Wildlife TV

Learn interesting and funny plant and animal facts with videos and photos

The Albino Tree: Real or Fairytale?

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..

The white needles of an albino redwood tree (Sequoia sempervirens)

The white needles of an albino redwood tree (Sequoia sempervirens)

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!

 

Até à próxima.

~Sofia.

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Mutualism: The intimate relationship between fig trees and fig wasps

The concept of ‘symbiosis’ in the natural world may be familiar to many people but it’s not always as simple as two organisms living together in mutually beneficial relationships; the term actually refers more broadly to close relationships between living things, whether beneficial for both parties or not; for example, a parasite such as a tick has a symbiotic relationship with a buffalo even though the buffalo gains nothing from the interaction.

Sometimes animals live alongside each other and form relationships that are mutually beneficial, or indeed required for each other’s survival; this is called (appropriately) ‘mutualism’ and there are numerous examples all over the world. There is one remarkable example in the African bush that would go unnoticed if it weren’t for scientific investigation; this is the relationship between the fig wasps (from the family Agaonidae) and the fig trees (from the genus Ficus); without each other, neither species would survive.

A tiny fig wasp sitting on a fig fruit.

A tiny fig wasp sitting on a fig fruit.
Picture credit.

The female fig wasp, once she’s found a host tree, squeezes through a tiny hole in one of the fruits where she will spend the rest of her life; she lays her eggs and dies, however, she carried the pollen of another fig tree with her and pollinates the new tree by brushing up against the flowers inside the fig fruit. But where did the pollen come from you ask? We’ll get to that. After the fig has been pollinated though, it hardens and encapsulates all the eggs safely inside.

The eggs develop and the larvae hatch inside the fig fruit, feeding from the flesh inside, but it is the males who mature first and mate within the fruit (fortunately, enough wasps will have laid their eggs inside the fruit that the males won’t be exclusively mating with their sisters (accidents happen though)). These poor male wasps don’t have much of a life; after mating they dig a hole through the fruit and then fall to the ground to die, having lived their whole lives squirming around inside a dark chamber. But with their last action, they have provided an escape route for the females who, once matured, will leave the fruit and fly away, covered with the pollen of their nursery fig and already laden with fertilised eggs. The females fly away and waste no time; they go in search of another fig tree that they can pollinate and lay their eggs in, and the cycle starts all over again.

Sofia sits on a fig tree, sharing it with the fig wasps that call it home.

Sofia sits on a fig tree, sharing it with the fig wasps that call it home.

As you can see, the lives of these two organisms are intimately intertwined; the wasps spend almost the entirety of their lives within the fig fruits, keeping them safe and providing them with food and the fig tree gets to employ a guaranteed pollinator that allows it to reproduce. The natural world is full of such wonders and the more we investigate the more we’ll discover.

Much love,

-Nick

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In case you missed the previous photo entries click here to check them out: Series

Hope you enjoy them!


Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) eating a baby Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)

A Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) with a young Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros).

Close-up of a Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) eating a baby Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)

A close up of the previous scene.

Beautiful Bennett's Woodpecker (Campethera bennettii) on a tree

A beautiful Bennett’s Woodpecker (Campethera bennettii).

Adult female White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)

An adult female White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum).

Me sitting on a beautiful Common Wild Fig Tree.

Me sitting on a beautiful Common Wild Fig Tree.

Many more to come!


Stay tuned.

Love,

~Sofia.


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