Copyright 2009 - 2013 by Mario Vaden
The rare white redwoods called albinos are also called ghost redwoods. Albino redwoods are very rare.
They are not parasites. It's not like they germinate and and later attach roots or parts into mature redwood roots, limbs or burls, as Mistletoe would to oaks. The albino redwoods appear to be sprouts that originated from a host redwood: a part that formed from it. Being part of a redwood does not make something parasitic. Flowers, bark and cones are attached to redwoods and receive what they need from it too, without much detriment.
It was commonly said or written (pre-2010) that about 50 albino redwoods exist, the tallest being about 70 feet tall. If 50 were known to exist, my estimate is that 100 or should exist. Extra ones could be inches tall or undiscovered. My reasoning is that if Lost Monarch the largest coast redwood was not discovered until 1998, there must be undiscovered plants under 12 inches tall.
January 2013 update: scroll down the page for some information sent my way about numbers of known albino redwoods in California.
If you find an albino redwood, don't removed twigs for souvenirs or for propagation. There is too little albino foliage in existence to risk picking their bones clean.
Albino redwoods are not sterile as once believed. In 1976, Dale Holderman, a forester, discovered an albino redwood with buds and pollen. This was included in the book The White Redwoods by Douglas Davis and Dale Holderman. The pollen was dusted onto normal redwoods to see if albino redwoods could cause seeds. Holderman discovered that of 161 seedlings, 56 were green, 43 variegated green & white, and 62 others were all white. The 62 all-white seedlings died in days, because they were not attached to another green foliage redwood. The experiment showed that green redwoods were made that could retain the albino gene. This sheds more light on how white redwoods can sprout from green redwoods, like near burls.
At least 6 albino redwoods grow in Humboldt Redwoods State Park of Northern California near Highway 101. The location of one was published. I want to skip detailed directions here. But it is within 1.85 miles of Founders Grove near Avenue of the Giants. Another albino redwood about 3 to 4 miles from Redcrest, California, is about 20' tall. Much farther south, Big Sur campground forest was reported to have a small albino redwood too. One man, Will Russell, Ph.D., once noted at sempervirens.org that he encountered about a dozen albino redwood during hikes in the Santa Cruz mountains.
There is no guarantee that one you read about will still be there when you go looking. The lifespan is more or less unknown, but every reference I found says they don't live a long time on the redwood scale of life.
Lacking chlorophyll for photosythesis, albino redwoods are dependent upon a parent redwood host for nutrition. Albino redwoods are actually part of another redwood. They can grow out of a burl growth too.
Basically, they begin as basal sprouts or sucker growth growth from roots.
Zane Moore, a Colorado State University undergraduate and redwood enthusiast, sent me a note (2013) that there are about 100 known albino redwoods. These have been spotted, discovered, or located again, by Zane (12) , Dave Holderman (60), Dave Kuty (30+) and some others. The lion's share seem to be in Santa Cruze county and San Mateo County, with more scattered as far north as Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
And 4 variegated ... part green & part albino ... have been known to exist.
There are also some albino redwoods or albino limbs that grow up in the canopy. Zane shared a photo of one in Humboldt Redwoods SP, when he sent this information. Judging by where the discovered ones have been located, Zane also believes there must be quite a few more out there.
Even if there are 1000 ... that's still rare.
Here's an article Zane wrote that you may find interesting ...
PDF Link > PDF Coast Redwood Albinism and Mosaicism by Zane Moore