Category:  Fields and Streams

Via:  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?"




jrDiscussion - desc
Larry Hampton
Professor Participates
link   seeder  Larry Hampton    7 years ago

When a plant or animal willingly gives up its resources to another, there's almost always a reason. Whale lice keep the wounds of their gigantic hosts clean, so they're allowed to camp on their skin; bees fly from flower to flower gathering nectar, but pollinate in the process; the bacteria in our guts help us digest our food. So there had to be some benefit to keeping these arboreal apparitions around, Moore reasoned. 

To find out what it was, he teamed up with local arborist Tom Stapleton. The pair focused their work on the rarest albino morph: a split-toned wonder known as a "chimera". While some mutants – known as "everwhites" – appear completely white or yellow, chimeric trees possess both green and ghostly branches. In fact, some chimeras even have green, white and split-coloured needles on the same branch. This is possible because the rare trees have two sets of DNA. Of the 400-odd known albino redwoods in California, just ten possess the rare trait.

"We looked at green and white leaves growing as closely together as possible," explains Moore. "I expected that the albino tissues would be different from green." But what he found buried within the trees' cells was unexpected: the white shoots weren't just sucking sugar from their normal neighbours – they were also absorbing harmful toxins. Essentially, the albinos were poisoning themselves.

"It gives new meaning to the term 'ghost tree'," notes Moore. "They're alive, but really, they should be dead." 

Professor Principal
link   Kavika     7 years ago

Interesting article Larry.

Ghost trees..."They're alive, but really, they should be dead." 

Nature is can lead us on some interesting trails.

Petey Coober
Freshman Silent
link   Petey Coober    7 years ago

Absorbing toxins is a valuable service to perform for their host . The study of nature leads to some surprising facts .

Masters Quiet
link   Enoch    7 years ago

Nature is amazing, isn't it?

Great article Larry.

Please keep them coming.

Enoch, Sucking sugar off a lollypop.


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