Albino Redwood is not a Messiah

If you are not familiar yet with the “ghost” redwoods, take a moment to read my page about Albino Redwoods.

During recent years, there has been some extra research about albino coast redwoods. In this one blog post I plan to bury what appears to be a growing myth, stemming from that research and opinions. In a nutshell, it’s been found through responsible research, that albino redwood’s white foliage was able to store up to twice as much toxic heavy metal concentrations as regular green coast redwood foliage. And the concentrations in the white foliage surpassed the levels that supposedly would kill-off green tissue. That is actually very interesting, and factual. Afterward, that research and discussion led to the following statements written in a 2016 Washington Post news story :

“Albino redwoods are nature’s beautiful toxic waste dumps. While there still isn’t a definitive cause to what initiates these mutations, research has found that there is a high proportion of albino redwoods in areas of high UV light exposure and increased human activity. Albino redwoods are a sign of amazing adaptability.

Often called “ghosts of the forest” due to their ghostly hue, albino redwoods literally cling to life—eternally ephemeral—sacrificing themselves for the good of the other trees around them in their endless struggle for existence.”

That’s beginning to stretch the matter !! I sure enjoy Zane Moore (Plant Biology Ph.D. student, U.C. Davis) quoted here (whom I first met at Prairie Creek, July, 2010), but there’s some drama building. Bringing our feet back to Earth … realize that  barely 200 albino redwoods are known to exist in the wild. And they are absolutely puny. Even if there were 100,000 of these dwarfs, that would be insufficient coverage to “Save the Redwoods”. These albinos are not Messiahs. Let’s go through the quoted paragraphs line by line.

Are albino redwoods “toxic waste dumps”. The truth is that samples tested had higher concentrations. What it really means is inconclusive.  Compare this to  other  living trees, where the darker inner heartwood color is due to waste moving to the center. We could call those waste dumps too. But there are  big differences. Almost each individual tree has one heartwood of it’s own, compared to one puny albino for however many thousands of acres of giant green coast redwoods.  While heartwood is rather permanent within, albino foliage only lasts a couple years, falls to earth and releases it’s contents back to the earth. Thus scattering it’s toxic concentration once again. In one article, Moore confessed he had little understanding about the after-life of spent albino foliage. (Washington Post The mystery of the ‘ghost trees’ may be solved, October 7, 2016)

The retention of anything excess can be good. But albino foliage is so scarce, it may as well spit in the wind when it comes to saving groves of full size green coast redwoods.

Is there a high proportion of albino redwoods in areas of high UV light exposure and increased activity and increased human activity? So it’s said … in those words … put in that order. We can also say that human activity increased in areas with a higher proportion of albino redwoods … another order of words. Albino redwoods have probably been around for thousands of years in small numbers. In the 1800s and 1900s, the population of California’s west coast soared from a few villages to literally millions of people.  So we can express this two different ways, and neither one proves anything.

Are Albino redwoods an amazing sign of adaptability? Nobody knows. The only thing for certain is tissue tested has higher concentration of toxic metals, but they can’t survive unless remaining attached to some form of green coast redwood regardless of it’s heavy metal concentration. From another point of view, it could be said that albino redwood are barely hanging in there. So the “cling to life” statement is one of the few certain points stated.

Are they “sacrificing themselves” for the good of the other trees? With no proof and so few of them to make a difference, it’s safer to answer with no. Let alone that they draw food from the green foliage and return no food in exchange.

Boiling this all down to the simplest logic, albino redwoods are so few and tiny, they could barely help a single memorial grove, let alone entire parks or the species as a whole. Any words to the effect of being little sacrificial Messiahs  is more like Hollywood script writing though. And that will be evident anywhere you find words like “maybe”, “uncertain”, “unknown”, etc.. But, if we can learn anything … and some things have been learned …  stick to the facts and logic, and enjoy what you can learn.

To be honest … it’s almost certain if all known albino redwoods could be moved to one single largest coast redwood, the entire congregation of bitty “ghost” redwoods would have minimal benefits. Especially since  30,000 cu. ft. (+) coast redwoods have survived without a single albino anywhere in sight. There is no “may” or speculation there. The living giants are proof of that.

For protection, one tiny albino would is about as ineffective as using a single backpacking sip straw filter for a municipal water system. Or like  using tissue paper doors to keep out invaders.

One final quote from the Washington Post article:

“It seems like the albino trees are just sucking these heavy metals up out of the soil,” Moore said. “They’re basically poisoning themselves.”

There’s no way that a handful of tiny trees poisoning themselves has any real impact on the overall longevity of the genus Sequoia.

Feel free to search online for articles related to this though. The factual parts of the research are very interesting and have other aspects of scientific studies interjected. Personally, I hope Zane Moore and his friends keep studying, because the factual part of the research is interesting, and breaks through years of learning duldrums where little extra was learned other than knowing they are rare.

For decades, little has been learned. And I think Zane has the imagination and incentive to learn and share lots of new things.

Thank you for reading,

Mario D. Vaden

Certified Arborist


Albino Coast Redwood

Albino Coast Redwood