Residents of Haida-Gwai and all nature lovers were saddened and angered by the deliberate destruction of a rare “Golden Spruce” tree January 23rd. This 50 m. tall tree on Crown land was more than 300 years old and was prized both in Haida legends and by biologists seeking to preserve the biodiversity of British Columbia. The tree’s upper foliage was golden, “probably a result of a genetic deficiency that partially breaks down the chlorophyll when exposed to direct sunlight,” said MacMillan Bloedel Limited engineering and forestry superintendent Stan Holmes. “It’s unusual for such a tree to grow to maturity as most would be out-competed by adjacent trees that didn’t have the deficiency.” Only a few similar trees have been seen in the area, and only two have been seen elsewhere in the province.
According to a MacMillan Bloedel publication, “Cuttings taken from the Golden Spruce when grown in direct light rapidly turn bright yellow or gold. When kept under moderate shade they turn yellow-green and under heavy shade they remain green. The theory is that this is a syndrome involving the partial breakdown of chlorophyll by photo-oxidation due to a partial absence of Carotenoid. Carotenoids provide protection from excessive light, transferring energy to chlorophyll for the photosynthentic process. The miraculous survival of the Golden Spruce to maturity is attributed to the lower light intensities found along Yakoun River from frequent fog, moisture and overcast conditions.”
Foresters had taken grafts from the tree and successfully grown others bearing the same mutation. Some are at the University of British Columbia’s Botanical Garden (devoted to plants of genetic and horticultural interest) and will likely be sent to Haida-Gwai if requested by local residents, according to a MacMillan Bloedel spokesman. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the roots of the tree are still alive partially because it is relatively dormant at this time of the year, and that grafts to the stump may result in continued growth. Foresters from MacMillan Bloedel did, however, race to the area to take more grafts while the tree was still alive. The cuttings are now at the B.C. Ministry of Forests Research Centre in Cowichan on Vancouver Island. Those cuttings that cannot be grafted will be sent to BC Research for use in a technique called “Biotech micropropagation”.
A man has confessed to vandalizing the tree, saying he did so strike back at “university researchers”.