Albino Redwood Rarity Facing Demolition in the Name of Progress

Albino Redwood

A rare albino redwood tree is facing demolition in the name of progress in the Sonoma County town of Cotati. In fact, it is a tree so rare that only 10 known specimens exist in the world, and it is facing possible demolition to clear the way for commuter trains in Northern California.

Representatives from the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) contend that the rare tree must be moved for safety reasons and federal regulators have determined that the 52-foot chimera arbor resides too close to the proposed set of new tracks. The SMART rail line was approved by voters in 2008 to help ease congestion on Highway 101 through Marin and Sonoma Counties. The initial 43-mile stretch of the commuter rail line is scheduled to open in late 2016 and will have 10 stations and eco-friendly trains designed to meet new federal emissions standards.

The rare albino redwood tree facing demolition in the name of progress is a 52-foot chimera arbor, which has two sets of DNA intermingled together and the distinction of being one of a few naturally occurring redwoods on the planet. The genetically mutated tree has a unique mixture of normal green leaves and white, albino sections. It is at least 67 years old and it is also speculated to be the largest of its kind on the planet. Due to the chlorophyll-deficient nature of albino redwoods, they cannot conduct photosynthesis, which is the process of converting sunlight into nutrients and carbon dioxide into oxygen, and cannot survive on their own in the wild. As a result, albino redwoods must be surrounded by other varieties of trees that can produce chlorophyll and perform photosynthesis in order to survive.

According to transit authorities, SMART will be required to plant 20 coast redwoods elsewhere in order to mitigate the loss of the rare albino redwood tree. Coast redwoods are the only known conifers in the world with over 100 documented occurrences of albinism. Additionally, they will also take “thousands of cuttings” from the rare tree in an attempt to preserve it. However, scientists and preservationists have stressed the significance of the rare specimen and its vital role in helping understand the species. Additionally, they contend the rare arbor cannot and does not need to be demolished and have urged local politicians to consider transplanting the genetically mutated arbor to another plot of suitable land near the city of Cotati. SMART’s board have started discussions to determine the feasibility of moving the tree to city-owned land.

The rare albino redwood tree facing demolition in the name of progress has been called a scientific treasure and its existence is considered imperative to scientists and preservationists who want to study and observe the arbor. Its rarity cannot be overstated enough as there is only one other chimeric redwood known to exhibit the same style of albinism in the world. However, the only other known specimen is a 5-foot-tall immature sapling with fewer than five albino shoots and offers limited scientific use at this conjecture. Proponents of the crusade to save the endangered redwood tree hope to raise public awareness and encourage others to join the campaign to preserve the tree and its legacy.

By Leigh Haugh



Press Democrat

NBC Bay Area

San Jose Mercury News

One Response to "Albino Redwood Rarity Facing Demolition in the Name of Progress"

  1. Cath Twohill   March 15, 2014 at 5:12 am

    Your illustratative photo is not the redwood in question, nor is it a redwood at all.
    Redwood tress have needles, not leaves. The albino redwood threatened by the rail line is an even rarer specimen: A chimera, which has two sets of genes…one normal providing chlorophyll, the other set confering albinism. A close up of the tree’s branches would show white needles interspersed with green needles. The tree itself looks blotchy, with sections of paler and greener coloring.


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