I stopped to check out one of our albino redwoods earlier this year in one of our seldom visited parks. Albino redwoods are a curious genetic mutation where the tree will not produce chlorophyll and must tap into the living tissue of other redwoods to steel sugars. Essentially parasitic, yet there is no evidence that an albino redwood has any negative effects to its host tree.
Recently, a student found evidence that albinos may actually be more than random mutations, and actually are removing toxins from the environment. By analyzing the chemical content of the leaves, they found high concentrations of heavy metals and other potentially toxic compounds. So a theory is developing that albino redwoods are actually a mechanism to deal with pollution. Considering its 240 million year history, it seems plausible that this species may have come up with a way to deal with toxins in the environment. Unlike humans, who have two sets of chromosomes, a redwood has six pairs! Thats 66 chromosomes in each cell! Imagine the possibilities!
Still there are many questions. Why are not more of them? Especially considering the recent inputs of pollution in the past 100 years. Can they be cloned and used to clean up polluted soils?
This specific albino is in a public place, but not a very popular place. More or less an overgrown and neglected county park, and the albino itself is off the main path. The area was logged through in the 1960s and most likely a railroad went through the stand before roads. Lots of metal has been left behind from historic railroading, logging and mining. Is it possible there is a old wire rope below the surface that this albino is scrubbing? The condition of this albino seemed – diminished – from the last time I was here. When I took this picture I wondered if something in the environment or climate that was causing its gradual demise, or maybe people had cut its leaves. But now I wonder, has this albino effectively removed the pollution it was summoned to deal with? Will it now, with its task completed, fade off like a ghost only to reaper in another part of the forest when needed? Or maybe it is dying and the level of toxins are too much for it to handle. Will the host tree start to show signs of decline after the albino is gone? And then again, we could discover through more studies that is there no correlation between albinos and pollution and return to not knowing why these ghost redwoods appear. Time will tell. (Im crossing my fingers for pollution killing ghost trees that we can deploy to treat toxic soils…)
Here are some pictures of the same tree in 2013, when I perceived the albino as more ‘healthy’.