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Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds, produced by a variety of plants, especially conifers and by some insects such as termites. They often have a strong odor and can protect the plants they produce by deterring herbivores and attracting predators and parasites which further deter herbivores. The difference between terpenes and terpenoids is that terpenes are hydrocarbons, while terpenoids contain additional functional groups.
Terpenes are the main components of resin and of terpentine produced from resin. The name "terpene" is derived from the word "turpentine". In addition to their role as end products in many organisms, terpenes are also important biosynthetic building blocks in almost every living being. Steroids are, for example, derivatives of the triterpene squalene.
Terpenes and terpenoids are the main ingredients of the essential oils of many types of medicinal plants and flowers. Essential oils are widely used as odor in perfumes, in the medical field and alternative medical treatments such as aromatherapy. Synthetic variations and derivatives of natural terpenes and terpenoids also greatly extend the variety of flavorings used in perfumes and flavorings used in food additives. Vitamin A is a terpenoid.
Higher amounts of terpenes are released by the trees in warmer weather, and function as a natural form of cloud cultivation. The clouds reflect sunlight, allowing the temperature of the forest to be regulated. The smell and taste of hops comes partly from sesquiterpenes (mainly alpha-humulene and beta-caryophyllene), which influence the quality of the beer.
Terpenes are also important components of cannabis sativa plants, which contain at least 120 identified compounds.