In 1976 a Forester named Dale Holderman came across an albino redwood growing in the Santa Cruz Mountains that exhibited male albino cones. This was the first time that reproductive structures had been observed in albino redwoods and marked a major milestone in further understanding redwood morphology. The picture above is an albino redwood exhibiting male cones similar to the one Dale Holderman found in 1976.
Mr. Holderman's discovery led to the exciting possibility that albino redwoods could be propagated. In 1977 he answered this question by successfully cross-pollinating an albino redwood to a normal green redwood tree. The result was the creation of the first hybridized albino redwoods. Above is a descendent of the 1977 experiment.
Almost 40 years later, Mr. Holderman’s pioneering research is still considered the foundation of modern day albino redwood studies. Trees from his original cross-pollination experiment are still yielding clues to unraveling the albino redwood mystery. Details of his discovery and cross-pollination experiment can be found in his 1980 co-authored book “The White Redwoods Ghosts of the Forest”
Mysteriously after the 1977 cross-pollination experiment, the albino redwood which produced the male cones never exhibited them again.
After a 36 year absence in observing albino male cones on Coast Redwoods, a significant discovery was made in the spring of 2013. A redwood displaying a rather large teardrop aerial albino was found exhibiting albino male cones. What was astounding to researchers is the mutation also displayed fully developed female albino cones. This was a first which had never been seen before in Coast Redwoods. In addition to these remarkable discoveries, small sectors of green & white chimerism were found growing throughout the albino redwood. Interestingly, this albino redwood wasn't found growing deep within the forest as one might expect, but rather from a solitary planted redwood growing in the Central Valley.
Large 6X6' teardrop shape aerial albino redwood found in 2013 with male and female albino cone
Male albino cones with a chimeric branch
Solitary female albino cone on a chimeric branch.
Now that Coast Redwoods were found to produce albino female cones, the next step was to see if the seeds were viable. Later in the fall of 2013, a group of seeds from these albino cones were planted out in a research greenhouse. A few weeks later, tiny albino seedlings emerged from the soil in spectacular fashion. This was the first time that naturally occurring albino redwood seedlings had been observed to germinate. What was fascinating to note, is green seedlings were also germinating alongside their albino siblings. This led researchers to speculate that not all the pollen which fertilized the albino female cones had originated from within the mutation.
Unlike Holderman’s hybrid seedlings 36 years earlier, these seedlings exhibited no variegation and were either pure white or pure green. Without the ability to photosynthesize, the albino seedlings survived only for five weeks before running out of energy. Meanwhile the green seedlings continued to grow and never displayed any signs of albinism in later years.
White albino seedlings alongside their green siblings.
White albino seedlings.