Cannabis leaf surface under very high magnification, visualizing the gland- and hair-structures (trichomes) of the plant leaf and flower area. Manually colored scanning-electron-micrograph by Martin Oeggerli / Micronaut.
When it comes to cannabis, there is quite a bit more than what meets the naked eye. If you look at the flower you probably ask yourself about the tiny little structures that seem to cover the leaves and buds like a sticky blanket of frost. From close up, however, they appear to be large collections of what are known as trichomes. The word originates from the Greek word “Tríchōma”, meaning “growth of hair”. Trichomes can be found in many plant species, taking on various physical forms as well as serving many different purposes. For example, trichomes found on some carnivorous plants aid in helping to catch prey. In cannabis, whatsoever, these microscopic mushroom-looking protuberances look like something out of a science fiction novel. In cannabis, the trichomes represent the very factories that produce hundreds of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, which make our favorite cannabis strains potent, unique, and effective. In cannabis, trichomes have a dual function by serving as a chemical-defense mechanism to various insects and animals, due to the strong aromas and bitter taste, as well as to non-living environmental damage through UV rays and strong winds, due to the morphology and number of the trichome carpet. Trichomes exist in many shapes and sizes within the kingdom of plants, but there are just a few on cannabis plants: A – Bulbous trichomes are the smallest of the bunch, and they appear on the surface of the entire plant. Bulbous trichomes are as small as 10-15 micrometers, which is tiny enough to only be comprised of a handful of cells. B – Capitate sessile trichomes are slightly larger and contain both a head and a stalk. These trichomes are quite a bit more abundant than their bulbous brethren, but cannot hold a candle to the bountifulness and size of the third trichome variety. C – Capitate-stalked trichomes range from anywhere between 50-100 micrometers wide, meaning they’re much larger and can actually be seen by the naked eye. Their structure consists of a stalk comprised of epidermal and hypodermic cells that build up to a basal cell which attaches to a large gland head. This gland head, held together by a waxy cuticle layer, serves as the epicenter for cannabinoid and terpenoid synthesis. By limiting physical contact and damage to the flowers, trichomes may be preserved for much longer periods, and proper trimming, drying, and curing techniques can also help to protect trichomes, which in turn will preserve the cannabinoids and terpenoids inside the glands. Cannabis trichomes truly do deserve a round of applause for their essential role in not only protecting a cannabis plant from the potential harms of the world, but also by providing a one-of-a-kind manufacturing facility for hundreds of known medicinally and therapeutically beneficial compounds exclusive to this amazing plant.