Efforts to Save Torreya taxifolia

1. Torreya Guardians "Assisted Migration" program

This website was initiated to promote citizen-professional collaborations (citizen science) in behalf of the highly endangered Torreya taxifolia, specifically to propagate plants from privately available seed stock and to begin reintroducing the species onto privately held lands in the eastern United States, northward of the Ice Age Pocket Reserve along the Apalachicola River of northern Florida. This unusual initiative is motivated by at least four distinct goals:

  • To help save Torreya taxifolia from extinction.

  • To test the efficacy of assisted migration for this and other threatened plants that were "left behind" in their peak-glacial reserve.

  • To serve as a model for the kinds of geographic interventions that will be necessary for plants in a warming world.

  • To nurture citizen-professional collaborations and a high degree of volunteerism in the service of biodiversity.

    WATCH 75-minute introductory VIDEO


  • Introductory VIDEO (2013)

  • our efforts are legal

  • current efforts

  • the scientific basis

  • Project Reports by Volunteers

    Click above for three magazine articles written about our early "rewilding" actions.

    2. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

    USF&WS page for Torreya taxifolia. This is the ongoing page for basic information of this conifer's conservation status and ongoing recovery/research efforts. Scroll down to Current Recovery Plans and then click on the View Implementation Progress link for a detailed table that itemizes the official actions and research for recovery of this endangered species.

    In 2010, the USF&WS initiated an update for the original (1986) recovery plan for Torreya taxifolia as an endangered species. You can access in PDF the existing official USFWS plan (updated in 2010) for managing this endangered species. Do an internal word search in that document for "translocation" to see how it addresses the new issue of assisted migration. Search for "guardians" to see the places in which the plan begins to coordinate with the work of Torreya Guardians. Much more can be accessed about the 2010 review process (the agenda and some of the pro-assisted migration comments) at the Torreya taxifolia Recovery Plan page on this website.

    NOTE: In May 2010 USF&WS staff overseeing the recovery plan under the Endangered Species Act for Torreya taxifolia gathered a meeting of researchers, managers, and landowners to review their actions to date and recommend future actions for an update of the recovery plan. Though not active within the terms of the management plan, Torreya Guardians was invited to participate, so Russell Regnery and Connie Barlow listened and shared their thoughts by phone call-in during the day-long conference. We felt welcome and well heard. Afterwards, Barlow decided to follow-up with print commments of her own (advocating a shift to a "deep-time perspective" of what constitutes native habitat) and to alert several scientists with expertise in this realm of the opportunity to send in comments as well. Two did so. These comments and more can be accessed on this website via Torreya taxifolia Recovery Plan Under the Endangered Species Act: Spring 2010 solicitation of comments on assisted migration. That page contains six links, including:

  • Comments by Connie Barlow

  • Comments by Prof Sarah Reichard

  • Comments by Josh Donlan (of Advanced Conservation Strategies).

    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)."

    3. Cuttings, Cloning, and Off-Site Propagation

    "The Ex Situ Conservation of Stinking Cedar", by Bailo, Determann, Nicholson, and Sojkowski, in Public Garden, July 1998.

    This paper reports on the 1989 project to take cuttings from the remaining individuals alive in Florida. The full report is available on-line (above), "The Ex Situ Conservation of Stinking Cedar" by Bibiana Garcia Bailo, Ron Determann, Rob Nicholson, and Stephen Sojkowski. July 1998 issue of Public Garden: The Journal of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, Vol. 13, No. 3

    [excerpt] "For this study, 2,622 cuttings were collected from 166 trees at 14 individual sites from throughout the native range of the species. Cuttings were taken in November 1989 and were transported to greenhouses in Massachusetts, where they were given a fungicide soak (Zyban) and subsequently propagated. Cuttings were potted and grown for two years and then shipped to botanic gardens and biological institutions worldwide for observation and research. Institutions receiving plants were the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University; Bok Tower Gardens; Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh; Illinois Natural History Survey; Mercer Arboretum; North Carolina Botanic Garden; Tall Timbers Research Station; USDA Forest Service, Berkeley; and USDA Forest Service, Gulfport."

          LEFT: Rooted branchlets

    CENTER: Rooted cuttings of original Florida genotypes
    have begun to produce pollen and seeds at the
    "potted orchard" of Torreya taxifolia
    at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

    For more on the results of this cloning project:

  • Smith College Torreya webpage (Note: A 2015 email from Rob Nicholson, Botanical Garden at Smith College, summarizes: "We did a second round of propagation from cuttings sent back to us by Ron Determann at Atlanta Botanical Garden from the original material we sent him — another 1600 rooted cuttings so almost 4000 in total.)

    For detailed advice on:

  • propagating from seeds and cuttings of T. taxifolia

    4. Return of Cloned Stock to Native Habitat

    Report by the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance: Click here for the main web page on efforts to conserve Torreya taxifolia posted by Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance.

    FIRST TORREYAS LEAVE THE NEST, by Laura Anne Middlesteadt, Public Relations, Atlanta Botanical Garden

    After six years of tender loving care at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, 19 individuals of Torreya taxifolia (stinking cedar) were planted out on DNR land in north Georgia last spring. Staff from ABG, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and Smithgall Woods participated in the planting. Conservation of Torreya has been one of GPCA's four priority projects since its inception in 1995.

    The Atlanta Botanical Garden is one of several holding sites for genetic material of the species. ABG staff have nurtured and propagated more than 150 genetically different individuals of stinking cedar since 1990. The trees that were planted at Smithgall were the first of this group to be planted out. They represent 10 different genetic clones, all originally from Georgia. "This is a tree that faces almost certain extinction without some action on our part," Ron Determann, Atlanta Botanical Garden, said. "We're very pleased that some individuals are fruiting and setting seed now."

    The location of the outplanting at the Smithgall Woods/Dukes Creek Conservation Area in White County is north of the species' natural distribution. Determann and DNR botanist Tom Patrick hope that the fungus which attacks the trees will not be present at the new site. The trees, which were three to four feet in height at planting, were sited in both open woods and full sun areas near the Smithgall Visitor Center on Georgia Highway 75 Alternate just south of Helen.

    "The trees are doing really well," said Linda Moore, Smithgall grounds supervisor. "We haven't lost any and they've all put on new growth."

    The Smithgall Woods/Dukes Creek Conservation Area is open to the public for recreational purposes. For more information, call 706-878-3087.

    UPDATE ON THE RECOVERY OF TORREYA TAXIFOLIA, by Madeleine Groves, Conservation Programme Coordinator, Atlanta Botanical Garden

    Long-term institutional cooperation and commitment by GPCA members and collaborators towards the recovery of Torreya taxifolia has been continually demonstrated since this project was reported in GPCA's first newsletter (No. 1, Jan. 1998). In November 1989, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, through the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), initiated ex situ conservation efforts as recommended in the recovery plan written for this species when it was listed as "endangered" under the US Endangered Species Act in 1984. Over 2,000 cuttings from 166 trees at 14 individual sites were collected in order to secure and propagate genetic material away from the infected populations (Nicholson et al., 1998).

    ABOVE: Seedlings grown from seed produced from rooted cuttings of the original Florida genotypes have now been planted back in their native home; these seedlings are visible alongside the main parking lot at Torreya State Park.

       The Torreya seedlings planted near the parking lot at Torreya State Park have grown over the course of several years. Notice the full-sun habitat. This photograph was taken in autumn 2007 by Glenn Rilke.


    PHOTOS ABOVE AND BELOW BY CONNIE BARLOW, 19 December 2014. Seven years after Glenn Rilke photographed the lawn plantings of Torreya near the parking lot at Torreya State Park, Connie Barlow photographed the trees again. Notice in the bottom right photo that one of the tallest trees still had one seed hanging on a high branch.


    In 1990, The Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG) entered into a corporate agreement with the CPC to receive a full set of these original cuttings. Plants from many of these cuttings are now over 5 feet in height. Despite reproductive individuals not being found in the wild as a result of the blight, ABG staff harvested the first crop of seed from these cuttings in Fall of 1998. Using a simple but effective method, the seeds were cleaned and planted at ABG in rodent-secure seed beds. You can access on this website a photo-essay of the propagation program at Atlanta Botanical Garden.

    In order to reduce the risk, additional material (approximately 2,000 cuttings, representing 150 genotypes) was taken from ABG's original cuttings and forwarded to Rob Nicholson at The Botanic Garden at Smith College in Northampton, MA to be rooted. Rob's long-term commitment to conserving this species should be noted as he has been involved in this project since initial conservation efforts were made by the Arnold Arboretum. Approximately, 1,600 rooted cuttings were returned to ABG in December, 1998 where they were potted-up and labeled with their original Arnold Arboretum location numbers. ABG is now coordinating the distribution of these cuttings to other GPCA members including the State Botanical Garden, UGA Experimental Station (Blairsville, Georgia), Georgia Southern University, Callaway Gardens, and Smithgall Woods. The GPCA continues to rank this species as one of their top five priority projects for this state.

    As GPCA members and collaborators continue to work closely on developing propagation and horticultural techniques for this species, securing ex situ conservation populations north of the infected populations will be one of GPCA's main objectives as we enter the 21st century.

       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.

    Learn about efforts to REWILD Torreya taxifolia in the southern Appalachians and points north.

    WWW www.TorreyaGuardians.org

    Return to HOME PAGE

    Annotated List of Papers/Reports Online re Assisted Migration

    Contact us