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Distribution map (Little 1978).

 

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Conservation status

Torreya taxifolia

Arnott 1838

Common names

Florida torreya, stinking cedar, gopherwood (Hils 1993).

Taxonomic notes

Type species of the genus Torreya. Syn: Tumion taxifolium (Arnott) Greene (Hils 1993).

Description

Trees to 13(18) m; trunk to 80 cm dbh; "crown rather open-conical. Branches spreading to slightly drooping; 2-year-old branches yellowish green, yellowish brown, or gray. Leaves 1.5-3.8 cm, abaxial side with 2 scarcely impressed, grayish bands of stomates, rounded on adaxial side, emitting fetid odor when crushed. Pollen cones pale yellow. Seed (including aril) 2.5-3.5 cm; aril glaucous, dark green, streaked with purple" (Hils 1993).

Distribution and Ecology

USA: Georgia, Florida at 15-30 m elevation on river bluffs, slopes, and moist ravines along a 33-km stretch of the Appalachicola River (Godfrey and Kurz 1962, Hils 1993).

Zone 9 (cold hardiness limit between -6.6°C and -1.1°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001).

The ravines inhabited by Florida torreya and its cousin, the rare yew Taxus floridana, are a rather unusual geomorphic feature; an example can be seen HERE.

Big tree

14 m tall, 88 cm dbh, in a yard in Norlina, NC. Formerly, heights of 20 m were recorded among wild trees (American Forests 1996).

Oldest

See Remarks; no wild trees are more than 35 years old, and the oldest specimen is probably in cultivation.

Dendrochronology

No use recorded and none likely to happen.

Ethnobotany

Formerly used for fuel, fence posts, and shingles (American Forests 1996).

Observations

It may still be possible to see the species in Torreya State Park, where only stump sprouts and saplings survive. To see a healthy tree, you must find it in an arboretum or ornamental planting.

Remarks

The species is a rare endemic. Populations were thriving until the 1950s, but since then they have been decimated by fungal disease (Godfrey and Kurz 1962, Lee et. al. 1995). By 1962, only nonreproductive stump sprouts remained in the wild. In 1984, the Florida torreya was listed as endangered under the US Endangered Species Act. A recovery plan has been approved, and efforts are underway to reestablish this once thriving species in its native habitat. Approximately 1000 individuals were alive in 1996, but at that time, the responsible pathogen had not been identified. At this time, the continued survival of the species apparently depends entirely on plants in cultivation (McMahan 1989, Hils 1993, American Forests 1996).

The epithet "taxifolia" means "leaves like Taxus" (yew). Other species in the genus have leaves considerably longer that those of most yews, although that is probably fortuitous, as the other species were described after this one was named.

This is one of only two native U.S. conifers protected under the Endangered Species Act (the other is Cupressus goveniana var. abramsiana). Although you will sometimes see it called "the rarest conifer in the world," there are actually quite a few species more deserving of that title by having not only fewer individuals and a more threatened habitat, but also by receiving less attention and fewer resources devoted to their preservation. Compared to most of the world's endangered conifers, Torreya taxifolia is very well cared-for, and has a brighter future.

Citations

Godfrey, R.L. and H. Kurz. 1962. The Florida torreya destined for extinction. Science 136: 900, 902.

See also

Burns and Honkala (1990).

Coulter, J.M. and W.J.G. Land. 1905. Gametophytes and embryo of Torreya taxifolia. Botanical Gazette 39:161-178.

Kurz, H. 1939. Torreya west of the Apalachicola River. Proceedings of the Florida Academy of Science 3:66-77.

Little, E.L. 1978. Atlas of United States Trees, volume 5, Florida. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Nicholson, R. 1990. Chasing ghosts. Natural History December, p.8-13.

Nicholson, R. 1993. Rooting Torreya taxifolia, an endangered conifer of the Florida panhandle. Botanic Garden Conservation News 2(2): 35-37.

Nicholson, R., B. Garcia-Biao, R. Determann, and S. Sojkowski. 1998. The ex-situ conservation of stinking cedar, Torreya taxifolia. The Public Garden, The Journal of The American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta 13(3): 9-11. Available: http://www.smith.edu/garden/Academics/stinkcedar1.html, accessed 2009.03.29.

Savage (1983).

Stalter and Dial (1984).

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1986).

Species profile at Center for Plant Conservation, accessed 2009.03.29. Highly recommended!

Species profile at Natureserve Explorer, accessed 2009.03.29.

Torreya Guardians, accessed 2009.03.29.

Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, accessed 2009.03.29.

Last Modified 2012-11-23