Distinguishing the Cannabis Bud

Learn what makes this plant so valuable?


Behold, the cannabis bud. While practically everyone reading this has contemplated it at some point, it’s not always a given that people who have consumed the plant really know what gives the plant its potency and its healing and euphoric powers. Ultimately, its power is concentrated in the many different components that make up its buds. So let’s dive into the world of the bud, and determine what each part does to ensure that it continues to survive — and that humans will continue to find utility in it.

Cannabis buds are the reproductive structures of the plant and are located at the end of the branches. Large clusters of such buds form colas, with the largest and most potent usually concentrated at the top of the plant. The buds are covered in a layer of trichomes, which are small, hairlike structures that contain high concentrations of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. These compounds give the buds their distinct aromas, flavors, and effects.

Aside from the trichome, cannabis buds also consist of calyxes, pistils, and the far-smaller stigma. The calyx is the outermost part of the bud which initially holds the rest of the plant. When fully budded, the calyx’s leaves form the base of the bud and sits atop the branch’s node. Pistils are tiny hair-like structures, usually brownish in color, that catch pollen from the male plant, if such particles just happen to be floating around in the air. They do so through their stigmas, which are microscopic portions of the pistil which deliver pollen to the ovule, which upon fertilization will focus on creating seeds. These ovules are covered by protectant leaves called bracts, and trichome covered “sugar leaves” will often stick out of pre-trimmed buds.

The size, color and shape of a cannabis bud can vary greatly depending on the strain, growing conditions, and maturity at harvest. Indoor growing techniques are often tailored to maximize the amount of trichomes on the buds, which means lighting, fertilizer, temperature and atmosphere are closely controlled depending on the plant genetics to ensure that a very specific type of trichome thrives in the finished bud.

Humans focus on one type of trichome however there are three, and they are characterized according to their overall shape and function. Working our way up the main stalk, or meristem, of the plant, we’ll find them in order: bulbous, capitate-sessile, and capitate-stalked trichomes.

Bulbous trichomes are the smallest of the trichomes, and they’re found pretty much everywhere on the plant. These contain cannabinoids, but hardly enough to make much of a difference on their own due to their size (10-15 micrometers, to be precise.)

Capitate-sessile trichomes are larger and more abundant than bulbous trichomes. They’re so named because at this size, the trichomes form a distinctive, and this head is immovable connected to the larger trichome — hence, “capitate-sessile.” These trichomes produce a significant amount of the plant's cannabinoids and terpenes and contain more of the plant’s active compounds.

Capitate-stalked trichomes are the largest and most abundant type of trichome found on cannabis buds. These trichomes distinguish strains such as White Widow from their competitors at competitive cups and produce the majority of the plant's cannabinoids and terpenes. They also contain the same sorts of caps as their capitate-sessile brethren, but at 100 micrometers clearly dwarf them.

The size and density of trichomes on a cannabis bud can also be influenced by environmental factors such as light, temperature, humidity, and nutrients. In most plants, trichomes serve to protect the plant from predators and pests. In some carnivorous plants, they also serve as tripwires to alert the plant that dinner has arrived. As any outdoor grower will tell you, cannabis plants can fall prey to any number of non-human interlopers, so it is presumed that the compounds that attract humans also repel cannabis’s enemies as well.

Simply put, the bud contains the reproductive organs of the plant. Within its buds are everything the plant needs to create the seeds that will help it grow and diversify. Minus that, the female plant creates a treasure trove of healing compounds that bring relief and enjoyment to all the plant’s users. In exchange, we ensure that the plants which please us best continue to grow and prosper for decades to come. Seen in this light, cannabis has ensured its survival, in many more ways than one.