Mystery of the Albino Redwoods

KQED's QUEST looks at the ultra-rare albino redwood trees: "Only a few dozen albino redwood trees are known to exist. They are genetic mutants that lack the chlorophyll needed for photosynthesis. But how and why they survive is a scientific mystery." Albino Redwoods, Ghosts of the Forest


  1. This video seems to want to buffer, even if I don’t click on anything. Just by viewing the front page, I’ve downloaded several dozen megabytes of data I don’t want. If I was on my cell phone, that might have cost me fifty bucks.

    1. This video seems to want to buffer, even if I don’t click on anything.

      It’s not doing that for me.

    2. I’m having the opposite problem with buffering, can’t seem to get the HD version to play smoothing, but it won’t buffer while I’ve got it paused :p

  2. So rare that you’d have to go all the way to Golden Gate Park to see one. Redwoods send up lots of suckers from the base, and albino ones aren’t uncommon. They survive because they share the root system of the mother tree.

    1. Antinous & supnah have it right; shared support via the root system allows them to survive.

  3. I know that redwoods and sequoias interlock their root systems for structural support – they have very shallow root systems that would not be as stable otherwise. From what I understand they create matts of interlocking roots, leading to a much larger aggregate root system that is better at supporting individual trees.

    Perhaps these mutants !!! are able to tap into the nutrition from other trees’ roots in the network and essentially leach off the rest of the trees in the area? Interesting. Hope someone with more information can chime in.

    1. I guess what I mean is – how big are the biggest of these guys and can they get mature enough to drop cones?

  4. Ha! Stumbled across one at work one day. Totally blew away the guy I was with, and he knows of three or four. Quite the find.

  5. There’s a book by John Vaillant about the deliberate destruction of a similarly-pigment-deficient mutated spruce tree in Haida Gwaii (aka the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the coast of British Columbia) called “The Golden Spruce”. It’s a strange but interesting story and I recommend the book to any who are interested in the Pacific Northwest.

  6. “But how and why they[albino redwoods] survive is a scientific mystery”

    Wasn’t this explained in the video? They get their nourishment from the parasitic bond with the mother tree.

    Am I missing something here?

  7. re: supnah, according to my internetting, it looks like you’re right about the interlocking roots idea. The albinos are basically parasites.


    These unusual redwoods weave their root systems into that of other redwoods and tap into their food supply. They cannot provide their own food since they lack chlorophyll that converts sunlight and water into food, but they have adapted to take what they need from other redwoods. That is why they are always found growing next to a host. Other trees, such as an apple tree, on the other hand, do not have the ability to interlink their root systems with others.

    I’m kind of put off by the term “scientific mystery”. Especially in this case, where there is a valid scientific explanation, but apparently it wasn’t “mysterious” enough that ghost trees are sapping the life out of other trees.

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