What are Trichomes?

Every hemp guide and hemp flower product description seems to contain the word "trichomes." If you're new to hemp and don't have a background in botany, you may be a little confused as to what trichomes are and why they're so important.

In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about this important part of hemp and cannabis plants.

What are Trichomes?

As cannabis and hemp flowers mature, they develop a "frosty" appearance. This effect is provided by a covering of small hairs with a bulbous head, like translucent mushrooms. These hairs are loaded with terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids. When broken, they release a sticky and potent resin.

Although they are rarely visible to the naked eye, you can see these beautiful little outgrowths under a magnifying glass.

Etymology of Trichomes

The word Trichomes (pronounced "Tri-Kowmz" or "Try-Combs") comes from the Greek word τρίχωμα (pronounced "tree-ho-ma") which means "hair." 

The word is an evolution of the Ancient Greek word "θρίξ", which also meant "hair," and in modern Greek, there is a clear distinction between the hair on your head (μαλλία) and the hair that exists on plants and animals (τρίχωμα).

Contrary to common assumption, it has nothing to do with the number "3" in either Latin (tribus) or Greek (τρία).

Different Types of Trichomes

Broadly speaking, hemp and cannabis trichomes fall into one of two categories: glandular trichomes and non-glandular trichomes.

Non-glandular trichome production occurs early in the plant's development and provides protection from pests, UV light, and herbivores. 

Glandular trichomes are resin glands; they are always multicellular and are found in abundance in female cannabis plants and hemp plants. These trichomes fall into one of three categories:

  • Capitate-Stalked Trichomes: Found during the flowering stage, these are the largest type of trichomes.
  • Capitate-Sessile Trichomes: Mid-sized trichomes that assume the familiar mushroom-like shape.
  • Bulbous Trichomes: The smallest type and one that contains very little in the way of terpenes and cannabinoids.

Production of Trichomes

Trichomes contain cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBG) and terpenes (Myrcene, Pinene). These are the essential oils responsible for the aroma, flavor, and benefits of hemp and cannabis. 

These hairs are delicate, and the plants need to be harvested and stored properly to limit damage and degradation. That’s why top-shelf hemp flowers carry a much higher price tag than low-grade bulk flowers. That "high-grade" label means the plants have been grown under strict conditions, before being carefully harvested, stored, and prepared, keeping all those beneficial trichomes intact.

A bud covered with a fine growth of hair may produce stronger flavors and more heightened effects. In addition, trichome-covered hemp flowers and cannabis buds are used to make kief, a concentrated substance that can be smoked or eaten. 

If you use a three-chamber grinder, kief is the substance that collects in the final chamber, as all those heady trichomes slip through the mesh and gather at the bottom.

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