What is a trichome?
The word “Trichome” comes from the Greek word τρίχωμα (trichōma) meaning “hair“. These hairs are fine outgrowths produced by a variety of organisms like plants and algae. They are as diverse in their form as they are in their function and serve a number of different purposes for these organisms.
We will focus on Cannabis trichomes and why they may be produced by the plant. The idea is that trichomes in cannabis are produced for self-preservation purposes. Its trichomes are often chemical factories producing a wide spectrum of chemical and physical defenses and advantages that give the plant a better chance of getting pollinated and to produce seed to full term before it comes to the end of its life at the end of its growing season.
Why does cannabis produce trichomes?
Reasons for resin on the cannabis plant
Capture and hold onto pollen that floats in the air.
Cannabis is a Diecious plant meaning that it produces two distinct genetic variations of the same plant. A male and a female form. Male cannabis plants produce pollen and female plants produce anthers that are pollinated to produce seeds.
In nature, male pollen is blown off of the flowers of the male cannabis plant and drifts through the air. Pollen is caught by sticky resin produced by the female flowers making genetic material available to the anthers for pollination. As the wind moves through the female cannabis plant the anthers rub against the pollen encrusted resin head and become pollinated.
Seeds form and are protected by a resin encrusted seed sack called a bracket. The resin protects the seed as it develops giving the plant the greatest ability to pass on its genetic code to the next season.
Sticky resin deters larger organisms from walking over the leaf surface.
As organisms walk over the leaf surfaces of female cannabis plants, the trichomes act like a layer of adhesive. Making it difficult to walk over or try to consume. Cannabis trichomes also produce a wide spectrum of terpenes and alcohol that are repulsive to certain insects and pathogens giving the plant a resistance to stresses imposed on its ancestors in the same environment.
Regulates a micro-climate between the leaf surface and the underside of the trichome.
A more obscure idea. Trichomes help to regulate temperature, pressure, and humidity between the leaf surfaces of the cannabis plant and the external environment. Consistency in these factors allows for effective transpiration of water from the plant into the environment.
It is also thought that the resin shape and structure is a representation of the plant genetic lineage in relation to climate expressions from year to year. For example, cultivars native to higher altitude regions or high stress environments like desserts or tundra’s, produce shorter trichomes with much thicker resin heads. Used as a means of regulating the stress of temperature, pressure and humidity differentials between day and night and throughout the season.
More equilateral cultivars are thought to produce taller, smaller trichome heads for the same reason but with an opposite effect. In these regions, temperatures and Relative humidity tends to be consistent and more desirable for transpiration. As a result the plant does not need to produce large heads to hold in and help regulate a transpiration microclimate and will rather spend the energy developing a higher concentration of smaller head trichomes relative to the trichomes found in high altitude regions.
Refracts UV light
THC and other cannabinoids diffuse UV light very well naturally in their oil forms. It is though that the cannabis produces these compounds to reduce the levels of UV light exposure experience by its leaves and buds as UV in high concentrations can degrade most organic materials that are not protected.
This effect is seen most often in plants native to high altitude as UV exposure in high altitudes tends to be greater than is found in equilateral regions.
The smells and shine produced by the trichomes of the cannabis plant are though to attract pollinators like bees and other flying insects that may have also visited a male cannabis plant in a reasonable time frame.
Pollinators will also trample the anthers of the female flowers and rub them against the pollen encrusted resin heads. This increase the likelihood of pollination of the female flowers and gives the plant a greater ability to be pollinated.
Cannabis trichomes are the chemical factories that produce terpenes and cannabinoids. Some of which are harmful or repulsive to specific pests.
The resin is also hydrophobic meaning that it repeals water on contact. As a result, any water that collects on the leaves or in the buds will likely run off, limiting the amount of available water for pathogens to grow and develop into diseases in plants.
The people’s effect
Plants have been around for many years more than humans. They may seem docile and dormant but what they lack in movement, they make up for in chemical complexity. In cannabis, many of these chemicals are desirable to humans. The idea is that rather than humans working with plants as a means of benefiting themselves, plants may be doing the same thing with us. Using humans as a means of perpetuating their genetic code by producing compounds that are desirable and through for cultivated.
The different types of trichomes found in cannabis
Often the smallest of the glandular trichomes produced by Cannabis Sativa. Bulbous trichomes can be as small as 10 Microns wide and up to 35 Microns depending on the genetic and growing conditions experienced. Bulbous trichomes are often very common on the cannabis plant but due to their size they can often be very difficult to see. The amount of resin found in these heads can be high but the actually cannabinoid and terpene profile of these heads tends to be of a lower quality.
Capitate sessile trichomes
Capitate sessile trichomes are generally larger than their bulbous siblings. Often these trichomes are multicellular and develop a sufficiently sized trichome head on a short stalk base. The trichome head wides range from about 20-30 Microns in diameter. Because of their size they are also difficult to see with the naked eye but they are present and contain chemicals that aid in plant survival.
Out of the three types of glandular trichomes found on Cannabis Sativa, the largest and most note worthy are the Capitate stalk trichomes. For cannabis cultivators and Resin Collectors, these larger capitate stalk trichomes and specifically their heads contain the highest concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes found on the plant and are therefore the most desired. On average cannabis will produce capitate stalk trichomes that are between 50 Microns – 500 Microns in diameter. However, much of the homogenous cannabis we see today tends to yield best between 65-85 Microns in diameter. The stalks themselves can range from 200-300 Microns creating a mushroom shaped appendage that when fully ripe can be visible to the naked eye. Its obviously easier to look at these structures under a microscope though. The highest concentration of these types of trichomes are found on female cannabis flowers and contain the majority of the plants resin.
Capitate Stalked trichomes are mushroom shaped in nature. Comprised of a large stalk base top with a resin filled head, referred to as a capitate. The ball-shaped head contains the highest concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes produced and stored within a waxy cuticle layer, which acts like a skin, protecting these compounds from the environment as they form. The resin of these heads is produced at the base of each head in a set of specialised cells. The resin is then excreted and stored in the upper ballooning area of the capitate.
As the cannabis plant leans towards the end of its flowering cycle we see the colouration of these heads change as their concentrations of desired cannabinoids increases. These trichomes will often turn from a transparent tone to a more opaque tone, followed by a sight ambering or reddening. Often indicating an imminent harvest.
As Hash makers, we are looking for a desired ripeness that is indicated by the change in colour of the capitate stalk trichome heads. As the trichomes darken their levels of desired cannabinoids and terpenes are at their maximum. As the resin over ripens it will start to degrade and will slowly rust into dark reds or oranges.
When we see fruit on a tree we see the fruits that are often under developed or just ripe. As the fruit over develops on the tree the connection to the tree dies and the fruits falls to the flower. The same is true for cannabis and the resin it produces. As the trichomes develop they are held onto the plant by a strong ankering point. As the trichome head ripens the heads swell and their content become more concentrated and heavier. As the resin starts to over ripen, the connection to the stalk is reduced allowing for easy separation without to much force.
This is the ideal time to harvest and process material for bubble Hash specifically. Hash made from plants that are starting to over ripen tend to produce the fullest and most rounded experience, where are plants that are picked a little earlier may have a higher concertation of desired cannabinoids and terpenes, the complexity that comes from the ripening and then post processing phase really help define the quality of the materials produced.