George Bruder via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

George Bruder via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

A New Theory Could Explain the Role of California’s Albino Redwoods

George Bruder via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

George Bruder via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

The 150-year-old mystery concerning the origins of the rare, all-white trees that dot redwood forests in California may have finally been solved, The Mercury News reports. Albino redwoods, genetically mutant trees that lack the chlorophyll that turns most leaves green, are parasitic and only grow at the base of California (or coast) redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens. But according to new research being presented at this week’s Coast Redwood Science Symposium in Eureka, California, they may be doing more than just mooching by serving as filters for toxins in the soil around them.

Scientists first discovered the odd trees in 1866, though they are mentioned in Native American legends and were reportedly used as part of traditional cleansing ceremonies long before that. Because they lack chlorophyll, they can’t complete the photosynthesis process necessary for plants’ survival, and so they latch onto other trees, taking nutrients straight from the roots of the parent tree.

They typically only grow to be about 10 feet tall, compared to the staggering heights of California redwoods, a species that includes the tallest tree in the world—the 380-foot Hyperion in Redwood National Park.

Cole Shatto via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

However, according to research by UC Davis Ph.D student Zane Moore, who has been studying albino redwoods since his undergraduate days at Colorado State University, the white plants are more than just nutrient-sucking parasites. They may be helping filter pollution. His analysis found that the leaves of albino redwoods contain high levels of heavy metals like copper, nickel, and cadmium—more than double what was found in green leaves. They might act like a liver for their parent plants, filtering out toxic materials from the soil.

The hypothesis will need to be tested further, but it’s a promising prospect, especially since, if true, it could mean that the rare trees could be planted elsewhere to help clean up environmental pollution.

[h/t The Mercury News]

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Watch a Tree Release a Massive "Pollen Bomb" Into the Air
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iStock

In case your itchy, watery eyes hadn't already tipped you off, spring is in the air. Some trees release up to a billion pollen grains apiece each year, and instead of turning into baby trees, many of those spores end up in the noses of allergy sufferers. For a visual of just how much pollen is being released into our backyards, check out the video below spotted by Gothamist.

This footage was captured by Millville, New Jersey resident Jennifer Henderson while her husband was clearing away brush with a backhoe. He noticed one tree was blanketed in pollen, and decided to bump into it to see what would happen. The result was an explosion of plant matter dramatic enough to make you sniffle just by looking at it.

"Pollen bombs" occur when the weather starts to warm up after a prolonged winter, prompting trees and grasses to suddenly release a high concentration of pollen in a short time span. Wind, temperature, and humidity levels all determine the air's pollen count for any given day, but allergy season settles down around May.

After determining that your congestion is the result of allergies and not a head cold, there are a few steps you can take to stave off symptoms before they appear. Keep track of your area's pollen report throughout the week, and treat yourself with antihistamines or nasal spray on days when you know it will be particularly bad outside. You can also keep your home a pollen-free zone by closing all the windows and investing in an air purifier. Check out our full list of seasonal allergy-fighting tips here.

[h/t Gothamist]

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Why Some Trees in Norway Are Missing Their Rings
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iStock

Dendrochronologists are experts at reading tree rings. They can learn a great deal of information—including past climate in an area and the age of the tree—by taking a tree core sample and reading between the lines (literally).

But as the BBC reports, one climate researcher was stumped when she discovered that many trees in the Norwegian village of Kåfjord were missing their rings. Extreme weather and invasive insects can cause some degree of damage to trees, but not enough to render them ringless.

Claudia Hartl, from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, knew that these trees dated back to 1945, but that alone wasn't enough information. Two other clues that helped Hartl and her colleagues solve the mystery were location and history. During World War II, Nazi soldiers moored the Tirpitz—the largest battleship of Hitler's navy—off the waters of Kåfjord to intercept vessels carrying Allied supplies to the Soviet Union. The Germans released an artificial smoke containing chlorosulphuric acid to conceal the ship's location, and this is believed to be the root of the trees' problem.

Artificial smoke could have damaged the needles of the trees, halting the photosynthesis process and stunting the trees' growth, researchers found. It takes time for the trees to recover, but it is possible. One tree saw no growth at all from 1945 to 1954, but after 30 years its growth had returned to normal. Hartl presented the findings at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna this week [PDF].

"I think it's really interesting that the effects of one engagement are still evident in the forests of northern Norway more than 70 years later,” Hartl told BBC News. She believes her "warfare dendrochronology" will unearth similar findings elsewhere in the world.

[h/t BBC News]

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