Basic Cannabis Anatomy
Here’s a quick look at the basic anatomy of cannabis for those who aren’t familiar with some of the terms we use. There will be a more expansive guide coming soon with microscope photos and more detailed descriptions.
The calyx is the basic building block of cannabis, the actual “flower” part of the female plant. This is what appears on female plants as they begin to show sex in pre-flowering phase. They range in color from yellow-green to deep purple depending on the strain, but the teardrop shape is very standard. A high calyx-to-leaf ratio is generally desirable in breeding, as the leaves contain higher levels of chlorophyll, which makes the smoke harsh and degrades the taste. Sativa strains tend to have a better calyx-to-leaf ration than Indicas.
Pistils are the red or orange-colored hairs that are very apparent in the final dried product. They start out white and then slowly change to their final coloration, generally from white, to yellow, to orange, to red, then finally brown. Their only purpose for the plant is to catch the male pollen in order to create seeds and procreate. Ideally in medical-grade cannabis, there are no seeds and the pistils should remain visible until harvest. Pistils don’t contain much of anything in terms of final product — they don’t degrade the taste of a strain, but can’t be said to add anything to it either — pistil coverage is largely a matter of personal preference and appearance.
Trichomes are resin-filled glands that cover the surface of calyxes as well as leaves and stems, first appearing in early flowering as the female plant begins to mature. Trichomes hold the vast majority of THC and other cannabinoid content. The mushroom-like trichome heads are where the potency really lies though, and this is why they are used most exclusively in hash-making and other extractions.
As the plant matures, the trichome heads turn from clear to cloudy. If let go even longer, the plant develops golden, amber, and eventually black trichome heads, which signal the appearance of CBN (cannabinol), which develops as the THC begins to degrade. The appearance of more ambers generally means that the final effect will be more narcotic and “down”, while an early harvest generally lowers overall potency but can serve to clear up and lighten the effects. The ideal harvest varies depending upon desired medicinal effect, strain type, and personal preference — but generally, 10-25% amber trichomes, with the majority of others being cloudy is a good target to shoot for.
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