What Are Trichomes?
If you’ve ever looked at hemp flowers closely, you may have noticed some sticky, shiny growths. These resinous glands can be found on many different plant species and serve a lot of different functions. When it comes to hemp, they produce cannabinoids like CBD—as well as the host of terpenes that can make the flowers so tantalizingly stinky. What are they exactly? Why are they so important when it comes to discussing hemp and CBD? For those answers, we took a deep dive into the science behind trichomes.
What are Trichomes, anyway?
If you want to get real technical with it, the dictionary definition of trichome is “fine outgrowths or appendages on plants, algae, lichens, and certain protists.” ¹ The word’s origin lies in the Greek word “tríchōma,” which means “growth of hair.”² But essentially, they’re little mushroom-shaped glands that stick out from plants.
In nature, trichomes produce terpenes and other natural chemicals that help deter pests, attract pollinators, and protect plants from diseases. Some carnivorous plants, like Cape Sundews and Pitcher Plants, use their trichomes to detect, trap, and even digest insects.³ Others like daisies use trichomes to help prevent water loss in leaves and guard them from excessive moisture.⁴ Hemp, as complex and magical as it is, uses trichomes in many different ways.
Trichomes On Hemp Plants
When it comes to hemp plants, trichomes are where all the magic happens. They are known for producing hundreds of natural plant chemicals, such as cannabinoids and terpenes—including CBD! Each of these compounds can come with dozens of potential therapeutic and medicinal benefits—both to the plants and to ourselves.
A Few Functions of Trichomes In Hemp
There are three major types of trichomes found in hemp plants, and they all assist with various functions. The important thing to remember is that it’s these resinous trichomes which produce cannabinoids like CBD, flavonoids, natural chemicals, and terpenes—which all help protect the plant from all kinds of trouble.⁵ We know, it’s a lot. To break it all down even more:
- protect the plant from germs and insects.⁶
- play a role in protecting the plant from the sun’s harmful UV rays (or indoor lights).⁷
- taste bitter and smell strongly so that the plant tastes gross to herbivorous animals.⁸
- reduce water evaporation by protecting the plant from wind, low humidity, and heat.⁹
- insulate the plant against frost.¹⁰
Three Different Types of Trichomes
Now that you know about what they do, let’s get real… shall we say… into the weeds. There are three main kinds of trichomes found in hemp.¹¹ All three produce cannabinoids, but the highest concentrations are in the capitate-stalked trichomes found around budding flowers. When you look at a hemp flower, these are the big boys you can see with the naked eye.
- Bulbous Trichomes: These guys are extremely tiny and found on the entire surface of the whole plant. They’re only about the size of a handful of cells, checking in at around just 10-15 micrometers. (So, unfathomably small.) The neat thing is that they also produce cannabinoids; which is why processors used to make concentrates can run trim and stems—and still extract cannabinoids.
- Capitate Sessile Trichomes: These guys can be a bit larger than their bulbous brethren, but they contain a stalk in addition to a head…so somewhat resemble little mushrooms. They check in at ~20-30 micrometers in size and are usually found all over the plant. They’re extremely hard to see. But like bulbous trichomes, they too can be extracted for concentrates.
- Capitate-Stalked Trichomes: These mushroom-like growths can be seen with the naked eye and range between 50-100 micrometers wide. Compared to the other two, these are enormous. Thanks to their size, they produce the largest amount of cannabinoids and terpenes. They grow from a stalk-like structure that forms a type of head that swells with resinous oils rich in terpenes and other cannabinoids. These are the prize—visible all across hemp flowers and sugar leaves, giving them a frosted appearance that protects them from all of the potential hazards they may experience while in their most vulnerable stage: flowering.
Trichomes & Cannabinoids
As you now know, trichomes are where cannabinoids such as CBD come from. When the plants begin blooming, the trichomes develop and grow—offering adequate protection against threats at the most vulnerable and critical stages of their lifecycle. At the end of the day, all the hemp plant wants to do is survive and drop seeds. Trichomes help make that possible.
As hemp plants begin to flower, they’ll start forming trichomes all over the outer/above-ground surface of the entire plant. As they form, they begin transporting vacuoles and plastids (which are responsible for water and chlorophyll) from the trichome’s stalk into its head.¹² The cells within the trichome then metabolize to form precursors (like CBG or other plant chemicals), for example, that will eventually become cannabinoids.
The number of cannabinoids a plant produces depends on the environment and genetics. With that being said, regardless of how many trichomes a plant produces on its own, light plays a major role in potency.¹³ Some research indicates plants that receive a broader spectrum of light tend to produce more cannabinoids and terpenes in their trichomes.
The Lifecycle of Trichomes
Trichomes live and die just like the hemp plants themselves —which is why it’s so important for hemp farmers to keep an eye on the trichomes that they find on the plants. They ripen in a very specific window of time and begin degrading almost immediately after; so there’s a sweet spot for cutting down a hemp plant for harvest. Cultivators are able to find this window by examining the trichomes.
Trichomes on hemp plants are mature when they’ve changed from clear to a cloudy white—and eventually a slightly amber hue. Some trichomes mature faster than others. This is why so many farmers harvest hemp plants when the majority of trichomes are milky-white in color—with about 10% to 15% of them being amber.¹⁴ The amber-colored ones have begun degrading. When the majority of the trichomes are amber, you will end up with less than stellar flavor and lower levels of potency than plants harvested at peak ripeness.
There are a lot of factors at play contributing to how well hemp plants will produce cannabinoids. It’s easy to destroy trichomes and thus lose potency and flavor—or cause them to degrade even more rapidly. Some examples include:
- touching the plant and damaging the trichomes
- high heat
- low humidity
- too much UV light exposure
- too much oxygen exposure
- sitting on the plant too late into the season
With that in mind, farmers want to protect trichomes at all costs to ensure they produce a potent and flavorful crop throughout their life cycle. At our farm in central Oregon, we slow degradation as much as possible by not physically handling the flowers during propagation and harvest. We also take care to follow proper trimming, drying, and curing techniques that help keep trichomes viable for extended periods of time.
Here at Lazarus Naturals, we focus on optimizing extraction techniques. When our hemp plants and their trichomes reach their peak ripeness, we immerse the harvested plant matter in chilled ethanol to extract the CBD and additional cannabinoids. After that, we remove plant particulate, lipids, and waxes to ensure all traceable amounts of ethanol evaporate from the extract; which leaves a full spectrum oil rich with natural cannabinoids and terpenes. Through this meticulous process, our original beloved trichomes have been fully harnessed—leaving the hemp oil with better flavor, potency, and naturally beneficial compounds.
We then package the oil in light and oxygen-resistant containers that help protect the precious compounds from degrading elements like light, heat, and oxygen. This ensures their freshness and keeps them shelf-stable for indefinite storage—before further extraction into isolate or RSO concentrates.
Trichomes found on hemp plants aren’t just remarkable because of their therapeutic potential within our bodies, but also due to their ability to protect the plants themselves from a range of natural threats they may experience in the wild. At Lazarus Naturals, our experienced farmers are committed to preserving these natural and essential elements to ensure the highest quality hemp oil possible—leveraging the science of nature to empower customers on their individual journeys towards wellness.