Torreya taxifolia, known as the Florida Torreya, is one of the rarest conifers in the world. Once found as a canopy tree, Torreya is an evergreen dioecious tree endemic to a narrow range of bluffs and ravines adjacent to the Apalachicola River in northwest Florida and extreme southwest Georgia. In the mid-Twentieth Century this species suffered a catastrophic decline as all reproductive age trees died. In the decades that followed, this species did not recover. What remains is a population approximately 0.3% of its original size, which is subjected to changes in hydrology, forest structure, heavy browsing by deer, loss of reproduction capability, as well as dieback from fungal disease. Atlanta Botanical Garden’s dedication and efforts to protect Torreya furthers understanding of its ecology and life cycle as well as the decline of this once majestic species. We present the ongoing research to meet recovery objectives for this species, as well as how they relate to other rare species conservation and evolution under predicted climate change. In 1984 this species was listed Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. It is currently listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
|Common Names||Florida Torreya | Savin | Stinking Cedar | Florida Nutmeg | Gopher Wood | Stinking Yew|
|Associated Scientific Names||Tumion taxifolium | Torreya taxifolia|
|Distribution||T. taxifolia ranges primarily along the east side of the Apalachicola River in Liberty County Florida northward to the southern most portion of Decatur County, Georgia (USFWS 1986).|
The taxon is an extremely rare conifer that once towered fifty feet above the forested ravines of the Apalachicola drainage system in northern Florida (Godfrey 1968, Foote and Jones 1994). An ancient genus of at least 160 million years old in age, species in the genus Torreya were widely distributed across the northern hemisphere during the Jurassic and Pliocene periods. Named for John Torrey, one of America's most distinguished botanists (1796-1783), this is one of the rarest native trees in the USA. Within its very limited range, it has become nearly extinct. There are no large trees left in its native habitats. What survives are a few scattered young saplings or suckers from root systems and bases of destroyed plants.
T. taxifolia is found in the understory of the rich hardwood hammock beech-magnolia and mixed hardwood forest (USFWS 1983, 1984, 1985). Canopy trees in these forests are mostly deciduous, but evergreen hardwoods and conifers are also common (USFWS 1986). This species can also grow on bluffs and woods along the Apalachicola, steep slopes of ravines (mid-slope) with nearly permanent seeps, and rises in calcareous bottoms. In Florida, Torreya species also occur in lower parts of ravine slopes and adjacent floodplains and prefers shady habitats with dark, moist sandy loam of limestone origin.
Seed are favored by rodents, although their dispersal capability is unknown. Root system is susceptible to fungi. Prescribed fires may play an important role in maintaining population health (Schwartz and Hermann 1993b), but further research is needed.
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