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How to identify mature trichomes in cannabis

Cannabis trichomes

Trichomes are microscopic structures present on the surface of cannabis plants. These small glands contain a sticky resin inside, loaded with cannabinoids and terpenes, the chemical compounds that influence the effects and aromatic profile of CBD flowers.

On the plant, as cannabis flowers mature, their trichomes change color and composition. At the beginning, the trichomes are transparent and glassy and, with time, they become opaque and amber-colored. These changes indicate that the trichomes are reaching the end of their life cycle and may be less potent than when they were younger.

Understanding the different stages of trichome maturation will help you unleash the full potential of your cannabis crop. Identifying the optimal harvest time is essential to obtain the desired results in terms of potency and flavor. Learning to distinguish the different stages of trichome maturity is a key skill for growers.

Milky white cannabis trichomes
Macro photo to appreciate the trichomes of cannabis. Inside these structures is the resin full of cannabinoids and terpenes.

What are cannabis trichomes and why are they important at harvest time?

Cannabis trichomes are small crystalline-like structures found on the surface of cannabis plants. They contain the plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes, which are the compounds responsible for the aromas of cannabis and its effects.

Trichomes are actually a sophisticated defense mechanism of the plant. The sticky resin of the trichomes physically prevents pests from moving through the plant, and the cannabinoids and terpenes are believed to act as an effective repellent for some insects. The trichome layer also protects the plant and its sensitive tissues against harmful UV rays (1).

These tiny structures not only look amazing, but also play an essential role in the production of the many cannabis strains we know and love.

How to identify the different stages of maturity of trichomes

Observe the coloration of the trichomes

Looking at the trichomes of the buds is the most accurate way to determine whether the cannabis is ready for harvest or not. For this purpose, it is best to use a magnifying glass or, better yet, a microscope with at least 30x magnification. If you look very closely with your own eyes, you will also be able to see the mushroom-shaped trichomes, but you will not recognize any difference between them.

Optimal trichome maturation

The best quality trichomes can only be extracted from a healthy plant, grown under optimal conditions and harvested to peak maturity. The exact proportion and composition of cannabinoids and terpenes is determined by the genetics of the plant and the method of cultivation. However, the most important factor in terms of quality and quantity of trichomes is their maturity. And growers often judge trichome maturity by the color of the resin (2).

In general, transparent or very clear trichomes indicate immature plants with low cannabinoid content. Plants with heads of milky trichomes are at the peak of maturity and at their maximum splendor in terms of cannabinoid and terpenoid content, whereas the amber tones indicate that they are beginning to overmature – in this case, there is a gradual degradation of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) a cannabinol (CBN). We tell you about it in detail below.

Harvesting for optimum results

Harvesting at the right time can maximize the concentration of terpenes, which enriches the sensory experience and contributes to the distinctive flavor profile of each variety.

It is said that the optimal time to harvest cannabis is when it presents approximately 70% of opaque white or milky trichomes and 30% of amber color. This ratio should provide more balanced and long-lasting effects.

On the other hand, when most of the trichomes have an amber coloration, the plant should have more sedative effects. Most growers try to harvest plants when the flowers contain the highest proportion of mature trichomes.

The optimal moment for trichome maturation and harvesting is usually when most of the trichomes are milky in color and the first amber tones begin to appear, thus obtaining a hybrid and balanced effect.

Types of trichomes according to their degree of maturation

Stage 1: Transparent trichomes

In this first stage, the trichomes are small and almost invisible. They indicate that the resin is in the process of production and has not yet developed its full content of cannabinoids and terpenes. At this stage, the THC content is low. At this point, the plant is not yet ready for harvest, as the compounds are not yet fully developed.

Legal cannabis plant in its first stages of flowering.
Legal cannabis plant in its first stages of flowering.

Stage 2: Milky trichomes or opaque white color.

As the plant matures, the trichomes take on an opaque white or milky color. At this point, the THC content of the trichomes is at its highest concentration, which means that the plant is more psychoactive. At the same time, CBD levels are low and stable due to its rapid conversion to THC.

Terpenes are also present at this stage, contributing to the characteristic aromatic profiles of cannabis. Flowers at this stage smell intensely and have a captivating aroma.

Not surprisingly, many growers choose to harvest at this stage. The milky trichomes offer a more cerebral effect, typically classified as “sativa effect”, ideal for moments of creativity, concentration and socialization. The low levels of CBD and CBN allow the THC to have its maximum effect, without being too sedative. This improves the quality of the desired stimulant effect.

Generally, harvesting is done at this stage. Some wait for the moment when most of the trichomes are milky or opaque in color, but amber hues begin to appear. This stage is ideal for those seeking more balanced effects between euphoria and relaxation, typically associated with “hybrid” varieties.

Cannabis trichomes at harvest time
Cannabis trichomes at harvest time

Stage 3: Amber Trichomes

As maturation continues, the milky trichomes turn amber or brown. The amber-colored trichomes are an indicator that the THC is beginning to degrade into CBN, known as the “sleep cannabinoid” for its sedative effects.

At this stage, the plant can provide more sedative effects and more relaxing properties. A high amber trichome content may be more suitable for those seeking relaxing, narcotic or medicinal effects, typically associated with the “indica effect”. Many flowers destined for the hashish production are harvested at this stage, and it may also be the time to harvest some late “sativas”.

Don’t miss our post about the differences differences between indica and sativa strains .

Limoncello Weed Flower CBD
Limoncello Weed Flower CBD

Some growers prefer to harvest when most of the trichomes are milky, while others wait until the first amber tones appear to obtain a harvest of hybrid effects. Ultimately, the decision to harvest is based on personal preference and the type of experience one seeks from cannabis. By knowing the preferences of their consumers and harvesting consistently according to the level of trichome maturity, growers can build a solid and reliable reputation.

Frequently asked questions about trichome maturation

When is the best time to harvest?

In general, harvesting is ideal when most of the trichomes are milky and some have started to turn amber. It is important to observe the trichomes in the middle part of the branches, as they are indicative of the general state of maturity of the buds. In the upper parts of the branches, the flowers always have the most mature trichomes (due to greater sun exposure, temperature…). An effective strategy would be to harvest the top buds, mostly the ripest ones, a little earlier.

How to know approximately the date of harvest?

Always follow the indications of the manufacturer or seed bank where you obtain the varieties. The harvest will take place approximately on the indicated days, but you can choose the most optimal moment according to your preferences (more indica, sativa or hybrid), from the observation of the mature trichomes.

What happens if you harvest early?

If you harvest when the trichomes are immature, almost transparent, or before the optimal point of harvest, it is possible that the plant has not developed its full potential. Therefore, the phytochemical content of both cannabinoids and aromatic terpenes will be lower. This will mean that, after the cannabis has been properly dried and cured, the herb will have a weak, even hay or grassy aroma.

Is the color of the stigmas indicative of flower maturity?

In general yes, when most of the pistils or stigmas are brown, it is an indication that the flower is already mature. However, be careful not to be guided by the color of the stigmas, because they may be due to environmental factors, and not always coincide with the maturation of the trichomes. For example, stigmas can change color and rust if growing conditions are too humid or poorly ventilated. In addition, many varieties ripen before the stigmas (they turn brown) than the trichomes. The most reliable method to determine the ideal harvest time, especially if we are looking to obtain the maximum concentration of THC, lies in the observation of the trichomes, instead of relying solely on the pistils or stigmas.

We hope you have found this short introduction to the identification of mature cannabis trichomes helpful. Good luck with your harvest! Don’t miss our tips on drying and curing of cannabis you will also need to be informed about it.

While you wait for them to mature, you can make sure you get the highest quality product from our online CBD store, which offers a wide range of carefully grown and harvested buds at their peak. Our staff is always available to help you choose the perfect variety. So take a few moments to browse through our selection and don’t forget those ripe trichomes!

En Cannactiva queremos cambiar la perspectiva sobre el cannabis. Te traemos lo mejor de la planta a través de nuestros productos y de los posts que puedes leer en nuestro [...]

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