The Case of the White Redwood Tree
In 1972 I was on an Inter-Regional Fire Crew (Hotshots) out of Clarkia, Idaho on the St. Joe National Forest. Our job was to be ready to deploy on 15 minutes notice to fly wherever we were needed to fight forest fires. In August of that year we flew to Monterey, CA to fight a fire in the southern redwoods and in the Manzanita scrub on the rim of the mountains.
During the mopping up phase of this fire, just above Big Sur, I was called down into a canyon by my fellow firefighters. I was the only person in the crew that had a BS in Forestry and was working on my Masters in Forestry at Yale University. They had spotted a peculiar tree that defied a rational description.
In the canyon was a redwood tree (Sequoia sempvirens) that had foliage that was completely white, not the green that one would think of. The tree was not some small seedling of one or two years but rather a tree that was approximately 16 feet tall. Now remember if a tree does not have green foliage, then it cannot take sunlight water and nutrients and convert it into food for the tree (photosynthesis). Quite simply, if the tree does not have the green chlorophyll in its foliage it will die.
So what was the reason that this tree had white foliage and yet it still survived?
-First of all, there was a genetic anomaly in the tree so that the tree did not have any chlorophyll.
-Second, it had to survive but how? The only explanation that I can give is that it had a root graft to a normal productive redwood tree. Thus it was basically a parasite and took its nutrents from a healthy tree and that is how it survived. Without this root graft it would have died very early in its life cycle.
It is uncommon, but not unknown, for trees to have white foliage without the life sustaining chlorophyll, but they do not live long, only a few years.
Is this tree still living? It is doubtful. As the tree gets older and larger it requires increased amounts of nutrients. Eventually the donor will be unable to accommodate this high demand for nutrients and the parasitic tree will die.
I still have photos of this tree as well as some of the sample foliage. It was quite an unforgettable experience for someone schooled in botany and forestry. As they say in the natural sciences: never say never.
To contact Clyde give him a call at 719 547 2135