In the fall of 2016 research colleague Zane Moore discovered that albino redwoods in the wild held twice as many toxic heavy metals compared to correlative green needles. This discovery: The mystery of the ‘ghost trees’ may be solved led to intriguing questions like: Do albino redwoods serve a purpose for the species by storing heavy metals in their needles? Are they removing contaminants from the soil and converting these toxins into non-soluble forms in order to clean up the forest?
In the plant world there are many species that are known as ‘phytoremediators’ which have the natural ability to clean heavy metal pollutants from contaminated environments. There has been ground breaking studies locally & in other parts of the world where trees have been used specifically to cleanse heavy metal toxins from the soil. For example: poplar trees in Silicon Valley California have been grown to clean up toxins at superfund sites. Willow trees in Finland and Russia have been used to successfully clean up heavy metal toxins from mining areas and landfills.
With phytoremediation being a real possibility of why we see albinism in coast redwoods, Tom Stapleton and Botanist Zane Moore teamed up to formulate an experiment in late 2016 to help answer these questions. Combining Tom’s propagation experience with rare albino redwood chimeras along with Zane’s botany expertise on phytoremediation, both men wanted to know:
• Are albino redwoods true phytoremediators?
• Do albino redwoods consistently have higher tolerance for heavy metals compared to green redwoods?
• Are redwoods producing more albinism when exposed to heavy metals?
• At what toxicity level do albino & green redwoods start experiencing stress?
• What specific heavy metal may be inducing albino mutations in redwoods?
Based on Zane’s 2016 toxicity study on albino redwoods, the heavy metal nickel appeared to be the element most prevalent at the various soil testing sites. With these findings, nickel was decided to be the toxic metal of choice for an ongoing 2-3 year study. Because chimeric albino redwoods both exhibit albino and green foliage within the same plant, they best represented albino redwoods found naturally in the forest.
Beginning in January 2017 in a controlled greenhouse environment, three groups consisting of young albino redwood chimeras were given various treatment regiments. The first is the control group while the other two are administered specific nickel doses. Depending on the time of year, temperature, & evaporation loss, treatment amounts are given equally among the groups.
With a little over a year into the study, some subjects have already turned pale and died. Their foliage and soil will be tested at the conclusion of the experiment in order to determine toxicity levels. The remaining subjects that have exhibited various rates of green & white growth will also have their data published at the conclusion of the experiment.
For more information on phytoremediation and the benefits of using plants to clean toxins see links below: