Photo via KQED video
While they might look like flocked Christmas trees, these albino redwoods are anything but. The very rare "ghost trees" lack chlorophyll, the necessary chemical that makes plants green and helps them convert sunlight to food. So, the trees feed off energy from a host redwood. There are as few as perhaps 25 albino redwoods around the world, and eight in the Henry Cowell Redwood State Park in Northern California. Check out a video from KQED explaining how these albino trees function. In an interview with NPR, historian Sandy Lyndon states, "Albinism is a genetic mutation that prevents cells from producing pigment. In humans and other animals, albinism is not necessarily such a big deal. But albino plants are unable to do the very thing that makes a plant a plant. Without chlorophyll, they can't photosynthesize, meaning they can't convert sunlight into energy. The only reason that albino redwoods survive at all is that they are connected at the root to a parent tree from which they will suck energy for their entire lives."
Henry Cowell Redwood State Park docent Dave Kuty states that these redwoods are "thought to be the most adaptable tree on earth by being able to change their genes so readily... Albinos probably aren't a particularly good modification, from the standpoint of the health of the forest, but they demonstrate there's a lot of experimentation going on."
While they're a bright white, it seems incredibly easy to miss these trees -- in the video below, most of them just look like a regular redwood turned bright by dappled sunlight, or perhaps simply dead.
Stanford University is busy trying to figure out the mystery of these rare trees that break so many of the rules of trees. The Vancouver Sun writes that the redwood's cells hold a total of 66 chromosomes -- in contrast, humans have only 23 chromosomes. The multitude of chromosomes makes figuring out the mystery much more complicated.
Photo by Cole Shatto via Wikipedia Creative Commons
Regardless of the reasons why, the mutation of the redwoods holds a certain fascination. First spotted in the 1890s in California, these "everwhites" are ghost-like, appearing next to a host tree, then weakening and shrinking down, then reappearing again. No matter Mother Nature's reasoning behind them, they illustrate she is full of surprises and mysterious experimentation.
Photo via Loup-Vert via Flickr Creative Commons
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