Toward the back of the Redwood Grove at the San Francisco Botanical Garden sits an unusual specimen of a sequoia tree. Unlike the towering trees with evergreen foliage that might come to mind when you think of California redwoods, this tree is quite short and its leaves are a ghostly shade of white. Known as an albino redwood, it has a rare mutation that causes a lack of chlorophyll.
Albino coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are quite rare; Only about 60-100 are estimated to exist in California. Because these trees can’t produce their own chlorophyll (a green pigment that is essential to producing energy by photosynthesis), they are unable to survive on their own. But as offshoots of an existing tree, they share a root system with another, larger tree that is capable of capturing sunlight and turning it into food. The albino redwoods siphon the necessary nutrients off of their parent tree.
According to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, calling these trees “albino” is a bit of a misnomer: “True albinism is a condition in which pigments are absent from skin, and as such, this term is more appropriately used for animals.... in plants the more appropriate term for this condition is ‘achlorophyllous.’”
Because their chances of survival are quite low, these trees are quite rare. Many of their locations are kept a secret to protect them from potential vandals and collectors. While you may be unlikely to stumble across one an albino redwood in the wild, the specimen at the botanical garden is easily accessible.
The albino redwood grows around a new-growth tree surrounded by other, often dead, saplings. Its white branches are well hidden and often mistaken for dried-out dead branches. Even with the small sign that identifies this tree as something quite special, many visitors miss it, making it a rare treat for those in the know.
Know Before You Go
You can find the albino branches close to the ground around a redwood close to the circular path at around 8 o'clock. There is a small sign identifying them.
This goes without saying, but please don't damage the plant. It is rare and delicate and taking parts of it could kill it.