Emily Coffey, Atlanta Botanical Garden
In October 2018, the Florida panhandle and southwest Georgia were devastated by Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 hurricane with wind bursts up to 200 mph. The entire native range for the critically endangered Florida Torreya (Torreya taxifolia) lay within the hurricane’s path. Initial reports from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Florida’s Torreya State Park estimated 80-90% forest canopy loss across the three-county range of the endangered native conifer. Site visits soon after the hurricane by Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG) conservation staff confirmed these estimates, noting downed trees throughout the woodland and ravine habitat where T. taxifolia are found, as well as T. taxifolia individuals buried in the debris or completely crushed by fallen overstory trees.
The scale of damage across T. taxifolia habitat following Hurricane Michael is unprecedented. In order to successfully assess the resilience and recovery of the remaining wild T. taxifolia population, ABG proposed a four-year plan. This plan includes surveys of the known T. taxifolia trees, removal of debris, and collection of cuttings for the safeguarding collections, establishment of baseline research experiments examining abiotic and biotic factors resulting from Hurricane Michael, long-term monitoring, shade vs. sun experiments ex situ, and population genetics research.