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What Are the Tiny Red Hairs on Weed? [Explained]

It is only when you truly study the marijuana plant that you begin to understand the various parts of its anatomy. There are plenty of people who know when they grow a good batch. They can tell the difference between an indica-dominant hybrid and a sativa-dominant one.

However, not all of these experts are acquainted with the plant’s anatomy. For example, you have the:

  • Cola: The flower that develops at the end of any branch. The term ‘cola’ also describes the largest bud that grows on the top of the main stem.
  • Bract: These green leaves have a teardrop shape, and resin glands cover them.
  • Calyx: This is the bud itself. It features a concentration of sugar leaves, so-called because of the immense covering of trichomes.
  • Trichomes: These are tiny, bulbous globes that contain cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, along with aromatic oils known as terpenes.
  • Fan leaves: These enormous leaves are part of the harvest and are a prime ingredient in the creation of edibles.
  • Nodes: Marijuana grows on skinny stems, and the fan leaves extend out from the nodes.

If you understand cannabis anatomy reasonably well, you’ll realize that we’ve left out a critical component; the pistil.

What Is A Pistil?

The answer to the title question is: “stigmas.” A pistil is a female cannabis sex organ. The tiny hair-like strands that protrude from it are called stigmas. Stigmas collect pollen from male marijuana plants. Once these hairs come into contact with male pollen, they become pollinated. Initially, the stigmas of the pistil are white.

As harvest time approaches, these hairs get darker and progress from yellow to orange. Then they turn red, and finally brown, depending on the strain.

When pollination occurs, the pistil develops a seed, and the plant’s life cycle is complete. Although it plays a significant role in reproduction, as a grower, you don’t want this process to occur. Once your female plant is pollinated, it develops seeds and moves its focus away from producing resinous flowers. As a result, your weed becomes less potent.

Pistils & Young Cannabis Plants

In general, young male cannabis plants develop preflowers before females. You can confirm that your feminized seeds are female in the first 3-6 weeks after germination. If you purchase regular seeds, you can spot whether or not they are male at this point. Pistils can poke out randomly from young marijuana plants. As a result, you should scrutinize them to spot preflowers quickly.

On the stem, there is a stipule, a green ‘hair-like’ growth from which you should see the preflowers. If you see a white hair emerging from several nodes, you have a female plant. Depending on the strain, it could take up to eight weeks of vegetative growth to confirm female plants. This is why we recommend purchasing feminized seeds from a reputable seller.

Pistils & Mature Cannabis Plants

If you spot a male plant, remove it from your garden as soon as possible. Otherwise, it will fertilize the rest of your crop. The stigmas in the pistils are long hairs and can help you determine when a plant is ready for harvest.

In the first few weeks of flowering or when a bud is formed, you should see numerous white hairs coming out of it. For the first 4-5 weeks, the stigmas will remain white. Eventually, you should spot a yellowish color forming.

The actual color you will see depends on the strain. For example, the stigmas may remain yellow until harvest time or turn red, amber, or dark brown. For new growers, this is a tricky period because you need to time your harvest correctly. If nothing else, make sure that at least 50% of the stigmas have changed to a yellow/red/brown color before considering harvesting the crop.

Experienced growers wait until 70-80% of the stigmas have changed color. It is at this point that the buds are likely at their most potent. We recommend purchasing a magnifying glass to check the crop’s trichomes. If three-quarters of the stigmas are red and a majority of trichomes are milky white with a bulbous mushroom head, your plants are ready to harvest.

Don’t Wait Too Long!

If you wait too long, the stigmas will become dark brown and start to dry out. The weed will still get you high. However, some of the THC has degraded into CBN by this point. As a result, the taste and overall potency are negatively affected.

Most cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, found in a cannabis plant are in the pistils and calyxes. This is known as the flower part, which is harvested, dried, cured, and consumed. Incidentally, if you continue to grow your female plants after pollination, the seeds become a pain to remove.

If you leave the seeds in your weed, expect a harsh and unpleasant smoking sensation, with coughing fits likely.

The following can differ depending on the strain. However, as a rule of thumb, the stigmas remain white for 4-5 weeks into flowering. At this stage, your plants are typically halfway through flowering, and you will see the first change in color. It isn’t until weeks 7-10 where you will notice a substantial number of orange, red, or yellow hairs.

Both female and hermaphroditic plants display pistils and stigmas. ‘Hermies’ also produce pollen and threaten your female plants. It is also important to remember that stress can cause a female plant to develop intersex traits.

Save the plants!…

My Bud Keeps Making New Pistils! What Do I Do?

It is best to stick with one marijuana strain if you are a beginner grower. Ideally, your buds are ready for harvest at approximately the same time as their neighboring plants. However, some strains finish the buds at the top of the plant first. Others do the opposite and cause confusion in your cannabis garden.

Indeed, you can have issues with the same strain! There are cases where parts of a plant mature faster than others. When this happens, don’t panic! Remember, it is okay to harvest in ‘parts,’ starting with the most mature weed. You may come across a situation where a plant continues to produce pistils just when it is supposedly ready for harvest. In such a case, there is potentially an issue.

For example, heat stress could lead to pistils growing on parts of the plant closest to the light. Another sign of excessive heat/light exposure is if the buds grow in unusual shapes. You may spot new buds covered in sugar leaves growing in these areas. If this happens to you, check out the older parts of the plant to see if it is ready for harvest. It is also a good idea to get the heat under control.

Occasionally, a plant will naturally grow new pistils during the flowering stage. This phenomenon is more prevalent in sativas and Haze varieties. New white pistil growth is reasonable if it happens evenly over the buds, and they remain small. You’ll find that it is a quirk of the actual marijuana strain itself.

If your sativa plant begins producing extra healthy pistils, cut the number of light hours it gets. Reduce from 12 to 10 hours a day. Longer nights could result in the plant maturing faster.

Final Thoughts on the Red Hairs on Cannabis

The red hairs you see on cannabis are called stigmas and are part of the pistil. Although it is not always the case, high-quality buds tend to have pistils with a lot of hairs.

When your weed matures, the color of the pistils’ hair changes.

At first, these hairs are white. As your marijuana approaches maturity, the color changes to red, yellow, or brown. As the pistil matures, it dries out and begins to curl. Once at least half of the hairs have turned red, it is time to consider harvesting your crop.

Have you ever wondered what the tiny red hairs on your buds are? We have the answer right here in this in-depth guide. Read more for the full explanation.

How to Evaluate Weed Quality

Whether you live in a legal state or not (and perhaps especially if not), chances are you have encountered subpar cannabis flowers before. The era of weak, brown “brick weed” is long over, but that doesn’t mean that all flower is created equally.

The good news is that you can avoid being stuck with subpar weed if you know what to look for. In our experience, there is no substitute for a smoke test in a perfectly rolled joint or blunt, but a methodical visual inspection of the buds will give you a good idea as to the type of strain and the conditions in which it was grown. Once you know what to look for, you’ll always have the best in your 420 travel kit.

Table of contents

Smell
KEY TAKEAWAYS
Color
KEY TAKEAWAYS
Bud Structure
KEY TAKEAWAYS
Trimming
KEY TAKEAWAYS
Trichomes
KEY TAKEAWAYS
Hermaphroditic Traits
KEY TAKEAWAYS
Mold and Pests
KEY TAKEAWAYS
Did You Know?

Smell

Well-grown, quality cannabis buds should have a pungent, identifiable smell — that skunky aroma that ranges from slightly sweet to earthy to diesel-like — indicating high terpene content. Alternatively, inferior buds often lack any smell or smell similarly to hay or alfalfa, a sure sign of poorly grown and/or cured cannabis.

For reference, rich scents like coffee and chocolate are typically indicative of an indica strain, while bright, acidic citrus notes are generally characteristic of a sativa. Hybrid strains will likely contain components of both profiles.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Avoid buds that smell like hay or have no discernible smell at all. If it doesn’t have that characteristic dankness, you probably don’t want it.

Pungency is directly linked to potency and terpene content.

Color

Quality cannabis buds should be generally green in color, not brown! The exact shade can range from lighter, frosty greens to darker, forest greens, with undertones that range from purple to rosy to golden.

The important question to ask is: does the bud look like it came from a healthy plant? It is not uncommon for quality buds to have hints of purple, pink, blue, etc. However, if the majority of the bud is rusty red, brown, tan, or yellow in color, it came from an unhealthy plant.

Buds that looked bleached white (not frosty with crystals) are the unfortunate victims of light burn, an unfavorable growing condition in which the plant is subjected to extremely high-intensity light. Avoid these buds, as they won’t give you a quality smoking or vaping experience.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Avoid buds that are brown, tan, yellow, red, or white in color.

Quality cannabis is primarily green in color, with a wide range of accent colors and undertones.

Bud Structure

As a general rule of thumb, indica buds should be tight and dense, while sativa buds are often more light and fluffy. However, when grown carelessly, indica buds can take on sativa-like appearance, with open, incomplete buds and visible stems. Hybrid strains often share structural traits of both indicas and sativas.

For reference, sativa buds are typically covered in more pistils (little orange/red hairs) than indica buds. The pistils should be dispersed throughout the bud, not clustered in some areas and absent from others.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Avoid buds with loose, open structures and visible stems

Indicas are generally tight and dense, while sativas are fluffier with more pistils

Trimming

Following the harvest, cannabis buds must be trimmed in order to eliminate the leaves surrounding the bud. Quality cannabis buds should be tightly hand-trimmed as opposed to machine-trimmed.

Trimming machines tend to mangle buds and disrupt the fragile trichomes they harbor. Avoid buds that have been machine trimmed or untrimmed buds with excessive leaves; typical indications of rushed cultivation practices.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Avoid buds that haven’t been trimmed well, or are visibly mangled by a trim machine

Quality cannabis is trimmed by hand to preserve trichomes and buds

Trichomes

The goal of properly grown cannabis is to produce buds densely packed with ripe trichomes, the visible crystals on the surface of the buds. This is because trichomes are where the cannabinoids and terpenes are stored.

Trichome density is relatively easy to distinguish with the naked eye; i.e. how ‘frosty’ is the bud? Quality buds will be covered in trichomes that sparkle like crystals, whereas poor quality buds will lack trichome coverage.

Trichome ripeness, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult to assess without the aid of a magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe. The question at hand; was the plant grown to maturity, or was it harvested prematurely (or even late)?

Usually, the problem is prematurely harvested buds as opposed to those which are over-ripened (especially with sativa strains, as they have longer flowering periods). Premature harvesting is especially common in illegal states where the underground cultivators seek to complete more flower cycles in a year to maximize yield (at the expense of quality).

The color of the glandular trichome head is the easiest way to determine trichome ripeness. Ideally, the trichome heads should be milky white, possibly with a hint of amber. If the trichome heads are clear, the plant was harvested prematurely, and if all the heads are amber, the plant was harvested after peak ripeness.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Avoid buds that don’t look ‘frosty,’ as they were not grown to peak ripeness

Quality cannabis is dense with cannabinoid-rich, milky-white trichome heads

Hermaphroditic Traits

Quality buds are only produced by female cannabis plants – males produce pollen sacks, which you don’t want to smoke! Strong female genetics remain female even through the potential stresses encountered while growing.

The key here is strong female genetics; some more finicky strains will produce female plants with hermaphroditic traits. This means that, with enough stress or time, the plant has a tendency to produce either male flower sites or “bananas” (also called nanners).

These are generally not desirable characteristics and buds showing these traits should be avoided. This is a plant’s final attempt to self-pollinate and reproduce after being stressed to a point where it views death as imminent. All that stress means that the plant hasn’t had the energy to devote to becoming potent — it’s been in survival mode. Thus, the earlier in its lifecycle the plant shows hermaphroditic traits, the higher likelihood the bud is seeded.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Avoid cannabis with seeds, male flower sites, or “bananas.”

Quality cannabis is only produced by the female plant – male characteristics indicate the plant was cultivated under stress and the quality of the buds will be substantially lower.

Mold and Pests

It should go without saying that quality cannabis buds are free of mold and pests, but these issues can sometimes surface in cannabis purchased from a source outside the regulated legal market.

Mold manifests itself as white, powdery mildew (distinct from the crystalline trichomes) or a grey, fuzzy mold, depending on the particular fungal pest. Insects like mites, gnats, thrips, and aphids can leave fecal matter, eggs and even dead friends behind on your buds — ew. If any of these critters, or traces of them, are in your herb, don’t smoke it!

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Avoid cannabis with any evidence of mold and pests

Did You Know?

Aside from the obvious (not wanting to smoke bad weed), those same buds pictured above comprise the starting material used to make all other forms of cannabis. Whether you prefer vaporizing concentrates or consuming edibles, every form of cannabis consumptionstems from the flower the plant produces.

Healthy plants have the best chance of producing a robust cannabinoid profile, and while most people are looking for maximum THC content, one of the most beneficial cannabinoids is called cannabidiol, or CBD.

Though it doesn’t get you high (unlike THC, it is non-psychoactive), athletes and travelers find CBD incredibly helpful for pain relief. Others find help with anxiety and stress, and it is used to treat drug-resistant epilepsy and other inflammatory disorders.

Commonly sold in concentrated forms such as tinctures or softgels, CBD can also be found in high concentrations in organic hemp flower (Lifter strain from Canna Comforts shown below), the source material from which those concentrates are extracted.

Recently, TSA released guidelines on how to take your vape pen on a plane, the rules for flying with weed so that people can make appropriate plans for safely taking their medication on the go.

The era of weak, brown "brick weed" is long over, but that doesn't mean that all flower is created equally. Here's our guide on how to evaluate the quality of your weed.