Ghost Trees

This summer my wife and I vacationed in California and one of our many activities was the Redwood Canopy Tour at Mount Hermon. This is a series of zip line rides and rope bridges through a redwood forest at heights up to 150 feet.  I highly recommend this tour.  In between zips our guide Kerry and I were discussing redwoods and he told me about albino redwoods in the area.  Later that evening I googled albino redwoods and found that the adjacent Henry Cowell Redwoods state park has the largest known concentration of these trees. There are perhaps as few as 25 of these trees in the world and eight are found here.  I use the word tree loosely because these are not your typical take home and plant in the yard tree.

Coastal Redwoods need huge volumes of water to survive.  Mature trees can consume hundreds of gallons of water daily.  Their natural range is the American west coast from Big Sur California to southern Oregon, from the Pacific Ocean to approximately 30 miles inland.  This area receives 30 to 120 inches of rain annually, but the trees receive about 30% of their water from the daily ocean fogs.  Their roots only penetrate the soil to a depth of 10 feet but can spread out hundreds of feet and interlock with other trees to provide needed stability.  They reproduce mainly by shooting stump sprouts at the base of the tree.  While they do produce seed, the germination rate is only about 5%.

Albino redwoods are a genetic mutation that lack pigmentation and have pure white leaves.  Without chlorophyll they can’t photosynthesize and produce the sugars and starches that feed the tree and keep it alive. These albino trees are stump sprouts and get all their energy from the host redwood.  Without a host to feed them they could not survive.

A few days after our zip line tour I found a few hours to visit Henry Cowell SP. Their is an albino redwood on the Redwood trail that looks more like a large bush with a lot of dead leaves and was about 15 feet tall.  There were dozens of other normal stump sprouts around the host tree making it difficult to distinguish the albino as a separate tree. Albino redwoods got their nickname ‘ghost trees’ because when the host tree suffers it reserves nourishment for itself causing the albino sprout to wither and disappear, only to reappear as the host recovers.

One of the largest albino redwoods (called the Christmas tree because of it’s resemblance to a flocked Christmas tree) is found in Humboldt SP and is 30 feet tall.  These trees will never reach great heights because of their total dependence on a host tree.

Loggers have known about albino redwoods since the 1890’s, yet there are only 25 known to exist today.  It may be time to pay a little more attention to these rare trees.

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