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In 1972 I was on an Inter-Regional Fire Crew (Hotshots) out of Clarkia, Idaho on the St. Joe National Forest. Our job was to be ready to deploy on 15 minutes notice to fly wherever we were needed to fight forest fires. In August of that year we flew to Monterey, CA to fight a fire in the southern redwoods and in the Manzanita scrub on the rim of the mountains.

During the mopping up phase of this fire, just above Big Sur, I was called down into a canyon by my fellow firefighters. I was the only person in the crew that had a BS in Forestry and was working on my Masters in Forestry at Yale University. They had spotted a peculiar tree that defied a rational description.

In the canyon was a redwood tree (Sequoia sempvirens) that had foliage that was completely white, not the green that one would think of. The tree was not some small seedling of one or two years but rather a tree that was approximately 16 feet tall. Now remember if a tree does not have green foliage, then it cannot take sunlight water and nutrients and convert it into food for the tree (photosynthesis). Quite simply, if the tree does not have the green chlorophyll in its foliage it will die.

So what was the reason that this tree had white foliage and yet it still survived?

-First of all, there was a genetic anomaly in the tree so that the tree did not have any chlorophyll.

-Second, it had to survive but how? The only explanation that I can give is that it had a root graft to a normal productive redwood tree. Thus it was basically a parasite and took its nutrents from a healthy tree and that is how it survived. Without this root graft it would have died very early in its life cycle.

It is uncommon, but not unknown, for trees to have white foliage without the life sustaining chlorophyll, but they do not live long, only a few years.

Is this tree still living? It is doubtful. As the tree gets older and larger it requires increased amounts of nutrients. Eventually the donor will be unable to accommodate this high demand for nutrients and the parasitic tree will die.

I still have photos of this tree as well as some of the sample foliage. It was quite an unforgettable experience for someone schooled in botany and forestry. As they say in the natural sciences: never say never.

To contact Clyde give him a call at 719 547 2135 or visit our website at Western Log Home Supply

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Comment by Western Log Home Supply on February 26, 2009 at 1:33pm
I finally found the slide and had it scanned. It is a photo of one of the branches from the tree. You can see it on my photos page.

Western Log Home Supply
719 547 2135
Comment by Rita Hickey on February 23, 2009 at 1:42pm
Is there a pic of this tree posted yet? Where is it if it is? I also live in Montana, about an hour out of Helena. My husband and I took a boat tour of the "Gates of The Mountains" just out of Helena and part of "The Gates" history is the sad end that came to the men of the Mann Gulch Fire. There is a memorial there and that occasion changed how forest fires were fought. My son is a wildland firefighter crew boss and I know he would love to see this tree!!!

Hello ChinkerBob!!!

Comment by ChinkerBob on February 22, 2009 at 11:55pm
Sorry for the bad english in my last sentence. They don't let us edit comments on the blog end.
Comment by ChinkerBob on February 22, 2009 at 11:54pm
I live in Montana, and the Mann Gulch fire mentioned by Bill took place in this state, near Helena. The book he mentioned, "Young Men and Fire", by Norman Maclean, is quite a read.

I would have loved to see the white tree. I would assume it didn't live long. There is a great 20 minute video about scientists who climb the big trees to explore their ecosystem. Its incredible. Watch it at here.
Comment by Bill Pace on February 22, 2009 at 9:27pm
Clyde, Please do post a picture of the tree, I know just enough about trees and wood to get me in trouble but I would like to see a shot. Have you seen a book called young men and fire I believe by Bealer about the Mann Gulch fire in I think Missouri Good reading and a documentary of the cause of the firestorm that resulted
Bill Pace
Comment by Glenn V on February 22, 2009 at 7:50pm
Thats wild. Never heard of that before. Maybe you could post a picture of the tree.

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