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Newest report finds new growth on rare Cotati albino Chimera Tree

  • A lone cow keeps the Albino Chimera Coast Redwood tree company. Seen from the northbound SMART platform at the Cotati depot. Robert Grant

By: Stephanie Derammelaere
August 24, 2018

Four years after an extremely rare albino Chimera Coast Redwood tree was moved to make way for the SMART train, it appears to be doing well despite some earlier setbacks. Initially tagged to be cut down because it was too close to the tracks, community members, arborists and scientists rallied to save the tree, which was eventually relocated to an area on SMART property along the tracks near the Cotati train station.

“It was so important to save the Cotati tree, because it is extremely rare,” says Thomas Stapleton, Certified Arborist and Horticulturalist and Albino Redwood Researcher who was active in the efforts to save the tree in 2014. “It’s a real treasure of nature and I’m really happy that the whole community rallied to save the tree.”

While there are a little over two hundred known albino redwoods that have chlorophyll deficient mutations in California, there are only six known trees in the world that share the characteristics of the Cotati tree, a chimera redwood that has two sets of DNA originating from the same branch or bud. One set is pure white and the other is all green. 

“The Cotati tree is basically a tree within a tree,” says Stapleton. “You have one expression which is mutated and the other expression which is green. So that’s what makes it so interesting. You have these two layers. You see this really interesting coloration within the tree. This tree grows in disguise. Basically it grows as a nice, normal green tree and then later you have the expression of the white that comes out.”

Besides the rarity of this natural phenomenon, Stapleton also notes that, since all but one of the six known trees of this variety were planted and most other albino redwoods are also found in areas of human impact, they are an interesting study for how that influence could have affected this DNA mutation. 

“As scientists we’re curious if these trees are the canary in the coal mine telling us there’s something wrong with the environment,” says Stapleton. “What are we doing around our environment that may be inducing a mutation in the coast redwoods? We’re trying to find a correlation between all these different albino redwood sites and if we are seeing a pattern of, let’s say, air or ground pollution and things of that nature.”

Stapleton has been continuing to check on the health status of the tree and communicating with SMART on any corrective measures needed to ensure its longevity. Two years ago some major drainage issues were discovered that SMART paid to have fixed, amending the soil and installing drainage. 

Stapleton’s last report, completed this past July, indicated that the tree is acclimating to its new location and showing new growth and expansion. In fact, due to its expansion, cables and misting lines that were installed to support the transplantation process are now hindering further growth by causing an effect known as girdling, causing indentations in the bark and hindering nutrient flow. Therefore, he recommended those supports be removed as soon as possible. Supplemental irrigation, however, provided by the City of Cotati, will need to continue into the foreseeable future. 

“I’d be very interested to work with someone on the local level who would like to adopt the tree and would like to work with SMART,” says Stapleton, whose location in Amador County makes it difficult for him to check often on the tree. “Somebody needs to make sure the irrigation is working, that there aren’t broken water lines, that the grass needs to be cut, and can report to SMART. It would also be a nice touch to add some interpretive signs that talk about the history of the tree and why it’s important.”

For more information about Chimera Redwoods, the Cotati tree, and Thomas Stapleton’s work, visit