Albinism does not only exist in mammals, birds, fish or reptiles… this astonishing mutation can also occur in the plant world! In plants, albinism is not an absence of melanin, but of chlorophyll.
The absence of this green pigment, or the alteration of the plant cells carrying this pigment, is at the origin of the white mottling that can affect the leaves, stems or needles of plants, more or less partially.
Albinism, a natural mutation
Albinism is not only a human mutation but a natural mutation that affects all types of animals and plants!
Albinism in humans and animals is characterized by a more or less total absence of melanin in the body. It is a hereditary characteristic that affects the pigmentation of the skin. In the case of plants, it is not an absence of melanin but of chlorophyll, a well known green pigment that essentially affects the leaves and stems of the plant.
Usually the result is a clearly visible leaf variegation. To differentiate it from a virus that could affect your plants, look at the leaf plume: if it is clearly discolored, it is albinism, if it is diffuse, it is more likely a disease.
Plant cells that do not contain chlorophyll live or rather survive at the expense of cells that do. In other words, the white parts of the plant use the green parts to stay alive. This is a form of vampirism, which also explains the fact that albino plants usually die fairly quickly.
Cases of albinism can be seen in seedlings and young plants. The developing plant draws nutrients from the seed reserves and once these are fully utilized, the plant fails to photosynthesize and dies.
Good to know: a variegated plant that has a green branch or branch will tend to become green again and a white branch on a normal plant will disappear by itself..
Other types of natural mutations
Apart from albino plants, there are many natural mutations in plants. Some are easily observable with the naked eye, others are very diffuse and difficult to recognize.
Here are a few examples, which you may have encountered before:
- Double flowers: it is an increase in the number of petals on a flower.
- Flowers of another color: in your flowerbed of red flowers, you notice that a flower is yellow. Sometimes it is a return to an ancestral color of the plant, but often it is a new color.
- variegation: it touches the foliage of the plant. Due to a partial absence of chlorophyll, the tips of the leaves become discolored, revealing its underlying colors: white, cream or yellow.
- Colorful foliage: leaves are green most of the time. Sometimes the seedling grows with very dark foliage: bronze (purple or reddish) or golden (lime green to chartreuse yellow).
- Fasciation: the stem or flower is flattened like a rooster’s crest.
- Polyploidy: it is a subtle mutation distinguished by a stronger stem, thicker leaves and petals and increased life expectancy. They are generally used for plant hybridizations.
Albino redwood, a plant like no other
The yew-leaved sequoia (Sequoia sempervirens) is the only one that can survive from albinism on a long-term basis. There are no more than a few dozen albino sequoias worldwide, 8 of which are found in Henry Cowell Park in California. This mutation does not allow them to survive under normal conditions, since they cannot carry out the process of photosynthesis.
These trees therefore behave like vampires, pumping sap from another tree of the same species located nearby.
Scientists are trying to unravel the mystery of this genetic modification that prevents this tree from photosynthesizing. To compensate for this lack, they actually feed on the sap of a host tree, this one being a healthy parent which by asexual reproduction makes new shoots bud from its roots.
Large trees like Sequoias adapt genetically in a fast and constant manner, to find the right combination to fight against fungi and viruses that could decimate them. This albinism is just one of their many evolutionary experiments.
This genetic modification may not be the best that these Sequoias have been able to produce, but it demonstrates the experiments carried out by these trees, for a constant adaptation to their environment.
Albino plant is indeed possible. Despite the skepticism of the phenomenon, environmental and genetic factors play a role in the appearance of the pathology.
Most of us are familiar with the disorder called albinism in humans and other creatures of the animal kingdom, such as tigers, albino crocodiles and a very disturbing albino snake. But in the plant kingdom? What causes the appearance of this disorder in plants?
According to Wikipedia, albinism in plants is associated with the complete or partial loss of chlorophyll pigments, which causes some plants to be white from the stems to the leaves.