History of Torreya Guardians
• Endangered Species Action

• Climate Activism

• Citizen Science


Torreya Guardians is a self-organized group of naturalists, botanists, ecologists, and others with a deep concern for biodiversity protection, who have chosen to use the internet as a tool for discussing ideas, posting plans, and taking a variety of actions in behalf of our most endangered conifer tree: Torreya taxifolia.

There are no by-laws, officers, board, staff, overhead costs, dues, formal organizational structure, or physical location to this organization.

Torreya Guardians does not speak or take action as a group, but instead encourages subsets of those involved to post ideas and initiatives on this website and to help establish links with synergistic organizations and websites.


   LEFT: Seeds of Torreya taxifolia donated to Torreya Guardians by the Biltmore Gardens (Asheville NC) in fall 2005, for first distribution in service of "rewilding" T. tax in the spring of 2006.

RIGHT: Lee Barnes with a seedling "rewilded" to Waynesville, North Carolina, in 2008 from its "peak glacial refuge" in northern Florida.

This was the first "assisted migration" of a plant in the USA endangered by climate change. Learn how our actions are legal.


"The well-known case of the Torreya Guardians that have translocated seedlings of Torreya taxifolia
to more northerly latitudes in North America represents an independent citizen action
of very involved and proactive people."

— Roxane Sansilvestre et al., 2015
Reconstructing a deconstructed concept: Policy tools for implementing assisted migration for species and ecosystem management
Environmental Science & Policy

"One amateur group, the Torreya Guardians, are attempting to 'rewild' the endangered Florida torreya, a conifer tree. Native only to a 65-kilometer length of the Apalachicola River, it began to decline in the 1950s, probably because of fungal pathogens, and is thought to be 'left behind' in a habitat hole that has prevented its migration northward. A few dozen seedlings were planted on private land near Waynesville, N.C., last July, with more expected."

— David Appell 2009
"Can "Assisted Migration" Save Species from Global Warming?"
Scientific American

"The first climate-driven relocation project was carried out by the community of self-organized ecologists, the Torreya Guardians, in the southeast of the United States. Their aim was to help conserve Torreya taxifolia, an endangered coniferous tree."

— Sara Slavikova 2016
"Climate-Driven Relocation of Endangered Species"
Greentumble (online)

"It took action by a non-government organisation to re-awaken a debate on translocation for climate change mitigation. In the mid 2000s, the Torreya Guardians, a special interest group, formed to save the Florida torreya tree from extinction, and they embarked on a project to deliberately expand the range of the torreya more than 500 km northwards. The endangered conifer persisted in a single population of fewer than 1000 trees within a Pleistocene refuge in Florida. Climate change was predicted to reduce, or even eliminate, their habitat in this native range. The acquisition of torreya seeds and their planting in new areas was done legally, making this early and successful instance of assisted colonisation relatively straight-forward (McLachlan et al., 2007), at least from the Torreya Guardians' point of view."

— Philip J. Seddon et al., 2015
Chapter 9 "Past, current, and future use of assisted colonisation"
in Advances in Reintroduction Biology of Australian and New Zealand Fauna (Doug Armstrong, ed.)

"Lee Barnes, the de facto lieutenant of the Torreya Guardians, is eager to talk Torreya. 'I'm a horticulturist,' he says. 'I'm a professional tinkerer.' Barnes, who is no stranger to T. taxifolia — he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the cultivation of the Florida torreya and two other endangered Florida species in the 1980s — has so far collected and distributed about 120 seeds to about a dozen people and gardens north of Georgia, including amateur gardeners in Ohio, New York, England, Switzerland, and elsewhere."

— Michelle Nijhuis, 2008
"Taking Wildness in Hand: Rescuing Species" in Orion Magazine

"In 2005, as part of a 'no-budget, self-organizing, completely volunteer and paperwork-free recovery plan' for the Florida torreya, Barlow recruited Lee Barnes to launch a grassroots seed-distribution project. Taking seeds or plants from the wild and moving them across state lines without a permit would have been illegal, so the Torreya Guardians began by distributing seeds donated by a public garden in North Carolina, where a grove of Florida torreyas planted 70 years ago has been thriving and reproducing.... Undaunted, Barlow, armed with a website and an email list, has managed to advance a new conservation paradigm. The website she launched, www.torreyaguardians.org, has provided a forum for both citizens and scientists interested in debating the efficacy and ethics of assisted migration for critically imperiled species like the Florida torreya. In fact, many of the guidelines now being discussed in various scientific forums originated on this website."

— Janet Marinelli, 2010
"Guardian Angels" in Audubon Magazine

"The focus of the Torreya Guardians is an 'assisted migration' program that would introduce seedlings to forests across the Southern Appalachians and Cumberland Plateau (http://www.TorreyaGuardians.org). Their intent is to avert extinction by deliberately expanding the range of this endangered plant over 500 km northward. Because planting endangered plants in new environments is relatively simple as long as seeds are legally acquired and planted with landowner permission, the Torreya Guardians believe their efforts are justified. Introducing this species to regions where it has not existed for 65 million years is '[e]asy, legal, and cheap' (Barlow & Martin 2004)."

— Jason S. McLachlan, Jessica J. Hellmann, and Mark W. Schwartz, 2007
"A Framework for Debate of Assisted Migration in an Era of Climate Change" in Conservation Biology

   Just before the 2015 global climate conference in Paris, The Economist included an 8-part "special report" on climate change. The biodiversity section features the work of Torreya Guardians as the USA example of climate adaptation underway. Online access: "A Modern Ark: To save endangered species move them to more congenial places".

EXCERPT: Along the banks of the Apalachicola river, near the border between Florida and Georgia, lives a rare tree called a stinking cedar. Once common, Torreya taxifolia seems to have got stuck in this tiny pocket as the continent warmed after the last ice age. It cannot migrate northward because the surrounding soils are too poor. Attacked by fungi, just a few hundred stinking cedars remain along the river. Rising temperatures now threaten to kill them off entirely.
     Spying a looming extinction, a group of people is engaged in a kind of ecological vigilantism. The self-styled "Torreya Guardians" collect thousands of seeds a year and plant them in likely places across the eastern United States. Stinking cedar turns out to thrive in North Carolina. The Torreya Guardians are now trying to plant it in colder states like Ohio and Michigan as well. By the time the trees are fully grown, they reason, temperatures might be ideal there.
     Some are dubious. The Torreya Guardians were at first seen as "eco-terrorists spreading an invasive species", remembers Connie Barlow, the group's chief propagandist. She rejects that charge, pointing out that she is only moving the tree within America. She also thinks that drastic action of this kind will soon be widespread: "We are the radical edge of what is going to become a mainstream action."

   In 2015, Kara Rogers published a book (left) that includes a detailed chapter on Florida Torreya (University of Arizona Press). The end of that chapter highlights the work of TORREYA GUARDIANS. Access sample excerpts here.

The Quiet Extinction: Stories of North America's Rare and Threatened Plants is also accessible via google books.

   VIDEO: Early history of Torreya Guardians (by Lee Barnes)

Lee Barnes is a founding Torreya Guardian, with the longest tenure of work with Torreya taxifolia. From 1981-85 his graduate research entailed advanced propagation techniques for three endangered plants in Torreya State Park of Florida — Torreya among them. Here Lee speaks of his research, his early role in securing Torreya seeds for distribution to volunteer planters, and his broader frame of biodiversity-centric life work. Lee confirms that North Carolina is excellent habitat for this Florida species — and that it is crucial to experiment with plantings much farther north as climate continues to change. Click for Lee Barnes' PhD thesis re Torreya.

   VIDEO: Site Visits to Florida's Endangered Torreya and Yew Trees

Connie Barlow presents 15 years of baseline photos and videos she recorded of Torreya taxifolia and Taxus floridana in their historically native range in Torreya State Park in northern Florida. Photos of spectacular California Torreya trees, recorded by Barlow in 2005, show the potential for Florida Torreya recovery efforts to strive for. Fred Bess shows (in 2014 video) 2 Asian conifers (Cephalotaxus and Cunninghamia) used in landscaping that are Torreya look-alikes. Paleoecological evidence that Florida's Torreya was "left behind" in its peak glacial refuge supports "assisted migration" actions. (Note: This is episode 17 in an ongoing VIDEO series of Torreya Guardians actions.)

Although our "assisted migration" actions and advocacy were initiated by Connie Barlow, who drew from a paleoecological perspective to surmise that Torreya taxifolia was one of our continent's "Pleistocene relict conifers", suffering from climate change in its historically native range (and therefore deserved to be assisted northward to more suitable habitats), not all volunteers are participating for the same reason. Connie was moved to act precisely because the official management plan for this endangered species, even as updated in 2010, did not authorize participating scientists to begin assisted migration experiments. Access in pdf Connie's 2010 comments to USF&WS.

Note: The resulting recovery plan 2010 update mentions Torreya Guardians in three places:

p. 18 "Foster a working partnership between the Torreya Guardians, the Service, and other interested parties to help direct their managed relocation efforts."

p. 5 [listed within "Recovery Action 1: Protect existing habitat"] The Torreya guardians, created in 2004, translocated seedlings of T. taxifolia outside of the species native habitat (two sites in North Carolina mountains). One of the identified goals of their intentional assisted migration was to save T. taxifolia from extinction (http://www.torreyaguardians.org/save.html).

p. 9 [listed within "Recovery Action 5: Establish experimental collections of torreya outside its native habitat"] "In 1939 nearly a dozen specimens of T. taxifolia were planted at the Biltmore Gardens; 31 seedlings were planted in 2008 at two locations near Waynesville; and 10 seedlings were planted at Bt. Highlands and Franklin (http://www.torreyaguardians.org/north-carolina.html)."

A 2013 paper confirmed what Torreya Guardians has known from the outset: that our actions are legal, despite our operating beyond the scope of the official management plan. The Endangered Species Act contains an apparently intended loophole for plants. See "Commercial Trade of Federally Listed Threatened and Endangered Plants in the United States", by Patrick D. Shirey et al.

Another aspect of our diversity: While evidence indicates that the mountains of North Carolina offer suitable habitat today, not everyone in the group would support the efforts by some of us in even more northern states, where we are planting Torreya seeds and seedlings in order to ascertain whether the species can survive even colder climates — and in anticipation of continued warming this century.

Our first action was to process and distribute about 300 seeds donated by Biltmore Gardens (North Carolina) in 2004 and 2005. Visible success began in summer 2008, when we planted 31 seedlings into semi-wild forest near Waynesville NC. All of these actions were in support of "species rescue." Since then, our choices in planting, hypotheses testing, and citizen science contributions entail at least these six topical concerns:

  • Species rescue (beyond the geographically limited official efforts under the U.S. Endangered Species Act)
  • Ascertaining preferred habitats (slope, aspect, soil, moisture, shade, microclimate, plant associates, etc.)
  • Developing best practices for propagation: germination and outplanting in tended, orchard, or "rewilding" settings
  • Ascertaining northern-most ranges for thrival and tolerance in anticipation of ongoing climate change
  • Assessing Torreya's contributions to ecosystem services: Can it functionally replace extirpated eastern hemlock?
  • Honing methods for volunteer recruitment, networking, monitoring, and publication of results

  • 2016 UPDATE: In addition to private landowners, institutions who have received seeds via Torreya Guardians:

  • Longleaf Botanical Garden (Anniston, AL)
  • Kaul Wildflower Garden of Birmingham Botanical Garden (Birmingham, AL)
  • Dr. Lawana Adcock-Downey, University of Alabama Huntsville (Huntsville, AL)


  • Yew Dell Gardens (Crestwood, KY)
  • Arboretum of the State Botanical Garden of Kentucky (Lexington, KY)


  • Polly Hill Arboretum (Martha's Vineyard, MA)


  • Carolinas chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation
  • Tessentee Bottomland Preserve of the Land Trust of the Little Tennessee River (Otto and Franklin, NC)
  • Highlands Biological Station and Highlands Botanical Garden (Highlands, NC)
  • Southern Highlands Reserve (Lake Toxaway, NC)
  • Corneille Bryan Native Plant Garden, Lake Junaluska, NC)
  • North Carolina Bartram Trail Society
  • Duke University Gardens
  • Meredith College (Raleigh NC)
  • J.C. Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC)


  • U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station (Delaware OH)
  • Dawes Arboretum (Neward OH)
  • Secrest Arboretum, affiliated with Ohio State University (Wooster OH)


  • Chatooga Riverkeeper
  • Spartanburg Community College Arboretum


  • University of Tennessee Arboretum
  • Tennesseee Chapter of the Sierra Club (seeds went to 4 members)


  • Valley Conservation Council (Staunton, VA)

  • The rest of this webpage has been unaltered since 2008 in order to preserve the original roster of volunteers and advisors. Many additional volunteers have since stepped forward to help propagate and plant Torreya taxifolia. Consult the state-by-state pages accessed from our homepage to learn where and by whom propagation is occurring.


  • Volunteer Website Master: Connie Barlow

  • Volunteer Coordinator of Rewilding Project & Seed Distribution: Lee Barnes, Waynesville NC. Note: Lee Barnes studied Florida Torreya for his PhD dissertation at the University of Florida (1985), available online: "Clonal Propagation of Endangered Plants: Rhododendron chapmanii, Taxus floridana, and Torreya taxifolia".

  • Advisor from the Biltmore Gardens, Asheville NC: Bill Alexander, Forest Historian

  • Advisor from the Sudden Oak Life Project in California: Lee Klinger

  • Advisor from the Torreya Propagation Program at the Smith College Arboretum: Rob Nicholson

  • Advisor from the North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill: Peter White

  • Advisor from Lam Asian Garden, University of British Columbia: Peter Wharton

  • Advisor from New York Botanical Garden: Robbin Moran

  • Advisor from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: Dean Gallagher

  • Advisor from Northwest Florida Environmental Conservancy: Karl Studenroth

  • Torreya taxifolia steward in NE Georgia, USA: Jack Johnston

  • Torreya taxifolia stewards in Waynesville NC: Linda McFarland and Janet Manning (for Corneille Bryan Native Garden)

  • Torreya taxifolia steward in western North Carolina: Russell Regnery

  • Torreya taxifolia steward in western North Carolina: Sara Evans

  • Torreya taxifolia (and Taxus floridana and Gaylussacia brachycera) steward in Hayward, Wisconsin: Michael Heim

  • Torreya taxifolia propagator (2005 seeds) at The Dawes Arboretum, Newark OH: Rich Larson

  • Torreya taxifolia propagator (2005 seeds) at Arboretum de Villardebelle in southern France: Didier Maerki

  • Torreya taxifolia propagator (2005 seeds) in mid-Ohio: Rich Poruban

  • Torreya taxifolia propagator (2005 seeds) in Sapphire NC: Patrick Horan

  • Torreya taxifolia propagator (2005 seeds) in New York State: Peter Porcelli

  • Torreya taxifolia propagator (2005 seeds) in Devon, England: Euan Roxburgh

  • Other academic advisors: Mark Schwartz (University of California, Davis); Sharon Hermann (Auburn University), Paul S. Martin (University of Arizona, emeritus)

  • Liaison from The Nature Conservancy: Leigh Brooks

  • Liaison with The Wildlands Project: Josh Brown

  • Contact at the USF&WS (Panama City FL office): Vivian Negron-Ortiz

  • PARTICIPATING PROPAGATORS of T. taxifolia in or near western NC: Jack Johnston, Russell Regnery, Sara Evans, Corneille Bryan Native Garden

  • PARTICIPATING SCHOOLGROUNDS PROPAGATION: Bruce Rinker, chair of the science dept at North Cross School, a private school in Roanoke Valley, Virginia, began preparations for his students and school to participate in T. taxifolia assisted migration experiments and study in autumn 2009.

  • EARLY COMMUNICATING PARTICIPANTS in 2003 and 2004 email communications prior to the formation of Torreya Guardians: Connie Barlow, Paul S. Martin, Hazel Delcourt, David Jarzen, Lee Barnes, Bill Alexander, Peter White, Rob Nicholson, Peter Wharton, Mark Schwartz, Leigh Brooks, Anathea Brooks, Brian Keel, Paul Spitzer, Josh Brown, Sharon Hermann, John Johnson

    Editor's Note: An inability to reach consensus (among the above list of communicators) on the next step for Torreya taxifolia action, led Connie Barlow and Paul S. Martin to draft an advocacy piece for the final issue of Wild Earth magazine, and for Mark Schwartz to submit a rebuttal. Access both papers of the Winter 2004/2005 issue Wild Earth Forum: "Assisted Migration for an Endangered Tree". At the same time, Barlow and Martin published a set of proposed Standards for Assisted Migration on this website.

    The next major step was the July 2008 "Rewilding" action at Waynesville and Lake Junaluska in North Carolina. Access photo-essays of 2008 Torreya action and Chronology of Events leading up to the 2008 action.

    An archived history of the early debate over terminology is also available: "Assisted Migration or Assisted Colonization: What's in a Name?".


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    Annotated List of Papers/Reports Online re Assisted Migration

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