White redwood fronds mix with green deep in the heart of the forest
The fact that albino redwoods exist seems to be one of those things that no one quite believes until they see it for themself. And when people do catch sight of one of these “ghost trees” lifting its clean, white needles uselessly toward the sun, it tends to put them in a spiritual frame of mind. People are protective of the white redwoods they’ve found. They behave as though they’ve been let in on a secret. Some return to their tree alone many times, never telling anyone, as if to a private shrine.
Over the years we’ve found white redwoods scattered here and there (or they have revealed themselves to us, if you prefer) in the Santa Lucias from the southern end of the redwood range north nearly to Carmel. Most are small, which makes sense since they must draw their sustenance from other trees, but a few attain truly tree-like proportions. The largest one we know of burned up in the Kirk Complex fires, but is vigorously regrowing from the roots – and we’re happy to say it’s as white as ever.
But they’re certainly not impervious to fire. Another white redwood, burned in the Basin Complex Fire, appears now to be dead.
White Redwood Facts:
Albinism in plants and animals is caused by genetic variations (not by growing in the dark or failing to get enough nutrition).
In plants, any genetic variation that results in an inability to produce chlorophyll may result in albinism.
Albinism is not uncommon in plants, but albino plants, being unable to sustain themselves, generally die as seedlings – as soon as the nutrients in their seeds are exhausted.
Redwoods are an exception because they are able to reproduce asexually (sending up new trees from the roots of existing trees). Albino redwoods created in this way can survive because they remain attached to the roots of the parent tree.
Because the rate at which albino trees can grow is limited by the rate at which they can sustain themselves through their parents’ roots, they grow more slowly and attain smaller stature than normal redwoods (the tallest we’ve heard of reached 80 feet, only a quarter the height of the tallest normal coast redwoods).
Some genetic variations result in “variegated” trees whose needles may be mottled or striped with green and white.
Albino redwoods can produce viable pollen and can pass their albinism down to their sexually produced offspring – although those that inherit full albinism won’t live beyond the seedling stage.
Albino redwoods seem to be more common at the southern end of the coast redwood range (south of San Francisco Bay) than they are to the north (we hear they’re essentially non-existent in Del Norte County).