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Rare Cotati redwood ‘thriving’ a year after move

A rare chimera redwood tree that was moved a year ago to make way for passenger rail service through Cotati appears to be thriving, a victory for preservationists who fought to save the tree.

“Now that we see the tree surviving and thriving, we can really claim victory. The tree is going to last for years to come,” said Tom Stapleton, an arborist who studies the rare green-and-white trees.

The 56-foot redwood, planted in the 1940s, was moved last August in preparation for the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit commuter train, which plans to start service in late 2016. The rail agency initially planned to cut the tree down because it was growing inside the federal safety zone for a second side track planned for the commuter train.

SMART reconsidered in the face of a community outcry and presentation of data showing the tree is rarer than originally thought.

A year after the move, the redwood appears to be happy in its new location about 450 feet south on SMART property along the tracks near the Cotati rail stop.

“We’re out of the woods,” Stapleton said.

The Cotati redwood is referred to as a chimera because it displays both albino and normal green foliage from separate sets of DNA - essentially, two trees in one. Only about 10 such trees are thought to exist on the planet, and the Cotati tree was the only known specimen to have reached maturity.

However, Stapleton said in the past year he learned of a similar tree growing in a Central Valley city, which he declined to name because officials there are in the process of crafting an ordinance aimed at protecting heritage trees.

On Stapleton’s website - chimeraredwoods.com - the Amador County arborist details his fascination with the trees, which he said offer a window into how redwoods adapt to climate change.

“They can choose which part of the branch they want to invest energy in,” he said Friday.

Stapleton gathered at the Cotati tree Friday with Donna Ramirez, the daughter of Peter Tapian, who planted the redwood. Stapleton presented Ramirez with a sapling from the tree. She said she plans to plant it in the backyard of her Windsor home, where other redwoods grow.

“I don’t have a very green thumb,” Ramirez said. “I’m going to have to research it.”

Ramirez said her father would have been proud that the tree was saved.

SMART spent about $150,000 to move the tree last August. The work entailed using a huge crane to lift the 90,000-pound tree onto a flatbed truck waiting on East Cotati Avenue. The tree then was transported across the street and planted in a square hole about 20 feet wide.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome of the move,” SMART spokesman Matt Stevens said. “The tree is doing well.”

Stapleton said “it was a big unknown” whether the tree could survive the shock of being transplanted.

“Not only does the tree have to adapt due to the loss of its roots, it has to support the mutated foliage that doesn’t produce any energy for the tree,” he said.

But Stapleton said the tree appears to have suffered minimal die-back of branches, and it has visible new growth, including male and female cones that are a hallmark of chimera redwoods.

SMART installed irrigation so the tree is getting plenty of water. Cables help keep it upright and sturdy.

Stapleton said the next big challenge is finding volunteers to adopt the tree and take care of it.

Stevens said SMART is willing to collaborate on that initiative.

“We want to ensure the tree is maintained and has a long and healthy life,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter ?@deadlinederek.

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