What Are Trichomes and Why Are They So Important?
You might ask yourself, ‘What is all of that sticky stuff and why is it all over my plant?’
Here’s the answer. That sticky, shiny, deliciously aromatic strands that look like a snug little blanket of snow or ice crystals are actually deposits called trichomes.
Trichomes, by definition, are fine outgrowths on plants, algae, lichens, and other protists. Taken from the Greek word, trikhōma, which literally means “growth of hair”, these tiny tendrils that look like something out of a sci-fi movie are where the magic happens. For the cannabis connoisseur, trichomes are the resin glands of the plant which contain THC, CBD, terpenes, and other active cannabinoids. They are what makes a bud heady, dank, uplifting, etc. In short, without trichomes, cannabis just wouldn’t be the same.
Trichomes are Natural Protectors
On the cannabis plant, trichomes can be found on the “buds” or flowers, fan leaves, and sometimes on the stalk. They are initially white and then turn various shades of brown and amber. They grow on plants in nature as a defense mechanism, to ward off predators from eating the plant. Trichomes don’t taste very good at all; in fact, they are quite bitter and unpleasant, hence keeping the plant safe. Their sticky, blanket-style coating also serves as a protectant from harmful light and assorted types of fungus that could otherwise ruin the flower.
Types of Trichomes on the Cannabis Plant
There are three principal kinds that occur most commonly on the cannabis plant; bulbous, capitate sessile, and capitate stalked.
Bulbous trichomes are the smallest of all of them, measuring anywhere from 10-15 micrometers or microns, which means they are so smaller than a human hair and cannot be viewed by the naked eye alone. In general, they are only made up of a few cells, do not have a head or a stalk-like formation, and can be found anywhere on the cannabis plant. Though they can be found anywhere on the plant, they usually don’t grow in vast quantities.
Capitate sessile trichomes are a bit bigger and have a stalk and a head, which is what we expect to see when looking at our flowering beauties. Unlike the bulbous trichomes, these tend to be much more prevalent and are bigger and more pronounced.
Capitate-stalked trichomes are the most common of all of them. They are the largest, ranging from 50-100 micrometers and can be seen easily on the plant. Their stalk and head form is very pronounced and can easily be differentiated from the rest.
How do Trichomes Grow and When is the Right Time to Harvest?
Trichomes dictate when we know it is time to harvest the cannabis plant. If you want to yield the best buds, watch the trichomes.
They begin their life as transparent nodes on the plant, indicating that they are new and not at all ready. As time goes on, they begin to get milky, telling us that they have reached maturity and now contain all of that goodness we are waiting for. In their final stage, trichomes appear brown or amber in color, which means that they are no longer in production and have reached their end stage.
It is crucial to harvest your plant before the majority of the trichomes appear brown or amber in color, as you never want to degrade any of the cannabinoids present on the plant. Although different strains, especially sativas, are more potent when they have more colored trichomes present, as a general rule, harvest when you have about 5-15% brown or amber in color, and the rest are milky.
Because trichomes are extremely sticky by nature, it’s very difficult to harvest it directly off of the plant. That being said, there is one method that seems to work well. It is known as the bubble bag technique, and the result is homemade bubble hash.
A bubble bag is basically a bag has a specific micron grade filter, allowing the trichomes to be left behind once the water filters through the bags. Here is how you do it.
- Line a 5-gallon bucket with 2 bubble bags. The bottom bag is the finer grade filter of the two
- Fill the bucket with enough very cold water to cover the bottom of the bag. Your bucket will be about half full
- Add flower and/or trim
- Add ice. Fill the bucket almost to the top
- Stir with a hand mixer or a power drill with a long mixing attachment for between 15-20 minutes. Add more ice if needed to keep the water cold. Mix with a long-handled spoon occasionally to move everything around.
- Pull out the first bubble bag, draining the water out of each back into the bubble bag that is still in the bucket. Set aside
- Lift second bubble bag out of the bucket, hovering over to allow complete water drainage, leaving resin at the bottom
- Place the bag on a chamois cloth towel. It will absorb the water and leave the resin on the bottom of the bag
- Scrape the resin off of the bottom of the bag with a spoon and place on plastic wrap or a silicone mat to dry
The Stickier the Better
For the record, the more trichomes are present on the cannabis plant, the higher the percentage of THC, CBD, or other cannabinoids. When cultivated properly and harvested at just the right time, the flowers will be filled with goodness. Next time you find yourself face to face with a sticky, beautiful bud, you can thank those trichomes for making it all happen.