Torreya taxifolia Propagation near Franklin, NC
3,800 feet elevation

private landowner, Russell Regnery


  

REPORT OF DECEMBER 2008 by RUSSELL REGNERY
(scroll down for more recent reports, photos, and videos)

My wife and I are responsible for 35 acres of land in the mountains of Western North Carolina at approximately 3600-4000 feet above sea level. Like almost all of eastern North America, this land has been logged probably at least twice and altered in other ways by human activities. None of this land represents untouched "old-growth forest". Nevertheless, the forest on much of the land is wonderfully diverse and, for anyone who pays careful attention, is 'hard at work' re-establishing a more 'mature' forest with an impressive repertoire of beautiful understory plants/wildflowers, birds, mammals, amphibians, invertebrates, etc. A portion of our land was also cleared for subsistence agriculture (e.g., corn, potatoes, apples).

We have set aside a corner of an old hillside field to plant out 10 T. taxifolia that we purchased as seedlings from the Woodlander's Nursery; seedlings that were raised from cultivated trees on private lands far from Apalachicola.

Seven of our seedlings appear to be a year younger (smaller in height and less developed roots when removed from their pots) than those I helped plant at the two 2008 Waynesville locations and were planted at almost the same time. One of the smaller seedlings had a tag indicating simply "2004". I don't know if this was the season the nuts were harvested and planted or the year the seedlings germinated.

In the relative absence of detailed information for successful propagation of T. taxifolia, our personal attempt to steward a few seedlings towards maturity clearly falls into the hopeful "experimental" category. Although there are encouraging examples of cultivated, healthy T. taxifolia in the Southern Appalachians, there are absolutely no guarantees that all or any of our 10 trees will survive even a few seasons, let alone survive to reproductive potential.

For comparative purposes, our planting differs from the Waynesville planting in several ways. Firstly, as previously mentioned 7/10 trees appear to be a season younger (e.g., no roots immediately evident when first turned out of their nursery pots). The altitude of our property where our T. taxifolia were planted (~3700') is higher. The planting area is less rocky than the Waynesville sites (e.g., no trouble digging a hole without prying out rocks with a pick axe). I don't know our average, site-specific, annual rainfall; however, the rainfall in the city of Highlands (about 7 miles away) is I believe greater (e.g., 80-100"/year) than that in Waynesville.

All of our seedlings have received supplemental lime amendment to increase the soil pH at planting (hydrated lime) and a subsequent application (dolomitic lime) and commercial planting soil (Miracle Gro) was also added to further improve soil tilth. A pooled, untreated soil sample from our property was measured at pH 5.6 (Clemson University Agricultural Service Laboratory).

And, significantly, we made the choice to plant the seedlings at various stages out into a meadow-grassland environment; all of the seedlings are either on the edges of the meadow or at varying degrees of additional exposure into the southwest-facing meadow. None of our seedlings were planted in deep shade, in contrast to almost all of the Waynesville seedlings (to the best of my recollection).

This last choice for planting the T. taxifolia in a more open environment was intentionally made in hopes that greater access to sunlight, although perhaps more traumatic to seedlings at first, might ultimately promote a shorter time to maturity and seed-bearing, as well as hopefully promote a more robust tree structure than those few T. taxifolia that I have seen growing in Torreya State Park (Florida) deep in the forest. When we purchased our ten seedlings at the Aiken, SC nursery (quite a ways further south and lower in altitude), I was impressed that all of our seedlings (including the Waynesville seedlings) appear to have orignially been grown under full, often very hot sun along the same rows with the other nursery potted plants. I am sure that the Woodlander's staff kept everything watered on a regular schedule, which probably helped to offset the rather extreme sun exposure.

Woodlander's seedling T. taxifolia obviously do well at the nursery, and owner Bob McCartney said he had not used any special pH soil amendments with the T. taxifolia, and the seedlings were planted in a pine-bark based planting medium. I would be curious to know the pH of Aiken, SC water.

All or our planted seedlings are surrounded by 2" x 2" mesh, 24" high, circular wire "cages" to help protect them from accidental injury. I clothes-pinned fiberglass window screening to one side of the cages with the intention to attenuate the summer afternoon sun, at least for the first season. One seedling that got significant shading from partly overhanging, senescent Canadian hemlock limbs didn't get the summertime window screen treatment.

All of our T. taxifolia seedlings were planted on the edge of a man-made grassland that is shaded well into mid morning by Blackrock Mountain (~5000') and the edge of the forest (to the East and North). As mentioned previously, our most shaded seedling (one of the smaller, younger cohort) gets constant (but light) shading courtesy of senescent Canadian hemlock limbs on the forest edge. Two more seedlings are planted at the edge of the forest but with full afternoon sun exposure; one of these is one of the older seedling cohort. Another of the older seedling cohort is planted in the meadow but gets variable afternoon shade from a medium sized Carolina hemlock about 20' away. The rest of the seedlings, including the 3rd seedling of the older cohort, get no additional afternoon tree shading. With the local drought conditions for 2008, I hand watered all the seedlings on a reasonably regular schedule (no more than a gallon/seedling every two days) until such time as the soil moisture increased (e.g., tropical storm Faye). All the seedlings survived the drought and put on varying degrees of new growth.

Late this fall I removed the window screening when it became clear that snow could attach to the one-sided screening and threaten to act as a 'sail' for tipping over the cages in strong winds. I anticipated that winter sun would be less intense than summer sun.

I left the mountains for a two-week period in late November, which also happened to coincide with some bitterly cold weather (minimum of ~12F). When I returned I was surprised with what I saw. It was clear that the younger cohort seedlings, with the exception of the one seedling planted under the Canadian hemlock bows, had undergone significant 'browning'; apparent loss of green from most or all of their lower needles. All three of the older cohort looked as green as I had left them and, as mentioned above, so did the one young seedling under the shade of the Canadian hemlocks. The fact that the one small shaded T. taxifolia continues to do well did not suggest that the browning was necessarily a function of soil moisture and/or temperature alone (which should be similar for all of the planted seedlings). It was interesting and probably significant that the 3 older seedlings exhibited little or no browning, suggesting that browning is somehow a function of seedling size, and/or root development, or perhaps depth of freezing and active root depth, and/or ability to recruit moisture from the soil.

I corresponded with Jack Johnston and I looked for references to coniferous winter browning; I immediately found them. I learned that winter browning is not an uncommon phenomenon, especially for seedling yews and hemlocks in areas with more extreme northern winter climates. And that browning may be a partial function of winter sun exposure coupled with inability to successfully translocate moisture via the roots. I am not clear how severe or significant browning will be for the long-term wellbeing of the T. taxifolia seedlings I have planted. However, it would appear to be stressful and undesirable at best.

The subsequent plan has been to provide the T. taxifolia seedlings with at least some shelter from the combination of cold winter sunshine and perhaps wind. I cut the bottoms out of large, black plastic nursery pots (~12" high) and staked these open-ended pots upside-down around each seedling (except the nicely green seedling near the hemlocks). And I further tried to partially barricade the seedlings from the winter elements by making a triangle of split-rail fencing (cut in half lengths). Hopefully, this will provide the winter shelter the seedlings apparently need and will allow them enough sunlight from above to promote some growth, and still ultimately allow them to mature further in a light-rich environment.

The 'bright side' of these observations (including that the older seedlings have fared much better) hopefully suggests that, as the seedlings grow (assuming some or all survive), winter sun exposure, will be less of a concern for these young trees in the future. I have learned an important lesson in cultivation of conifers which people from further north would have anticipated: browning of the smallest T. taxifolia seedlings can occur under exposed sun and cold winter conditions.

Overall, my simplest goal is to provide a 'mini-refuge' for the T. taxifolia germ line for future generations. Like most of the Eastern North American forest, our forest continues to undergo substantial change/decline — especially due to introduced diseases and insects imported from overseas. As native species wither before our eyes, it would be a wonderful added plus if T. taxifolia were to provide even a small coniferous ecologic niche within our forest; a niche that has perhaps been absent for several thousand years. If in 10 years my wife and I have a small, reproductive population of T. taxifolia, whose seeds we can share with others, then I think we can more confidently consider ourselves as true "Torreya Guardians". We are ever hopeful.


  • COMMENT FROM CONNIE BARLOW, Dec 2008. During the first 3 weeks of December, my husband and I housesat at the site of the second Waynesville plantings of 21 seedlings of T. taxifolia. Our south-facing hillside also experienced very cold (18 degrees F), and snow. All the seedlings that had been planted in deep forest, though now in almost full sunlight (owing to full deciduous canopy and understory) look green and healthy. Three of the four (all the smallest) of those planted in the sunniest lower slope of the driest side had already experienced die-off of some of the lower branches well before the cold. And their upper green leaves bronzed, while remaining apparently quite alive and flexible. Lee Barnes, in a site visit, explained to me that the bronzing was probably anthocyanins produced to shield the leaves from an excess amount of sunlight. Another botanist had told me that sunlight is mostly a problem for T. taxifolia right after it has been planted. New growth will be adjusted to better cope with intense sunlight.


  • JUNE 2008 BRIEF REPORT BY RUSS REGNERY: This year's new growth is really beginning to develop now on my 10 trees, some faster/more than others (as perhaps expected). In general, the trees planted adjacent to the forest edge are uniformly doing well. In general, those trees most exposed to sun (and perhaps more importantly, winter wind, etc.) were seriously stressed this last winter and are still working to send out new growth. By far the most successful tree (judged by lots of new growth) is one planted out into the meadow but in partial afternoon shade of a Carolina hemlock...it seems to be really taking off without supplemental shelter. Last summer I started the trees out with some built-in partial shade from fiberglass window screen and I recently decided to reinstall the screening again for the most exposed trees this summer. With this few trees and all the uncontrolled variables, it is impossible I think to make serious correlations between exposure and growth success. However, the success of the one tree suggests that these trees do have the potential to grow outside of a true forest canopy. It will take several more years to get to the seed-bearing stages and truly evaluate which trees have done best. Most of Jack Johnston's T. taxifolia in north Georgia are reasonably exposed to overhead sun, if I remember correctly, and the last time I visited Jack, his trees were putting on lots of new growth.


  • MARCH 2010 REPORT BY RUSS REGNERY: Although this has been a 'cold', snowy, and wet winter in our part of western North Carolina, our lowest temperature here at our place has been 2 F which isn't quite as cold as the coldest last year which had a seasonal minimum below zero (~ -2F). Our 10 Torreya taxifolia seemed to have held up to the cold temperatures/exposure better than they did last winter (the first winter after they had been planted as one year's smaller seedlings than the Waynesville seedlings). They clearly could be greener, but I have not seen the browning off that was apparent the first winter, and I expect them all to do well this next growing season. I just gave them another handful of dolomitic lime and fertilizer.
        Jack and I have both repotted persimmon seedlings from the seeds that [Connie] sent to me that were gathered in Ohio. Hopefully they will continue to thrive. Jack gave me some paw-paws last year and I am hopeful that they will come out again this spring. The semi-blight resistant, 98% American chestnuts seem to have weathered the winter well too and it is going to be exciting to see how they grow this season. It is kind of interesting the contrast in the rapidity with which chestnuts and Torreya seem to grow — must be close to the two extremes. Who knows, perhaps the Torreya will take off one day and grow 4-5 feet in a year too like some of the young chestnut trees do under ideal conditions.


  • SEPTEMBER 2010 PHOTO-ESSAY (site visit) BY CONNIE BARLOW: Russ told Connie that of the 10 original seedlings planted, one has died thus far (apparently from application of a high-phosphate fertilizer) normally used for growth of Christmas trees. About twice a year he sprinkles a handful of lime around each seedling.

        

    ABOVE LEFT: 10 seedling Torreya taxifolias were planted in 2008 in the annually mowed upper field of Russ Regnery's property, at the far left corner of that field in this photo. Russ also owns the forest heading upslope in the photo. Above his 35 acres the forest becomes part of the Nantahala National Forest, with the summit being Black Rock Mountain.

    ABOVE RIGHT: Russ in 2010 alongside one of the caged seedlings, each marked by 2 white poles.


       LEFT: A lush Carolina Hemlock stands in the annually mowed field and just to the right of 2 visible "cages" of young Torreyas. (Look for the white poles, one of which is in the shadow cast by the tree. This photo was taken at noon, so you can see from the shadow direction that the camera is standing to the west, pointing eastward.

       

    ABOVE: Red arrows point to some of the caged seedlings. Notice the farthest left arrow in both photos points to a seedling right at the edge of the forest, such that it receives no direct sunlight in the morning. This photo was taken around noon, end of September.


          LEFT: Wire mesh is used
    to protect the young trees
    from intense afternoon sun.

       LEFT: A new tiny seedling (barely visible at the center of its surrounding bottomless pot) was planted in 2010, from seeds that Jack Johnston sprouted, thus offering a bit of genetic diversity into this population.

    Notice the bits of perlite still in the pot; Russ did not shake the roots free of perlite before planting, and thus it is very important for him to water the plants by hand during summer drought.


        

    ABOVE: The wire mesh shading of the seedling near the young tuliptree (Liriodendron) is supplemented by the tree itself when the sun is due south at noon. Note: If you scroll down to the "VIDEO 2015" report, you will be able to see this same specimen and its tuliptree companion in late April 2015 (advance the video to timecode 10:19).


        

    ABOVE: One seedling was planted 2 feet into the forest edge, so its full sun comes later in the afternoon. This is the same tree that was marked by the leftmost red arrow in the earlier 2 photos. Notice the overhanging leaves of the neighboring shrubs. Note: If you scroll down to the "VIDEO 2015" report, you will be able to see this same specimen in late April 2015 (advance the video to timecode 13:22).

    This might be the most fortuitous planting. It is planted slightly into the south-facing forest edge and is shaded by the low branches of a Carolina Hemlock. Thus it receives mottled sunlight from late morning to late afternoon. Russ has never had to shield this seedling from excess sunlight via a wire mesh.


  • MAY 2012 REPORT BY RUSS REGNERY: This year has been good to my Torreya so far. In addition to becoming better established each year, this year we have been blessed with consistent rainfall (like in years long gone by). Another obvious possible contributing factor may be that we had a very mild winter. Clearly the T. taxifolia can withstand cold and snow, as all of my trees have until now. However, perhaps the lack of deep frozen soil may be contributing to an especially good start this spring.

    I don't see my Torreya putting on new growth in the winter; they seem to be generally in tune with when the hemlocks put on new growth.

    I wish my trees had started out as the same lot as the ones that we planted at Junaluska and Waynesville. Most of my trees were a year smaller in the pots to begin with, even though they were planted the same year, so direct comparisons aren't completely appropriate.

    I've removed the partial (sun) screening from another tree that was outgrowing it's protective 'cage' and screening. So it is now quite exposed, but it is doing very well. It still is encircled by an upside-down plastic flower pot (bottom cut out), which serves as shelter for the base of the tree. That shelter was installed when the tree was very small, with the idea that it would perhaps foster a moister, more protected micro-envirnoment. The inverted pot has become the home of a nice wasp nest, which I like to think helps guard the tree from too much unwanted 'inspection'.

    Another tree is the venue for a harvester ant nest, which seems to be okay so far.

    I probably will go ahead and remove at least the screening from one or two others that also get a lot of sun now. The trees seem to be getting the hang of life in the meadow and hopefully are developing good root systems.

    I notice variation among the meadow trees, but for reasons that are unclear to me. The one meadow tree that never had any shade-screen applied remains quite robust with multiple leads.

    The tree that was planted under the cover of a couple of small hemlocks just off the meadow is doing quite well, too. (It never had any screening.) This tree probably most resembles the growth pattern of most of the trees you show on the Waynesville and Junaluska pages. (It is shorter than those other 2008 plantings, but still looking quite happy.)

    I guess one measure of success down the road will be which trees (shade or sun) reach reproductive status first and differences in amounts of seeds they bear. The hope that sunlit trees will reproduce earlier is the reason I put most of my trees in the sun — even though they have been quite exposed as young trees. I don't really know if the application of screening has been beneficial, however. When the trees were very young, I wasn't willing to risk loosing half of my trees to do the experiment. Providing some degree of shelter seemed like a good idea the first winter and the next summer when they were tiny.

    Your photo of the California tree growing out of the granite is a reminder to me that members of the same genus can potentially thrive in full sun, and presumably lots of snow in winter, and it is beginning to sound like sun may be a factor for a couple of the Junaluska trees.

    I like what Connie and Lee have begun doing: associating T. taxifolia growth differences with associated plants growing in the same areas. If our meadow wasn't mowed at least once a year (as it has been for perhaps almost 200 years), I suspect it would soon revert to the trillium-rich, Liriodendron-oak-hickory forest that currently surrounds the meadow (once it got through the brambles, Smilax, and locust sprout phases). This slope of our property isn't as constantly wet as would be some of the more riparian areas, but the amount of soil wetness obviously depends on the distribution of rainfall during the year; e.g., this year the soil has never become parched. I'll try to provide some photos soon.


        32 minutes - filmed April 29, 2015.

       VIDEO: 2015 progress report plus "free-planting" seeds directly into forest

    North Carolina was the destination of Torreya Guardians 2008 "rewilding" of Florida Torreya to its presumed ancestral home in pre-glacial warm times. Russ Regnery leads Connie Barlow on a tour of his young torreya trees 7 years later. Topics of discussion include (1) the advantage of sun-shading screen during the early years if Torreya is planted out in the open, (2) how Torreya is vulnerable to winter sun and wind scalding/dessication if not protected by a canopy, (3) the advantages of planting near nurse trees for shading and for sharing their symbiotic root fungi. "Free-planting" seeds from the 2014 seed harvest directly beneath the forest canopy is the final half of the video.


    Return to HOME PAGE