1114 Torreya taxifoliaCommon Names: Florida torreya, gopherwood, stinking cedar Family: Taxaceae (yew Family)
Florida torreya is a cone shaped evergreen tree that potentially reaches 50 ft (15 m) in height. The branches are distinctively whorled about the main trunk and the 1-2 in (3-5 cm) needles are flat with sharp, piercing tips. The needles tend to spread in a single plane on both sides of the twigs. Crushed needles have a distinctive, if not disagreeable, odor reminiscent of tomato leaves. Staminate (male) and pistillate (female) cones are sometimes borne on separate branches of the same plant, and other times on separate plants altogether. Pistillate cones take two years to mature and develop into a dark green, purplish striped fruit about 1.2 in (3 cm) long.
Florida yew (Taxus floridanum) and Florida torreya have almost identical distributions along the east side of the Apalachicola River, and are quite similar in appearance. Florida torreya has sharp, stiff needles, whereas Florida yew has soft, flexible needles; the torreya has whorled branching whereas the yew has irregular branching; and torreya foliage smells like tomato leaves, whereas Florida yew foliage smells more like turpentine.
The natural distribution of the torreya tree is limited to wooded ravines along the east side of the Apalachicola River in Liberty and Gadsden Counties, Florida, and adjacent Decatur County, Georgia, and a small population on the west side of the river near Shady Grove in Jackson County, Florida. There are no mature trees within the natural range, only low sprouts, presumably from the roots of top-killed specimens. Recent surveys have concluded that there are fewer than 1500 specimens remaining in the wild. Torreya trees have been planted outside their native range and many have done very well, surviving for decades, reaching tree size, and producing viable seed.
CultureFlorida torreya grows in rich, limey soils. It does not do well in open, windy situations. Light: Florida torreya is intolerant of much direct sun. It grows best in shade or partial shade. Moisture: Florida torreya likes high humidity, but established trees can withstand normal rainfree periods. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 8. Although occurring naturally only in Zone 8B, Florida torreya thrives in cooler climates. Propagation: Seeds require a long dormant period of one to two years before germination. Propagation from hardwood cuttings is difficult and can take several months before rooting occurs.
Florida torreya is a highly Endangered Species, and is clearly going extinct in the wild where, since the 1950's, it has been attacked by a fungus disease, perhaps either Alternaria or Phytophthora. At Torreya State Park in Florida, the namesake tree has been reduced to pitiful sprouts that reach 3-6 ft (1-2 m) in height, then die back to the ground, sometimes resprouting from the roots, only to die back again. However, the tree often thrives when planted further north than its natural range. Fine specimens can be seen at Biltmore Gardens in Asheville, North Carolina. The National Champion Florida torreya is growing in Norlina, North Carolina and is some 45 ft (13.5 m) tall, with a 40 foot (12 m) spread. Torreyas grown from seed taken from out-of-state specimens can be purchased at many native nurseries, and gardeners are encouraged to try this rare tree in their shady landscapes.
The yew family, Taxaceae, includes six genera and 20 species occurring in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, and a single species endemic to New Caledonia. The plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia), from eastern Asia, is a popular landscape plant with several useful cultivars. Only five species in the yew family occur naturally in the United States: Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia), Canada yew (T. canadensis), Florida yew (T. floridana), California torreya (Torreya californica), and Florida torreya. Five additional species in the genus Torreya occur in China.
It has been asserted that the Florida torreya is actually the "gopherwood" that Noah used to build the Ark.
Even though they are dying out in nature, Florida torreya is a Federally listed Endangered Species and it is unlawful to remove any parts from the wild without the land owner's permission.
Steve Christman 2/3/10