Approximately 100 miles separates two remarkable Coast Redwoods that seem to be polar opposites on the botanical scale. The first sports a massive burl at its base, while the second exhibits uncanny paper-thin bark unseen before within the species.
Ridgway Burl Giant:
Planted in Santa Rosa California around the time of the 1915 World’s Fair, the Ridgway Burl Giant most likely made its humble beginnings during the reconstruction period following the 1906 earthquake. Located within the Ridgway Historic District of the city, the tree sports the largest burl known for a Coast Redwood growing in the urban landscape. Bulbous in appearance like a giant onion, the tree’s burl was measured in 2019 at an impressive 11 feet in diameter. What’s remarkable is the tree quickly tapers down to a modest 3 ½ feet in diameter only 30 feet up from the base, thus giving the tree its unusual appearance. Above this point the tree tops out at a modest 117 feet in height.
According to the Ridgway Burl Giant’s owner, the redwood is approximately 105 years old. When calculating the wood expansion from the tree’s center within that time frame, the radial growth (all things assumed being equal) equated to 66 inches (167.6 cm) from the tree’s center. This equals an average of 5/8 inch (1.6 cm) of annual tree ring growth. This rate of wood accumulation is not uncommon for coast redwoods in a regenerative forest but exceptional for a tree growing in the urban environment.
As you can see from these pictures, the massive burl is taking over the yard in front of this quaint little cottage. One could assume that genetics are the reasons for this impressive growth or possibly an environmental factor may be lending to its unusual appearance. For now, the mystery remains for this stately tree on Ridgway Avenue.
Grey Bark Redwood:
For our next tree you may want to put aside any previous thoughts of what a Coast Redwood is supposed to look like. Unlike the Ridgway Burl Giant, this tree heads in the opposite direction when it comes to amazing growth. Instead of living up to the species reputation for size & height, this redwood has remained incredibly small. If scientists could cross a Sitka Spruce with a Coast Redwood this tree might be the odd result.
Known simply as the Grey Bark Redwood by Sacramento area arborists, this dwarf Coast Redwood is the sole representative known within the species. Standing approximately 32 feet in height exhibiting a weeping top, this tree’s features are so unusual that it would be easy to misidentify even by an expert. The redwood’s bark is the most striking attribute when first approached. It’s incredibly thin and smooth in appearance, exhibiting strange whirls and checkered like patterns. This uncharacteristic look is in contrast to normal Coast Redwoods that exibit stringy, soft, &, verticality aligned ridges within their bark. It’s only after a closer inspection of the tree’s foliage that one can tell is truly a Coast Redwood by the alternate needle arrangement. For those of you wondering if this could be a Dawn Redwood, that species exhibits an opposite needle arrangement and is deciduous unlike their coastal cousins.
According to historical records, the Gray Bark Redwood was planted around 1965 and is approximately 54 years old as of this writing (2019). Within that time frame the tree has grown just a mere 11.5 inches in diameter. This is far below what would be considered average for a tree living for more than five decades. When calculating the average growth from the tree’s center within that time frame, the radial expansion (all things assumed being equal) equated to just 5.75 inches (14.6 cm) of growth from the tree’s center. This equaled just 53/500 of an inch (2.70 mm) of annual ring growth. To put this in perspective, the wood accumulation on this tree is so slow that each year the tree’s rings add the thickness equivalent of just two dimes. With that said, the wood is assumed to be incredibly dense.
Some of the reasons proposed for the tree’s unusual growth is a combination of genetics and the tree’s environment. There’s a possibility that a nutrient deficiency may be at play in its unusual growth. For now, this small coast redwood is another example of how amazing and versatile the Sequoia sempervirens tree species is.
Fellow research colleague Dave Kudy who is a docent at Henry Cowell Redwood State Park shares with us a refreshing video about albino redwoods. He explains that these unique trees are one of nature’s treasures in the forest. As the protector of albino redwoods, Dave hopes to balance the public’s curiosity with protecting these trees into the future.
Do you want to learn more about albino redwoods & see these fascinating trees up close? This Labor Day weekend fellow Albino Redwood Researcher and Arborist Tom Stapleton will once again return to Humboldt Redwoods State Park to host two special events:
Interpretive Walk September 1st, 11 am:
Come join us on a park sanctioned walk to see some of the most unique albino redwoods within the park. On this outing, you'll have the chance to learn about these mysterious trees and see the fascinating aspects how they differ from normal green redwoods. This will be a rare opportunity to see albino redwoods which are normally not disclosed by park personnel. The highlight of the walk will be the chance to see the largest aerial albino redwood known. The gathering location will be at the HRSP Visitor Center. From there we'll caravan a few miles away to an undisclosed location within the park to see the trees. Be sure to bring your camera! Duration is approximately 90 minutes, difficulty is easy, & admission is free!
Campfire Talk September 1st, 8:30 pm:
Later that evening, Tom will put on a slide show presentation about albino & chimeric redwoods to park visitors and guests. Here we'll learn that redwoods are not only famous for their size and height, but also for their mutational colors. The talk will consist of the history of albino redwoods, the various types found, & the latest cutting-edge research. This will be an opportune time to see live chimeric albino redwoods on display. The campfire talk will be held next to the HRSP Visitor Center. Duration 50 minutes & admission is free.
Hope to see you there!
Another avenue that Chimera Redwoods is exploring is offering albino branches to the floral market. In 2016 albino branches from propagated subjects were trimmed and made into this beautiful arrangement. As you can see the result was surprisingly better than expected. Currently research subjects are undergoing ‘longevity’ testing to see how long these albino redwood branches can survive without being attached to the parent tree. We hope one day that these beautiful branches will accent many floral decorations in the future. As a green friendly note, no albino branches are procured from wild individuals. All branches are grown from subjects in our greenhouse facility.
For more information on Tom Stapleton's progress, please see this article below published in a recent newsletter:
With over 30 years’ experience in Sonoma County creating breathtaking shots, renowned photographer & visual artist Robert Janover has generously featured a chimeric albino redwood on the August cover of his 2017 calendar. This tree was the first natural chimeric albino redwood discovered back in 1997 and is still quite a showy specimen. This infamous tree marked a turning point in albino redwood studies that further led to a greater understanding of redwood mutations.
To see more of Mr. Janover’s amazing work and to order your own personal calendar, please visit: