Torreya taxifolia - Arn.
Florida Torreya
Other English Common Names: Florida-nutmeg
Other Common Names: Florida nutmeg
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Torreya taxifolia Arn. (TSN 194890)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.137133
Element Code: PGTXA02020
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Conifers and relatives
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Coniferophyta Pinopsida Taxales Taxaceae Torreya
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Torreya taxifolia
Taxonomic Comments: Distinct species in small but ancient genus.
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G1
Global Status Last Reviewed: 11Mar2009
Global Status Last Changed: 07Jan1987
Rounded Global Status: G1 - Critically Imperiled
Reasons: Endemic to about a dozen ravine complexes along the Apalachicola River in Florida and adjacent Georgia. Within this unusual habitat, the species was once common. However, since the late 1950s, a fungal pathogen of uncertain origin and no known control has decimated the populations. There are currently no reproducing individuals known in the wild and the species is persisting only as stump shoots and occasional root sprouts. Most of the Georgia habitat was eliminated by flooding from a major dam.
Nation: United States
National Status: N1

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
United States Florida (S1), Georgia (S1), North Carolina (SNA)

Other Statuses

U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): LE: Listed endangered (23Jan1984)
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Lead Region: R4 - Southeast

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: Very narrow endemic, known only from ravines along east bank of the Apalachicola river in the Florida panhandle (Liberty and Gadsten Counties) and adjacent southwesternmost Georgia (Seminole and Decatur Counties). Kral reports for Jackson County, Florida but basis unclear; the Florida Natural Areas Inventory has mapped one occurrence in Jackson County, but it is believed extirpated.

Area of Occupancy: 26-500 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments: Based on only the localities seen since 1970, the area of occupancy is 92 square km based on a 4 km square grid cell.

Number of Occurrences: 6 - 80
Number of Occurrences Comments: Known from about a dozen ravine complexes along the east bank of the Apalachicola River in Florida and adjacent Georgia. Approximately 29 occurrences have been mapped in Florida and 2 in Georgia.

Population Size Comments: Few if any reproducing trees left anywhere. Hundreds, perhaps over a thousand shoots from blighted roots.

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: None to very few (0-3)
Viability/Integrity Comments: Fungus blight has infected all natural stands and few if any reproducing mature trees remain in the wild.

Overall Threat Impact: Very high - high
Overall Threat Impact Comments: The greatest threat to this species is the fungal blight that has affected all or nearly all naturally occurring individuals (USFWS 1986, Schwartz et al 2000). Other factors cannot be ignored, however, particularly because they may render the trees susceptible to infection. They include logging of ravines or adjacent uplands, alteration of hydrologic patterns, and changes in microclimate by creation of impoundments. Large populations of deer or hogs could damage what few trees remain; deer rub against and break brittle Torreya stems (Southeastern Wildlife Services Inc. 1982), and hogs root up seedlings (Kral 1983). One recently-documented Florida site is threatened by development.

Short-term Trend: Decline of >70%
Short-term Trend Comments: Sharp decline since the 1950s due to fungus blight (Schwartz et al 2000).

Long-term Trend: Decline of >90%
Long-term Trend Comments: This species was historically locally abundant within its restricted range and habitat. Documented decline of 98.5% in the 100 years from 1900 to 2000 (Schwartz et al 2000).

Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Persists for decades as stump shoots, but does not reach reproducing size before being killed back by fungus.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Global Range: Very narrow endemic, known only from ravines along east bank of the Apalachicola river in the Florida panhandle (Liberty and Gadsten Counties) and adjacent southwesternmost Georgia (Seminole and Decatur Counties). Kral reports for Jackson County, Florida but basis unclear; the Florida Natural Areas Inventory has mapped one occurrence in Jackson County, but it is believed extirpated.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces
Color legend for Distribution Map

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States FL, GA, NCexotic

Range Map
No map available.

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
FL Calhoun (12013), Gadsden (12039), Jackson (12063)*, Liberty (12077)
GA Decatur (13087), Union (13291), White (13311)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
03 Lower Ochlockonee (03120003)+, Upper Chattahoochee (03130001)+, Lower Flint (03130008)+, Apalachicola (03130011)+
06 Hiwassee (06020002)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: A relatively small, symmetrical evergreen tree (mature trees can reach 18 m in height but none of the plants surviving in the species' natural range are over sapling size). Herbage has a pungent, disagreeable odor when crushed. This is one of the oldest tree species on earth; Taxus taxifolia fossils date back at least 165 million years. It is also one of the few close relatives of the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia), the species which produces the cancer-fighting substance taxol.
Technical Description: Dioecious tree, rarely over 2.5 m tall (formerly up to 18 m), with conical crown, whorled branches and needle-like, evergreen leaves. Bark thin, sloughing off in shreds. Leaves 1.5-4 cm long, about 3 mm wide, stiff with sharp tips, glabrous, glossy-green above with lower surfaces lighter, narrowly linear-lanceolate, slightly falcate, giving off a pungent odor when crushed. Leaves spirally arranged, but oriented in one plane because of a twisting of the petioles. Staminate cones 5-8 mm long, yellowish or creamy white, globular-ovate. Ovulate cones reduced, maturing into a single oval to obovate seed, 2.5-4 cm long, enclosed by a fleshy, dark green aril, turning purple with a whitish bloom when mature (Small 1933, Kurz and Godfrey 1962, Ward 1979, Kral 1983, Stalter and Dial 1984, USFWS 1986).
Diagnostic Characteristics: Evergreen needles with sharp points at the tip.
Ecology Comments: Torreya trees do not reach reproductive maturity until they are 15-20 years old (USFWS 1986). Reproductive structures appear in March or April (USFWS 1986), and pollen is disseminated by wind (Baker 1985). Seeds mature in September to October of the second year following pollination and, when mature, are often gathered by squirrels (USFWS 1986). Seeds germinate in one to three years (usually two), following a period of warm and then cool temperatures (USFWS 1986).

Although many trees were cut for fence posts and other uses, the Torreya was still relatively abundant in the under- to mid-story of ravine woods and bluffs along the Apalachicola River early in this century (Reinsmith 1934, Kurz 1938). In the early 1960's, however, Godfrey and Kurz (1962) discovered that almost all large trees had died, apparently as a result of a fungal blight that produced lesions and necrosis of leaves and stems. At present, most (possibly all) of the trees in the wild are root sprouts that rarely survive to reproductive maturity; many or most cultivated trees are also infected (USFWS 1986). Alfieri et al. (1967) isolated a number of different fungi from infected trees, most of which are relatively common soil inhabitants. Many authorities believe that the fungal infections are merely symptoms of a decline precipitated by other factors such as increased sunlight or alteration of seepage patterns following logging of ravine woods and/or adjacent upland pine forests, repeated droughts, or a change in microclimate following construction of the Jim Woodruff dam in 1956 (Savage 1983, USFWS 1986). It has also been suggested that an introduced soil-borne pathogen, Phytophthora cinnamomi, might have played a part in the Torreya decline (USFWS 1986, Barnard 1987).

Riverine Habitat(s): SPRING/SPRING BROOK
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Cliff, Forest - Hardwood, Forest/Woodland
Habitat Comments: Rich, dark, sandy loam soils of hardwood hammock slopes, ravines, and bluffs. Usually in steephead ravines (deep cuts made by erosion into coastal plain sediments). The ravines are much cooler and more moist than the land surface above and harbor remnants of the more temperate flora that existed in the region during the Tertiary ice ages. Uninterrupted seepage and a humid microclimate appear to be important characteristics of the habitat. Associated species include Magnolia grandiflora, Fagus grandifolia, Pinus glabra, and Ilex opaca (Ward 1979, Southeastern Wildlife Services Inc. 1982, Stalter and Dial 1984, USFWS 1986).
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview:
1. Conduct research concerning identification and control of factor(s) responsible for Torreya decline.

2. Protect and monitor remaining trees, locate wild seed-bearing trees.

3. Protect Torreya habitat.

4. Maintain diversity of shoots until fungus can be cured. Transplant to areas far removed from fungus spores.

Restoration Potential: The potential for recovery is very low; most individuals in the wild are diseased, and none are known to be producing fruit. Even healthy trees might not survive in their native habitat if factors other than disease are responsible for their decline.
Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: Because land use of areas adjacent to ravines can affect drainage and other characteristics of the habitat (USFWS 1986), Torreya sites should include a buffer zone. This zone might consist of pine woods above the crest of a ravine and/or areas of a drainage system upstream from the Torreya site.
Management Requirements: Unfortunately, little can be done to protect Torreya trees in the wild (Martin 1987, pers. comm.). Application of fungicides has been recommended by Alfieri et al. (1967) and Stalter and Dial (1984), but the Florida Torreya Recovery Plan (USFWS 1986) noted that applications of Maneb, Benomyl, Daconil (Chlorthanlonil) and Zyban to Torreya trees in Maclay Gardens over the past 25 years have not succeeded in controlling the blight (USFWS 1986). Fungicide use at Torreya State Park has also been unsuccessful (Martin 1987, pers. comm.). In addition, these chemicals might harm beneficial mycorrhizal fungi that may be associated with Torreya roots (USFWS 1986).

Because deer may break Torreya stems, some trees, especially those that are seed-bearing, may need to be protected during rutting season. Maturing seeds may need protection from squirrels and other frugivores.

Although attempts to protect Torreya trees in the wild may be futile, it is important to preserve suitable habitats in case the decline can be halted. The primary requirement for maintenance of the habitat appears to be lack of disturbances such as logging of ravines or adjacent uplands, creation of impoundments, or other alteration of hydrologic and land use patterns. Historically, occasional fires may have burned down into the upper slopes of ravines from adjacent upland pine woods (Platt 1987, pers. comm.). Infrequent fires during particularly dry years might be beneficial to the upper ravine woods (Platt 1987, pers. comm.).

Seed-bearing trees could be protected from deer by fencing or deer repellents. Squirrels could be excluded by covering the entire tree with hardware cloth or by protecting individual seeds with screen wire bags (USFWS 1986). Possible rodent taste repellents include nicotine sulfate, fox urine, pepper sauce and ammonia (USFWS 1986). Management and monitoring programs should be coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jacksonville Field Office.

Monitoring Requirements: Natural populations should be monitored so that the numbers and status of remaining individuals can be determined. Monitoring would also help locate sexually mature trees. Seeds from wild trees are needed to increase the genetic diversity of seeds used for propagation (now obtained only from cultivated trees).

Individuals should be marked with permanent tags (not directly attached to the individual) and censused yearly. Ideally, all remaining trees should be tagged and mapped. Observations such as height, stem diameter, extent of infection and number of sprouts from a single stump could be recorded. Female trees of seed-bearing size should be identified and checked for fruit production in the fall.

Management Programs: No known programs, although one may be instituted at The Nature Conservancy's Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.
Monitoring Programs: The Preserve Manager of The Nature Conservancy's Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve (Bristol, Florida) is planning to institute a monitoring program.
Management Research Programs: Research concerning propagation techniques is being carried out at Maclay Gardens, Tallahassee, Florida, and at various private nurseries and botanical gardens (Martin 1987, pers. comm.).
Management Research Needs: Much research is needed concerning the biology of the species, its habitat requirements, and identification and control of the fungal pathogens and other factors responsible for its decline.
Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 11Mar2009
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Morse, L. (1987), rev. L. Morse (2000), rev. C. Nordman (2009)
Management Information Edition Date: 28Aug1987
Management Information Edition Author: LOUISE ROBBINS/DENNIS HARDIN

Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

  • Alfieri, S.A., Jr., A.P. Martinez, and C. Wehlburg. 1967. Stem and needle blight of Florida Torreya, Torreya taxifolia Arn. Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society 80:428-431.

  • Baker, W.W., compiler. 1985. Endangered species information system species workbook: Torreya taxifolia. Unpublished report, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • Clewell, A.F. 1985. Guide to vascular plants of the Florida panhandle. Florida State Univ. Press, Tallahassee, Florida. 605 pp.

  • Godfrey, R.K. 1988. Trees, shrubs, and woody vines of northern Florida and adjacent Georgia and Alabama. Univ. Georgia Press, Athens. 734 pp.

  • Godfrey, R.K. and H. Kurz. 1962. The Florida torreya destined for extinction. Science 136:900-902.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

  • Kral, R. 1983a. A report on some rare, threatened or endangered forest related vascular plants of the south. USFS technical publication R8-TP2, Atlanta, GA. Vol. 1: 718 pp.

  • Kral, R. 1983c. A report on some rare, threatened, or endangered forest-related vascular plants of the South. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service Technical Publication R8-TP2, Athens, GA. 1305 pp.

  • Kurz, H. 1938. Torreya west of the Apalachicola River. Proceedings of the Florida Academy of Sciences 3:66-77.

  • Kurz, H., and R.K. Godfrey. 1962. Trees of northern Florida. Univ. Florida Press, Gainesville. 311 pp.

  • Little, E.L., Jr. 1978. Atlas of United States trees. Vol. 5: Florida. Miscellaneous Publication No. 1361. U.S. Forest Service, Washington, D.C. 126 pp.

  • Little, E.L., Jr. 1979. Checklist of United States trees (native and naturalized). Agriculture Handbook No. 541. U.S. Forest Service, Washington, D.C. 375 pp.

  • Radford, A.E., H.E. Ahles, and C.R. Bell. 1968. Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas. Univ. North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC. 1183 pp.

  • Reinsmith, W.H. 1934. Exploring for Torreya trees in the Apalachicola bluff country. Unpublished report. Florida Forest Service, Tallahassee.

  • Savage, T. 1983. A Georgia station for Torreya taxifolia Arn. survives. Florida Scientist 46:62-64.

  • Schwartz, M. W., S. M. Hermann, and P. J. van Mantgem. 2000. Estimating the magnitude of the decline of Florida torreya (Torreya taxifolia Arn.). Biological Conservation 95(1): 77-84.

  • Small, J.K. 1933. Manual of the southeastern flora. Two volumes. Hafner Publishing Company, New York.

  • Southeastern Wildlife Services, Inc. 1982. A distribution survey of the populations of Taxus floridana and Torreya taxifolia in Florida. Unpublished report, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Contract Number: 14-16-0004-81-069.

  • Stalter, R., and S. Dial. 1984. Environmental status of the stinking cedar, Torreya taxifolia. Bartonia 50:40-42.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1986. Florida torreya (Torreya taxifolia) recovery plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta, GA. 42 pp.

  • Ward, D.B., ed. 1979. Rare and endangered biota of Florida. Vol. 5: Plants. Univ. Presses of Florida, Gainesville.

  • Wunderlin, R.P. 1982. Guide to the vascular plants of central Florida. Univ. Presses Florida, Gainesville. 472 pp.

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