Often in films, animations and especially during Christmas time, we see these images of beautiful white trees; they can be a pine tree, a spruce or even a fir and they stand tall in a decorated home or a frozen forest. Whenever we think or a nice cold Winter we imagine big trees covered with snow, tiny chubby birds trying to survive and nice warm fireplaces. But how often have we actually seen a real white tree? Not a green tree covered with snow or white decorations or even a grey tree on its’ last days, but a true perfectly white tree? Maybe not that often considered that there are only 50 or 60 individuals on our planet Earth.
So, does that mean that there is such a thing as an albino tree?
Ah, not so fast!
Before we start answering this very interesting question we must first define albinism.
What is albinism?
Albinism is a disorder characterised by the absence of melanin in the organism.
Melanin is the pigmentation that exists in animals that allows us to have a certain hair colour, skin colour and even eye colour. Without it our body is unable to create the colour our genes are ordering our body to produce.
Imagine giving an artist an animal to paint but forgetting to give him the colours to do so. The animal will still exists but without the “correct” look.
Now that we know what albinism is..
Are there albino trees?
Well, technically not because plants don’t have melanin so they would not have a disorder based on the lack of such pigmentation.
The colour we seen in trees (mostly green) is due to the presence of chlorophyll, a biomolecule responsible for photosynthesis, which enables plants (and a few other organisms) to receive energy from sunlight.
The “albino” tree we see in the picture on the right has an absence of chlorophyll and not melanin (as in the case of albinism), although the end result is quite similar.
But if not having a production of melanin in one’s body is hard for animals since it makes them hard to camouflage with the environment and/or deal with environmental conditions such as extreme heat, then not being able to produce chlorophyll in plants is much much worse.
If plants can’t produce energy from light how will they even grow up and survive?
The “albino” Coast Redwood or California Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) manages to survive by, almost like a vampire, sucking the life of a nearby tree by connecting their roots with the closest healthy tree, usually the parent. By doing so, they are able to gain the nutrients they need to develop without using the photosynthesis process. Because of this, the white tree is only able to survive as long as the parent lets it. If times get hard and the parent requires all the nutrients it can get, it will “disallow” the parasitic tree to keep reaching for its resources, therefore condemning it to its death.
Now that we know that they do exist (even though technically not “albino”)..
Where can we find these often white trees, often called “phantoms of the forest”?
Unfortunately because they are so rare and vulnerable, most of their location is kept secret. But not all!
There are six “albino” redwood trees located in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park in the Redwood Empire on the Northern California coast in the United States of America.
People that have seen these rare “albino” redwoods claim that their white needles feel like wax, their growth rings are very close to one another which suggest a slow growth and their wood is quite weak but, overall, they are definitely gorgeous looking trees!
In conclusion, albino trees do exist and although they are technically not albino, they sure look like they come from a fairytale.
I hope you enjoyed learning about this curious topic and if you ever go visit these fantastic specimens in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park make sure you take a picture and send it to us!
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