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What Are Hemp Trichomes?

Sarah Jackson
Published October 27, 2021

When it comes to hemp plants, a lot goes on behind the scenes. But beyond the array of cannabinoids and other chemical compounds this plant holds, have you ever taken a closer look and wondered about the tiny crystals that cover the flower? By touch, they feel sticky and carry a rich aroma, but when you take a closer look, this glistening layer of goodness happens to be hemp trichomes.

While trichomes are produced throughout the hemp plant, they are primarily found on the flower, bract, and leaves. From the naked eye, you would assume these microscopic glistening bulbs would have little to no purpose, but you would be mistaken.

Inside each trichome holds a busy and purposeful cell with a dual function to produce cannabinoids, terpene, and flavonoids. However, depending on the kind of trichome, it can even protect the plant from prey.

The Purpose of Non-Glandular Trichomes

Throughout nature, trichomes can be observed in a variety of plant species. Although they can appear in various physical forms, many of them are used as a defense mechanism. These types of trichomes are called non-glandular trichomes, known as cystolith hairs.

non-glandular trichomes

For example, if you have grown tomato plants, you are likely familiar with the little hairs located along the stems, leaves, and roots during growth. Those are its non-glandular trichomes, and their duty is to defend the plant from insects and adverse weather conditions.

Like a tomato plant, the trichomes’ job in hemp is to protect the flower at all costs. To do this, it will naturally protect it from damaging winds, fungal growth, and will deter animals with its powerful aroma and bitter taste.

The Purpose of Glandular Trichomes

Instead of defending, glandular trichomes in hemp have an even bigger job—they are responsible for the biosynthesis of cannabinoids. This is where cannabinoids and terpenes are made.

Often, trichomes will be referred to as the “factories” of the hemp plant because the more trichomes in a plant, the more cannabinoids will be produced. Many growers focus on cultivating plants with higher trichome levels, as they will provide a higher yield.

Glandular trichomes come in many shapes and sizes, and the most common types are separated into three categories:

  • Bulbous trichomes

  • Capitate-sessile trichomes

  • Capitate-stalked trichomes

Bulbous Trichomes

Bulbous trichomes are the smallest of the category. In fact, they are so tiny, the only way to view them is through a microscope. While there is a lack of research on its role in cannabinoid production, there are theories that it contributes to CBGA production.

Although this type is not as impactful as other trichomes, it is present throughout the entire plant to protect it from UV rays and other weather conditions.

Capitate-Sessile Trichomes

​​In comparison to bulbous trichomes, capitate-sessile trichomes are slightly larger and are more abundant. Still, they are typically only visible with the help of a microscope.

This trichrome is described as a mushroom-shaped structure containing cannabinoids and terpenes, which can be primarily found on the head of the plant and sometimes seen on the leaves and stems.

Capitate-Stalked Trichomes

Out of all glandular trichomes, this trichome is the most efficient in cannabinoid and terpene producers. Captivate-stalked trichomes are much larger, allowing them to be seen by the naked eye without the aid of a microscope. Because it is significantly different in size, it consequently is best for harvesting resin.

The Life Cycle of Trichome Production

In a perfect world, cannabinoid synthesis would happen overnight, but like any other plant, it takes time for the trichomes to form.

Trichomes don’t appear until the flowering stage. During this, trichomes will start to form along the outer surface of the plant, where it will take raw cellular elements called plastids and vacuoles from their stalk into the gland head. From here, the cells will begin to process and convert it into cannabigerol acid (CBGA) and other nutrient-rich compounds. Eventually, the glandular head will be full of cannabinoids and terpene-rich resins that can be collected once the plant has reached maturity.

Trichome Production

Often, growers will determine harvesting a plant based on the color of the trichomes. A trichome's lifecycle is simple to follow, as it transforms from a milky white to a cloudy white until it finally becomes an amber hue. Once this transformation is complete, producers will harvest the plant quickly because if they wait any longer, they risk the quality of the product.

Although farmers can use selective breeding to have a high concentration of trichomes, it isn’t guaranteed that they will gain the desired quality. The production of trichomes can be easily affected by UV light, over/under feeding, and poor environment. This means if someone wants to gain the most out of their crop, they need to use the proper amount of UV light, a correct feeding schedule, and must be placed in a controlled environment.

Final Thoughts

The next time you look for trichomes on hemp, remember how hard those tiny crystals work to keep the hemp buds and the rest of the plant protected from the potential harms of this world. But more importantly, providing a location for the biosynthesis of the cannabinoids and terpenes that we have grown to love.

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