Albino Redwood

With their snow-white needles, albino redwoods are a striking natural anomaly that occur in tiny numbers throughout the range of the coast redwood. If you stumbled across one on your favorite trail, you might think someone had deposited one of those artificial white Christmas trees (see: The 1970s) in the woods after the holidays.

Though fantastic to look at, these mutant redwoods share some unsavory characteristics with some of the youth of our own species. Specifically, albino redwood trees, which lack the green pigment chlorophyll, have to depend on their parents for everything. Without chlorophyll, the albinos can’t undergo the process of transforming light into chemical energy (photosynthesis). So they connect to the roots of a nearby parent or host redwood tree for nutrients. As a result, albino redwoods are usually stunted and scraggly, more bush than tree, and often have a profusion of dead reddish foliage among the sparkly white needles (or the brittle, yellowish ones).

These plants are a rare sight: only an estimated 60 albino redwoods dot the forests of California and Oregon. In Felton’s Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, however, eight are known to exist (one on the heavily used Redwood Grove Loop Trail). The locations of these specimens are kept secret, but if you discover one, please refrain from taking one of its needles as a souvenir, as the action could result in a further dwindling of the albino redwood’s already small population.

In Central California, albino redwoods are also said to exist in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park and in Los Padres National Forest.

—Stuart Thornton