THE MYSTERY OF CALIFORNIA'S 'ALBINO' REDWOODS COULD BE SOLVED
Category: Fields and StreamsVia: community • 7 years ago • 4 comments
Standing less than ten feet tall, the so-called "ghosts of the forest" are typically dwarfed by their giant, green-needled kin. These mutated plants can't produce their own energy and they live only a short time before dying off. It's a strange existence – one that has puzzled naturalists since these trees were first documented in 1866.
An "albino" plant isn't the same as an albino animal. The latter condition causes the absence of the pigment melanin, but in plants, it comes down to another missing pigment, the one that allows photosynthesis to happen, chlorophyll.
Without chlorophyll, these trees lack the ability to produce precious sugar, so they must sponge off the root systems of healthy redwoods to survive. Because of their reliance on a "parent" tree, albino redwoods have been called parasites over the years. But something about the interaction didn't add up for University of California, Davis PhD candidate Zane Moore : the healthy trees actually allow it to happen.
"Redwood trees can control where they send their sugars," explains Moore. At any given time, therefore, a healthy tree could easily stop feeding its pale freeloaders, killing them off in the process. "But that's not what we see in nature," he says. "Why would a tree want albino foliage to persist? Why promote a stressful tissue that does not provide for the rest of the plant?"