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, 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.


   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."

Editor's note 2015: Following this brief section, the rest of this webpage is unaltered 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.

Although this "assisted migration" advocacy was initiated by Connie Barlow, who drew from a paleoecological perspective to surmise that Torreya taxifolia was 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.

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 continuing warming this century.


  • Volunteer Website Master: Connie Barlow

  • Volunteer Coordinator of Rewilding Project & Seed Distribution: Lee Barnes, Waynesville NC

  • 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".

    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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