Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tree Thursday - Torreya Tree

Today’s tree is not one used often for landscaping but is one of the world’s rarest and oldest tree species known and that actually is found in a small part of Florida.  Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my wife and I visited Torreya State Park in Bristol, Florida (about 45 minutes west of Tallahassee) which is home of the Torreya tree (Torreya taxifolia). 

Here’s some interesting facts about the Torreya tree:

-- The Torreya tree grows among the bluffs and ravines of Gadsden and Liberty Counties, Florida.
-- The Florida Torreya (Torreya taxifolia) was discovered around 1835 by Hardy Bryan Croom, an early botanist. 
-- Early settlers called the Torreya the "stinking cedar" because of the strong odor it gave when cut or bruised. Despite its smell, however, they used it for a wide variety of purposes ranging from fence posts and shingles to Christmas trees and riverboat fuel.
-- It is estimated there were 600,000 Torreya trees living in the Apalachicola River Valley during the early 1800s. Only around 200 survive today.
-- Modern scientists report that the Torreya once lived across North America and is one of the oldest known tree species on earth.
-- A local legend says that the Florida Torreya was the Biblical "gopher wood" from which Noah built the ark.
-- Because the Torreya is one of America's most endangered trees, a major effort is underway to save it. The Florida Park Service is working with the Atlanta Botanical Garden in a commendable effort to grow new Torreya trees.
-- Florida Torreya is a cone shaped evergreen tree that potentially reaches 50 ft (15 m) in height.
-- 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.
-- 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.
-- 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.
-- The Torreya 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.

Now here are pictures of the one of the existing Torreya trees and the State Park –

Torreya Tree outside of Gregory House at Torreya State Park

Gregory House at Torreya State Park

View of Apalachicola River off bluff near Gregory House. 

For More information:

Gene Dempsey, City Forester
Environmental Services
Office - (954) 828-5785  Fax - (954) 828-4745

Think before you print!