The Gymnosperm Database


Tree in Sequoia National Park, CA [C.J. Earle, 2001.03.24].


Bark and foliage of above tree [C.J. Earle, 2001.03.24].


Seedling of above tree [C.J. Earle, 2001.03.24].


Foliage of above tree, top side. Sample is about 7 cm long [C.J. Earle, 2001.03.27].


Foliage of above tree, bottom side. Sample is about 7 cm long [C.J. Earle, 2001.03.27].


Seed in aril from a tree in Sacramento's Capitol Arboretum [C.J. Earle].


Distribution of Torreya californica (Griffin and Critchfield 1972).


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Conservation status

Torreya californica

Torrey 1854

Common names

California nutmeg, California torreya, stinking cedar (Peattie 1950).

Taxonomic notes

Syn: Torreya myristica Hooker; Tumion californicum (Torrey) Greene (Hils 1993).


"Trees to 20(25) m; trunk to 90(120) cm dbh; crown conic or, in age, round-topped. Branches spreading to slightly drooping; 2-year-old branches reddish brown. Leaves 3-8 cm, abaxial side with 2 deeply impressed, glaucous bands of stomates, flattened on adaxial side, emitting pungent odor when crushed. Pollen cones whitish. Seed (including aril) 2.5-3.5 cm; aril light green streaked with purple. 2n = 16" (Hils 1993).

Distribution and Ecology

USA: California. Rare and local along mountain streams, protected slopes, creek bottoms, and moist canyons of the Coast Range and Sierra Nevada, at 0-2000 m elevation (Hils 1993). Hardy to Zone 7 (cold hardiness limit between -17.7°C and -12.2°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001). See also Thompson et al. (1999).

Distribution data from USGS (1999). Points plotted as tree icons represent isolated or approximate locations.

Big tree

A tree in Big Basin State Park, 107.5 cm DBH and 32.0 m tall, measured 2013, is currently listed as the U.S. national champion (UFEI 2017). A tree 123 cm DBH was recorded at the Castlewellan National Arboretum at the U.K. in 2000, but its current status is unknown (Monumental Trees 2014). A tree near Swanton, California, was 203.7 cm DBH and 29.3 m tall when measured in 1992, but it fell in 2011 (F. Callahan email 2014.10.01).


The oldest known is represented by a disk from a tree that was logged from a dry south slope in a canyon west of Willits, California. It contains 480 rings in a distance of about 45 cm. The disk is owned by Frank Callahan (email 2011.08.21), who also has another disk from a former national champion tree (noted above) that has 286 rings.




Reported readily-accessible locations include the following:

Yosemite National Park: Arno and Gyer (1973) indicate that it can be found along the road entering Yosemite Valley from El Portal. I have also seen it near Cascade Falls on the Big Oak Flat Road.

Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park: I have found it on the road towards Giant Forest a few miles beyond the Foothills Visitor Center (36° 32.558' N, 118° 46.912' W). My notes report: "Here I find what is definitely the most prickly conifer I have ever encountered. This They're growing amidst evergreen oaks, blue oaks, tanoak, a few small incense-cedars, and an understory with a xeric analogue of ladyfern, shrub oak, and probably poison oak. There's active regeneration, trees and seedlings growing both above and below the highway. Within 100 m of the sample point there are probably 50 stems taller than breast height, the largest has a dbh of about 25 cm. These trees are growing on a south- or southeast-facing slope. It seems to be a relatively dry microsite, but the torreyas are on locally concave topography. Slopes are 60-70%. We only find fruits on the largest, sun-grown specimen. Seedlings, of which the smallest I can find are about 15 cm tall, basically look the same as the larger plants except that their needles are shorter, about 1.5-2 cm vs. 4 cm on sun foliage in the mature trees." I also have a report that they occur in Sequoia National Park on the lower part of the trail from Potwisha campground to Marble Falls (Roy Malahowski email 2011.03.13), and Arno and Gyer (1973) state it can be found at the entrance to Boyden Cave in Kings Canyon and along the trail to Crystal Cave and near Clough Cave in Sequoia National Park.

California coastal parks: Arno and Gyer (1973) indicate that it can be found in "draws and basins on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County." Samuel P. Taylor State Park near Point Reyes has some very large trees, including two that were 30.25 and 32.3 m tall in November 2011 (Steve Sillett email 2011.11.19). The trees can also be found, at an unusually low, dry location, on the trails of Low Gap Park in Ukiah (Mark Hedden email 2017.07.10).



Arno, Stephen F. and Jane Gyer. 1973. Discovering Sierra trees. Yosemite Natural History Association. 89pp.

Monumental Trees. 2014. The thickest, tallest, and oldest California torreya trees (Torreya californica)., accessed 2014.10.12.

Urban Forests Ecosystem Institute (UFEI). 2017. California Nutmeg - Torreya californica., accessed 2017.07.11.

See also

The species account at Threatened Conifers of the World.

Burke (1975).

Lanner (1999).

Last Modified 2017-12-29