An albino redwood in California, one of the rarest trees on earth, is on the chopping block because it sits too close to proposed tracks for the new Sonoma-Marin Rail Transit system.
Emily Burns, the science director at Save the Redwoods League in San Francisco, told The Associated Press
that the tree is a scientific rarity – a plant with two sets of DNA fused together, which is only seen in a handful of naturally occurring redwoods on Earth.
Burns said that while albino redwoods usually cannot survive in the wild because they are unable to conduct photosynthesis, existing albino redwoods are joined with normal trees that can produce the needed nutrient.
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"A chimera is really a genetic oddity in any species," Burns told the AP of the tree, which stands 52 feet tall and has a mix of green and white leaves. "It has two separate genomes mashed together. It's a mosaic of tissues."
The tree's conservation was put in doubt when voters approved the 43-mile commuter rail line to help ease congestion on crowded Highway 101 between Marin and Sonoma counties.
"We have federal safety clearance requirements we must comply with," Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit spokeswoman Carolyn Glendening told the AP. "Whether it's this tree or any other tree."
Glendening said the rail project is mandated to plant 20 coast redwoods elsewhere if the tree comes down and added that they will collect "thousands of cuttings" from the albino redwood in an attempt to preserve it.
there are as few as 200 albino redwood specimens, all of them in California. Sandy Lydon, an albino coast redwood expert, said the first albino redwood was discovered in northern California in the 1870s, three years after logging in the area began.
"They're often called the phantoms of the forest," Lydon told Reuters.
Burns told the AP that the tree maybe old enough to have developed male and female cones which could produce offspring.
"I'm curious to see what the offspring of this tree would be," Burns said.
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