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A Perspective on Albino Redwoods

This week, arborist and horticulturist, Tom Stapleton, shares his perspective on the fascinating and mysterious ghosts of the redwood forest…the albino redwoods! By studying these rare trees, he hopes to learn if climate causes albinism and aid in the protection and conservation of genetically unique redwoods.

Zane Moore standing behind the largest albino redwood known. It covers a staggering 795 square feet and has an average diameter of 31 feet! Photo by Tom Stapleton.
Zane Moore standing behind the largest albino redwood known. It covers a staggering 795 square feet and has an average diameter of 31 feet! Photo by Tom Stapleton.

I am on a quest with botany undergraduate Zane Moore to find all the locations of albino redwoods. From searching deep in the forest to backyard suburban setting, we have traveled hundreds of miles to search out and try to solve the mystery of what causes albinism in one of California’s most famous trees. Albinism, which makes normal foliage appear white, is caused by a genetic mutation that is not yet fully understood.  By carefully documenting each location, we are trying to determine if geography and climate are playing a role to cause this rare phenomenon.

Interestingly, they’ve discovered that albinism comes in many different forms and is not just exclusively white. Rare variegated albinos have been found growing in beautiful mosaic colors of green and white, while others display brilliant yellow foliage like the color of an egg yolk.  Albinos can be found growing at the base of parent redwood trees or high up on a branch. So far to date, we have documented 135 different albino redwood sites and continue to add more.  Some locations have been found over 100 miles away from the coast which is extraordinary.

Tom Stapleton standing next to the remotest albino redwood found. Located in the Southern Sierra, this tree grows in one of the hottest and driest environments known. Photo by Tom Stapleton.
Tom Stapleton standing next to the remotest albino redwood found. Located in the Southern Sierra, this tree grows in one of the hottest and driest environments known. Photo by Tom Stapleton.

Emerging Patterns 

As the data is analyzed, different albino types have been found growing in particular regions, while others seem random. Some forms appear rarer than others. More research and exploring will need to be done to fully understand their distribution.

Protecting Albinos

The vast majority of albinos found are on private land. With this said, we have been working with land owners to educate them about how rare these trees are and how to protect them. When visiting a site, special care is used so as not to disturb the albinos. In most instances, only pictures are taken, but on rare occasions samples have been collected with permission for further analysis. Because albino redwoods are fragile, every effort is made to tread lightly.

Albino redwood in Henry Cowell Redwood State Park. Photo by Tom Stapleton.
Albino redwood in Henry Cowell Redwood State Park. Photo by Tom Stapleton.

Get Involved

If you have an albino redwood location that you would like to include in the study, please feel free to contact Tom & Zane at albinoredwoods@gmail.com   The location of the tree(s) will not be disclosed and will be kept confidential.

 


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About Emily Burns

Emily joined Save the Redwoods League as the Director of Science in 2010 after studying redwood forest ecology for seven years.



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One Response to “A Perspective on Albino Redwoods”

  1. patsijean

    The albinao Redwood is very beautiful.

    Reply

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