. OK, so we have confirmed, that a healthy coat of resin is responsible for the finer attributes of cannabis.
Trichomes are the building blocks of all kinds of wonderfully potent concentrates and hashish. Everything from the hand-rubbed Charras of the Indian subcontinent to Colorado’s CBD medicine comes from resin.
The method of extraction may vary from Moroccan sieving of plant material and then pressing, to butane gas-derived hash oil, that can be whipped into “budder” on a low heat. The raw material is always trichomes and they can easily be separated from the green material.
Sometimes all too easily and not my intention, so remember to handle buds and colas with care, because resin heads are easily snapped off and dried bud can degrade rapidly if improperly stored. Concentrates have the additional huge benefit of indefinite shelf life.
Trichomes are not everything when it comes to cannabis, but they definitely are the most important thing. The rise of dabbing amongst millennial stoners and the international legalisation of medicinal CBD products means trichomes have never been so important in cannabis culture.
The Green Revolution is no longer tied to smoking sticky green. Knowledge of trichomes opens the doors to cannabis cuisine, awesome concentrates, tinctures, a plethora of medicines and new amazing discoveries yet to be made.
TECHNIQUES TO BOOST TRICHOME PRODUCTION
To increase the potency of your trichome creations, you can employ several tried and tested techniques to ramp up trichome production during the flowering phase. The more trichomes on your buds, the more material for your hash, concentrates, and kief.