Last updated: June 21, 2021

What Does Trichomes Mean?

Trichomes, from the Greek word "trichōma" meaning "hair", are microscopic resinous structures found on the epidermis of several types of plant stems and leaves, including cannabis plants.

These bulbous or stalk-like appendages can have a wide range of appearances and perform very important functions such as affecting leaf temperature, facilitating photosynthesis, pest-deterrence, and the production of the key therapeutic and psychoactive components of cannabis such as tetrahydrocannabinolic acid and cannabidiolic acid, as well as a complex array of secondary metabolites.

Trichomes fall into two categories: glandular and non-glandular. Only glandular trichomes produce cannabinoids and these can be separated into three categories: bulbous trichomes, capitate-sessile trichomes, and capitate-stalked trichomes.

In the cannabis industry, trichomes are the target of various extraction and concentration methods to produce a wide variety of cannabis extracts and concentrates. These products represent a separation of the inert plant material from the desired cannabis compounds to varying degrees of commercial interest.

close up image of cannabis trichomes


Maximum Yield Explains Trichomes

It is believed that one of the main roles of glandular trichomes is to help protect plants from pests and small animals. Glandular trichomes secrete strong smells that deter pests or animals looking for a meal. These compounds are often sought after for essential oil production. Alternatively, trichomes are also found on some carnivorous plants where they aid in luring prey. In some plants, trichomes contain small barbs or hooks that make it difficult for an insect to eat the soft leaves.

Non-glandular trichomes, also called cystoliths, contain UV ray-absorbing compounds (flavonoids) that help protect plant leaves from potential harm from too much sunlight. This is believed to be their only function.

Cannabis plants produce three types of glandular trichomes: bulbous, capitate-sessile, and capitate-stalked. Bulbous trichomes look like tiny bumps or dots and appear all over the surface of the plant. Capitate-sessile and capitate-stalked trichomes both have the appearance of small, clear or translucent mushrooms. Capitate-sessile trichomes are the smaller of the two and most often found on the underside of leaves. Capitate-stalked trichomes appear on the cannabis flowers and are rarely found elsewhere on the plant. Where a microscope is required to view both bulbous and capitate-sessile trichomes, the larger, taller capitate-stalked trichomes are visible to the naked eye and are the most abundant of the three.

Diagram of bulbous, capitate-stalked and capitate-sessile glandular trichomes on a cannabis plant.

While all three types cannabis trichomes are responsible for the crystal-like appearance and stickiness of the buds, only capitate-sessile and capitate-stalked trichomes produce cannabinoid, terpene, and flavonoid content. However, due to their size and abundance, capitate-stalked trichomes contain the majority of these compounds and as such are the most valued by both growers and connoisseurs. Growers should take care when handling their plants both before and after harvesting to not remove or destroy these trichomes.

During a cannabis plant's flowering stage its trichomes will change color, first turning cloudy white and eventually darkening to an amber shade. The color of the trichomes can be used to determine the ideal time to harvest, with cloudy THC-rich white trichomes producing an energetic head high, while amber trichomes produce a "couch lock" body high due to higher levels of cannabinol (CBN). A mix of cloudy and amber trichomes is often considered the ideal time to harvest.

For years, researchers have been working on ways to increase glandular trichome production in various plant species in an effort to collect as many of the desired compounds from one plant as is possible. Since glandular trichomes are the result of a plant’s protective measure against a danger in the environment, it is believe that one way to enhance the production of these secondary metabolites in your own garden is to place slight amounts of stress on your plants at the right times.

Trichomes are not directly connected to a plant’s vascular system, which means they are not products of a plant’s primary metabolism. In other words, trichomes are not involved in the reproduction or respiration processes of the plant, hence, trichomes make up part of a plant's secondary metabolism.



Glandular Trichomes

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