Florida Torreya at Biltmore Gardens
(near Asheville, North Carolina, 2200 feet elevation)
75-year-old healthy grove
VITAL ROLE OF BILTMORE in donating seeds to Torreya Guardians. This 2009 lengthy article by Sidney Cruze in North Carolina Wildlife delves into the early years of TORREYA GUARDIANS, including quotations from Bill Alexander (then forest historian at the Biltmore). The article, "Rewilding a Native", includes this excerpt:... Already there is mounting evidence that the tree can succeed in North Carolina. A small grove has thrived in Asheville's Biltmore Gardens for more than 65 years. Bill Alexander, Biltmore's forest historian, agrees with Barlow about moving Torreya and believes our state will make a suitable habitat for the tree. "It's been planted in private gardens for at least 100 years, and it's not known to be invasive," he says. "Plus, it's unlikely to survive in the wild."
VIDEO: Florida Torreya Grove at Biltmore Gardens NC: 75 years old
In 1939 Chauncey Beadle supplied the Biltmore Estate with a dozen Torreya taxifolia seeds or specimens collected in Florida prior to any understanding of climate change and endangered species. Now this 75-year-old grove and its offspring are precious for securing the wellbeing of the species and for demonstrating that (with little human help) North Carolina is an ideal habitat for escaping the native diseases of a now too-warm Florida. Connie Barlow narrates photos and videos she captured on site visits to the Biltmore: February 2004, August 2006, and April 2015.
1 hour - assembled and posted March 15, 2016
Comparative Measurements: 2015 v. 2006
Below is a tally of the circumferences in inches (4ft above ground) of the main stems of Torreya specimens measured by Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd in 2015 (and by Connie in 2006). As mentioned in the above video, the grove was seriously set back in September 2004, owing to two hurricanes that tracked over western North Carolina.
First two maps show the locations of each of the specimens.
Yellow asterisk = Specimens A - S
Green asterisk = Two original specimens near Metasequoia (Azalea section)
Red asterisk = Two "Pond Bridge" specimens and one near "Taxodium" (knees)
Blue asterisk = 1 seedling along Woodland Path
2006 2015 Specimen A - ? 03 inch 06 inch Specimen B - ? 08 inch ?? inch Specimen C - F 07 inch ?? inch 1 seed 2006 Specimen D - F 08 inch ?? inch 1 seed 2006 Specimen E - ? 08 inch ?? inch Specimen F - ? 30 inch 38 inch Specimen G - ? 27 inch 31 inch Specimen H - ? 13 inch 23 inch Specimen I - M 08 inch 10 inch Specimen J - ? 30 inch 32 inch Specimen K - ? 17 inch 18 inch Specimen L - ? 25 inch 28 inch "orig #6" tag Specimen M - ? 28 inch ?? inch Specimen N - ? 22 inch 23 inch Specimen O - ? 24 inch 25 inch Specimen P - ? 29 inch 30 inch Specimen Q - ? 08 inch 09 inch Specimen R - ? 29 inch 30 inch Specimen S - F 08 inch 12 inch 21 seeds 2006 Metasequoia A - F 46" + 40" ?? + ?? 32 seeds 2006 Metasequoia B - M 44" + 39" 46 + 40 closest to road Pond Bridge A - ? unknown 46 + 40 20 ft branches on grd Pond Bridge B - M unknown ?? + ?? 10 foot tall 2015 Taxodium - A unknown ?? 14 foot tall 2015 Woodland Path - A unknown ?? 20 inch tall 2015
• The 1986 recovery plan for Torreya taxifolia (its first) contains this mention of the Biltmore trees:
• Ground-running branch is unique Torreya adaptation - Although I noticed the 20-foot ground-running branch on one of the Biltmore's torreyas in past years, only now do I recognize its significance. The reason: I have since documented the same ground-running adaptation, as well, among the grove at Harbison House (Highlands NC) and on one of the three old torreyas at the Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve in Louisiana. Photos of the Biltmore ground-branching tree are below.
October 2018 Site Visit New Discoveries
photos by Connie Barlow 2018
ABOVE: The yellow and green asterisks signify garden regions where most of the original 1939 Torreya plantings are found. Blue is a small torreya transplanted from where a squirrel buried it in the garden area. The red asterisk is the single very large, double-stemmed torreya near the Fish Pond Bridge. This is the torreya with the 20-foot-long ground-running branch, shown above right.
Look carefully at the above right photo: You will see two branches assume the ground position, intermingling and growing toward the light offered by the sidewalk beyond. The two photos below show the exuberant growth of the leafy branches and suggest that each of the two trunks has put forth a branch aiming toward the sunlight.
CONCLUSIONS RE GROUND-RUNNING BRANCHES:1.Given that the ground-running branches always seem to emerge from mature trunks at spots no higher than 3 feet above ground level, it is a good idea to never cut off any of the living low branches, no matter how tall the tree becomes.• Discovery of new seed-producing volunteer upslope of the Fish Pond Bridge Torreya - The three photos below show a very young volunteer sapling that has started producing seeds (approx 23 counted in 2018).
2. Because Torreya is very slow-growing, it is becoming evident that a sapling that begins in rather full sun will assume a vertical trending, sometimes conical shape (while assuming a more horizontal, branching form so long as shaded overhead). What happens when fast-growing species nearby overtop a young, conical torreya? A likely response is the ground-running branch seen here. Notable is that the two tallest nearby trees are both very fast growing: Norway Spruce and our native Liriodendron. The ground-running branches are heading in the opposite direction from those two over-shading trees.
This young, multi-stemmed female is about 40 feet upslope from the Fish Pond Bridge Torreya. It is exceedingly close to a very big Liriodendron visible in the near background of all three photos. Though fast-growing and very shady in the summer, Liriodendron is nonetheless a good neighbor for two reasons: (1) It is deciduous, so the sapling has access to winter sun, and (2) it partners with the same class of mycorrhizal soil fungi as Torreya merges with, thus offering a possibility that some canopy-generated sugars by the Liriodendron will be diverted by the fungi to the Torreya sampling.
Because I had the chance to visit the Biltmore torreyas over an extended time, I can offer a series of photos below that feature just two of the original torreya plantings, which I have named "F" and "G".
2004-2018 Hurricane Damage and Basal Growth
photos by Connie Barlow
The first photos, February 2004, show the mature original torreyas, F and G, beneath a canopy of white pines.
The next photos are August 2006, which reveal tremendous damage from two hurricanes of September 2004. With the loss of the White Pine canopy, English Ivy begins to take over and crawl up the trunks. The 3 remaining original torreyas upslope of the sidewalk (F, G, and H) still have tops despite the hurricane, but the photos show them as very spindly and thus vulnerable to wind damage.
They were topped by staff in order to ensure safety for nearby cars and passersby, and those topped photos show up here in 2015.
As well, by 2015 tremendous basal growth show the species' natural response to top loss, as now new leaders will develop from the main stem itself.
When top loss occurs in the wild, one or more basals will continue to grow skyward, eventually overtaking the main stem. This is why the sister species of Florida Torreya, California torreya, often appears not as single stems but as doublets or triplets. Under such circumstances, one can presume that the rootstock is considerably older than annular rings on even the largest stem would indicate. Here is the photo series:
TOP LEFT: Original Torreya plantings "F" and "G" are foreground trunks, which look somewhat white in the sunlight. Behind them are towering White Pines. Notice the leftward branches of "F" show characteristic leaf structure at photo edge.
BOTTOM LEFT: "F" AND "G" trunks in foreground, with dark gray White Pine trunk behind, and the paved road behind that.
LEFT: Two years after devastating hurricanes (Sept 2006), Torreyas "F" and "G" are now in the open, right by the sidewalk. Notice how few and damaged the tall White Pines are, and that there is now no canopy shade for the pair of torreys. Torreya is normally a subcanopy tree.
BELOW: Closeup view of the two torreyas.
TOP LEFT: "F" and "G" have grown basal sprouts, which offer the now full-sun trees quick ways to photosynthesize, following top damage.
BOTTOM LEFT: Staff had cut off the tops of both F and G in order to ensure safety for nearby cars and passersby. Typical for this genus, no new leaders are heading upward from the cut area. Instead, if the basals are left untrimmed, one or two of them will rise skyward and eventually overtop the cut main stem.
LEFT: Tops of F and G are still maintaining photosynthetic capacity. But they are not reaching upward above the cut.
TOP LEFT: "F" has a profusion of basal growth, now thickening.
BOTTOM LEFT: Staff apparently removed basal growth from "G" owing to needing to ensure walkers on the sidewalk can clearly see when to cross the road. (The brown stem visible in far left of photo is one of the basals from "F".)
COMPARISON: Keeping basals on one but removing them from the other offers a kind of experiment opportunity. Will the basal-rich Torreya F grow faster and remain healthier, despite the full-sun and warming habitat?
Also, compare the ground layer invasive English ivy here to the 2004 brown pine needle ground cover, prior to the hurricanes.
The Beginnings of "Rewilding" at the Biltmore Gardens
photos by Connie Barlow 2004
In 1939, Chauncey Beadle collected about a dozen specimens of T. tax from the Apalachicola and planted them in a small grove within the vast holdings of the Biltmore Gardens in Asheville, North Carolina (elevation 2200 feet).
Biltmore Gardens staff have intentionally planted progeny of the original T. tax trees in an otherwise "wild" ravine adjacent to the parent grove. (See photos below.)
Squirrels at the Biltmore also regularly "plant" the progeny of these original trees, but those that sprout in the lawn are mowed over, while those that make their appearance in groomed beds devoted to other species are pulled.
ABOVE: Saplings (foreground) of T. tax were planted by staff in a grove of pines (large trunks) at the Biltmore Gardens. The sidewalk demarcates ungroomed land in the foreground that drops off into a shallow ravine. Squirrels have also planted many seedlings although not always in places where they will thrive (or are allowed to remain).
ABOVE: The 15-foot-tall evergreen understory of this open pine forest (seen in the foreground) are all "rewilded" T. tax, planted by staff at Biltmore Gardens along the south-facing slope of the ravine. Many smaller saplings and some seedlings occur in that group, as well. (Note the boundary-separating sidewalk at lower left.)
ABOVE: View of the south-facing slope of the ravine, from the rhododendron- and hemlock-clad north-facing slope. (Rhododendron is in foreground on right.) The young trees on the south-facing slope are all T. tax. (Notice the boundary sidewalk in the back.)
Today hemlock is prominent on the north-facing slope of this slight ravine, and all the Torreya specimens (intentionally planted, as well as planted by squirrels) occur and are thriving on the south-facing slope. As to Torreya's cold-hardiness, Bill Alexander, forest historian at the Biltmore Gardens, reports that in the winter of 1985 all Torreya specimens survived unharmed an episode of unusual cold; temperatures plunged to minus 16 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus the world's only rewilded grove of Torreya taxifolia has already been well tested for suitability in the southern Appalachian Mountains.
August 2006 Site Visit to Biltmore Torreyas
by Connie Barlow
NOTE: In 1939, Chauncey Beadle (the Biltmore's botanist and nursery superintendent) planted in the Biltmore Gardens about a dozen specimens of Torreya taxifolia collected from Florida. The 2005 fall harvest of T. tax seeds at the Biltmore numbered 130. In mid August 2006, Connie Barlow carefully viewed all trees, and with binoculars to see the tops, but counted a total of just 55 seeds, with perhaps a dozen or more of that number being smaller and appearing nonviable. The seeds appeared on 4 females: 1 seed on each of two trees, 21 on another, and 32 on another.
The two largest (and apparently, healthiest) trees (one male and one female) are situated more than a hundred yards downslope from the rest of the original plantings. The photos below depict these two trees. Because they are surrounded by mowed lawn on 3 sides and dense shrubs on the other (the road side), I found no evidence of successful seed establishment or saplings anywhere. Using binoculars, I counted 32 seeds on this tree, ranging from 3-feet above the ground to the top-most branches. Almost all of those seeds appeared full-size.
01 02 03
PHOTO O1 shows these biggest and healthiest of all the Torreya taxifolia trees at the Biltmore. The 2-stemmed male tree is in center (yellow boundary lines), and one stem of the 4-stemmed female tree is to the right. This photo was taken from the far side of a paved road. Both trees are about 10 feet downslope of the road. Other conifers appear in the background.
PHOTO 02 is the base of the 2-stemmed male, with a quart water bottle for scale. One stem is 44 inches circumference at breast height. The other is 39 inches. Notice the mowed lawn on the other side. This pair of trees is not visible from the sidewalk. They are directly upslope from the giant dawn redwood that is visible from the sidewalk in this all-conifer area. The only apparent landscaping activity in this conifer area is grass mowing.
PHOTO 03 is the female of this pair. She has 4 stems, but two of them are broken off at 6 to 10 feet above the ground, so only 2 stems comprise the canopy. One is 35 inches at breast height and the other is 29 inches. This female bears a metal tag that reads, "Torreya taxifolia 149".
04 05 06 07 08 09PHOTO O4 shows the light-green new growth of foliage, compared to the darker green of a previous year's growth. This low-hanging foliage is in a sunny spot. BTW: A simple touch test will always allow the observer to differentiate Torreya from its yew relatives. All species of Torreya have needles with very sharp (painful!) tips.Below is a MAP of all the rest of the T. taxifolia specimens, more than 100 yards east of the 2 largest specimens shown in the photos above. All specimens are shown in red, labelled A to S. The 3 specimens bearing "fruit" are circled in black: Specimens C, D, and S.
PHOTOS 05 & 06 show some of the low-hanging "fruit" of this female tree. Each single seed is covered by a fleshy green sarcotesta. The shape of T. taxifolia "fruit" is much more ovate than the oblong-ish "fruit" of T. californica. (Click to view a comparison of the two species.)
PHOTO 07 shows a doublet fruit, while PHOTO 08 shows a doublet in which the parent tree is putting energy only into one fruit. Nascent ovaries on mature trees often occur in groups of two or even three. This particular female had 32 full-size seeds on it.
PHOTO 09 shows two single fruits growing near one another.
Next to the map is a table of stem circumferences (inches at breast height) keyed to each lettered specimen, A to S. The three specimens bearing fruit are shown in green. The surviving original plantings (surmised to be 22 inches girth or greater; the only specimen that bears a tag as an original is 25" in girth) are shown in blue. It is disappointing to note that none of the original specimens in this grove bear fruit. Many, of course, may be male. It is also disappointing that the two smallest specimens I could find had a 7-inch and a 3-inch girth; whereas during my 2002 visit I noted a number of seedlings to the west (left on map) of Specimen S.
A - 3"
B - 8"
C - 7" (1 fruit, full-size)
D - 8" (1 fruit, full-size)
E - 8"
F - 30" (unhealthy; branches on one side nearly leafless)
G - 27"
H - 13"
I - 8"
J - 30"
K - 17"
L - 25"
M - 28"
N - 22"
O - 24"
P - 29"
Q - 8"
R - 29"
S - 8" (21 seeds, but half of those are dwarf in size)
11 12 12x 13 14PHOTO 11 shows, encompassed by a drawn yellow outline, Specimen S (the 8"-girth tree bearing 21 fruit). A dogwood is marked by the red star. Yellow dots show the locations of what are probably specimens R, N, and M.
PHOTO 12 shows the fruit-bearing Specimen S at left foreground. Even though the branches are rather open and sparse, the foliage looks healthy. This individual gets a lot of summer sun. But because the slope across the road (visible as flat plane in background) is steep and tall, I suspect that no direct sun strikes any of the trees in this location during the months around Winter Solstice.
PHOTO 12x, taken from the road, shows a view of Specimen S (outlined in yellow on left) from the opposite viewpoint as in photo 12. The grove of Specimens K through R is indicated on the right. At far right foreground, hemlock branches dangle.
PHOTO 13 is a close-up of Specimen S lower stem, and PHOTO 14 shows a group of three of its full-size fruits.
15 16 16xPHOTO 15 shows specimens R and Q in foreground. The left-most stem is dogwood. Several more T. tax visible behind.
PHOTO 16 is from standing to the south and seeing the "line" of specimens R and Q on the left, then looking north (center right) into the semi-circular group of K, L, M, N, and O. White sidewalk is visible in the background. None of the Torreya specimens in this photo are bearing fruit. Are they all males, or are they too stressed to bear fruit? The right-most tree (Specimen K) is the only one in this entire section that bears a tag.
PHOTO 16x shows the tag of this Specimen K, with a 25-inch girth. The tag reads, "ORIG #6", and it appears very old.
17 18 18x 19 20PHOTOS 17 & 18 show the most-stressed foliage I could find in this I through R grove. Compare it with the lovely foliage in PHOTO 18x, which is Specimen C on the other side of the small creek.
PHOTO 19 is Specimen J, with a 30-inch girth. The creek is behind it.
PHOTO 20 shows the creek in foreground with Specimen J upslope and beyond it, and the group of J through R beyond that. None of the Torreya stems visible in this photo are bearing fruit.
21 22PHOTO 21 was taken while standing on the road. Pink dot marks Specimen J in background; the vine-covered big trunk mid-ground is a big tuliptree. Foreground dots mark the vibrant young trees right next to the road, and where the underbrush in entirely unmanaged. It is surprising how vibrant these young trees are, given how little sun reaches this spot. The yellow dot marks Specimen B; orange is Specimen C; blue is Specimen D. C and D each bear one fruit, and have girths of 7 inches and 8 inches, respectively. Because 7 of the 10 specimens that are clearly not the originals have girths of 7 or 8 inches, it would be interesting to know whether these represent a single year's crop of seedlings that Biltmore staff planted or transplanted all at once and when that year would have been.
PHOTO 22 shows Specimen D's lone, dangling fruit.
23 24 25PHOTO 23 is the view looking SW at Specimens F, G, and H. The paved road is just beyond them. The turquoise dot marks the healthy young Specimen H, which has a girth of 13 inches. The pink dot marks two nearby, but clearly separate, individuals that are surely part of the original 1939 planting, as they are 27 and 30 inches in girth. Both are stressed, but the one on the right in this photo has a lot of dead branches, all the way to the top, on the right-most side, and the lower (presumably dead) branches have been cut. None of these specimens is bearing fruit, and none has stump sprouts growing to take over if the main stem dies entirely.
PHOTO 24 shows in yellow and red the 2 individuals demarcated by pink in the previous photograph. The yellow dot marks Specimen F, which clearly is dying (two entirely dead branches are visible about 8 feet up the trunk; scars from lower branches that have been cut are somewhat visible). In PHOTO 25 you can see the nearly barren top of that tree, along with a stressed rhododendron in the foreground left.
Notice the young white pines in PHOTO 23. These are new plantings. When the author of this page visited the site 4 years earlier, this section was a mix of tall, old pines in the high canopy and Torreya specimens as the lower canopy. The Biltmore reports that the broken stems and otherwise weakened and degraded condition of some of the original trees is due to the devastation by hurricanes Francis and Ivan in September 2004. The estate lost hundreds, if not thousands of large trees due to the saturated ground and high winds. Dozens of large pines in the adjacent groves were either uprooted and/or broken. Biltmore arborists had to remove additional ones that had become safety hazards. After having grown under the pines for decades, the Torreyas have experienced sun scald and stress from drier soil since the canopy was opened.
New Archival Information
on Original Biltmore Plantings
(contributed by Bill Alexander, October 2005)
Biltmore archival records show that Torreya taxifolia was originally brought to the Biltmore in 1896-97 and was growing at the Arnold Arboretum at that time also. In the "Biltmore Nursery Dept. Outgoing Correspondence, Vol. I 1896-1897" there is a letter on p. 219 from C. Beadle to Prof. C. S. Sargent, Arnold Arboretum. Beadle mentions having received from a correspondent of his in Bristol, Florida,"a few plants each of Torreya taxifolia and Taxus floridana. I am quite interested to know if this latter species has ever been in cultivation. I know that the Torreya has; indeed, you have it at the Arnold Arboretum. If you have not plants of Taxus floridana, we will be pleased to send you some as soon as our stock is sufficently advanced to warrant the shipment."The letter continues with Beadle talking more about exchanging plants. The records indicate (p. 908) that on 4 March 1897 Beadle sends Sargent specimens of Taxus floridana.
2016 VIDEO: Early history of Torreya Guardians (by Lee Barnes)
Lee Barnes is a founding Torreya Guardian, with the longest tenure of work with Torreya taxifolia. From 1981-85 his graduate research entailed advanced propagation techniques for three endangered plants in Torreya State Park of Florida Torreya among them. Here Lee speaks of his research and his early role in securing Torreya seeds from Biltmore forest historian Bill Alexander for distribution to volunteer planters.
2016 UPDATE ON SEEDS FROM THE BILTMORE: November 28, 2016 email from Lee Barnes: "... Biltmore Estate offered to send us 7 seeds that I am having them send to Jack." Editor's note: Lee returned to the Biltmore to ask for seeds because we lost our usual (prolific) seed source donor this year.