Collecting Florida Torreya Seeds at
Clinton and Mt. Olive NC

31 October 2020
by Joe Facendola (seed collector)
and Connie Barlow (editor)

• Access the main webpage of these two sites

Collecting 1,383 Seeds at Clinton, NC


    Site Visit and Report by JOE FACENDOLA


Seeds of the Clinton tree were primarily collected from beneath the southern side (sunny side) of the tree. However, approximately 15% of all collected seeds were found under the side of the tree shaded by the adjacent magnolia and oak. Unlike collection efforts made here on 2 November 2019, most of the seeds were already on the ground with little left hanging in the tree. The lowermost branches of the tree were shaken and the majority of seed remaining in the accessible parts of the tree fell for collection.

   PHOTO LEFT: Some very dried-out seeds remained on the branches and were not collected. Some "fresh" seed with moist sarcotesta were collected.

However, the majority of the seed collected in 2020 was in a relatively dry state, with the sarcotesta appearing like a dried fig or raisin (unlike the 2019 collection efforts).

Some seeds were present with the sarcotesta completely dry with the texture of leather, and the seeds could be heard audibly rattling in the shells when shaken. These were not collected and were left beneath the tree.

DID A RECENT STORM ASSIST OUR SEED COLLECTION? On October 29, 2020 tropical storm Zeta impacted SE NC, with gusts to 45mph recorded in at the Fayetteville regional airport. This wind event may have knocked the majority of the seeds from the tree in Clinton. Other factors such as temperature or precipitation in the month of October likely also contributed to the dry condition of the seed when compared to collection efforts made in 2019.

DID OAK MASTING DETER SQUIRRELS FROM COLLECTING THE FALLEN TORREYA SEEDS? The very large oak trees in the yard appeared to have a mast year, and acorns similar in size to the mature torreya seed cones were in great abundance everywhere. There was a very small amount of evidence of squirrel harvesting the torreya seeds in 2020 (evidence of squirrel harvesting in prior years has been empty sarcotesta halves beneath the tree).

Approximately 1,383 seeds were collected from the Clinton tree.

Only 3 small torreya seedlings were found growing under the adjacent magnolia. However, the rest of the yard was not searched. These three seedlings were carefully dug up, and have been potted.


ABOVE LEFT: Mrs. Kennedy asked Joe to dig up and take a larger juvenile (approx. 4ft in height), which she had growing behind her house. A very large root ball was excavated (approx. 3 ft in diameter and to a depth of 2 ft). Even digging to that depth, an approximately 1 inch diameter taproot was severed in order to remove the tree. The soil was heavy and clayish, so the removed root ball stayed intact. The root ball was wrapped in a tarp and secured with tape for transport.

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2021: Joe reports: "The larger sapling I transplanted from Clinton just recently died. It was looking good this spring, and had a good flush of new growth. However, over the last couple of months it completely yellowed and dried up (minimal needle drop). I did an autopsy, and there was no evidence of any new root growth and the roots that were there appeared black and very dead. I think the combination of heavy rains/ water logging we have had this summer with the root damage from transplant made it susceptible to some form of root rot. I have fairly heavy soil, and usually do have some trouble with large transplants. I think the difference in soil texture between the large rootball and my heavier clay causes drainage issues. I have much greater success with nearly everything if I start with small potted plants. I do have two small seedling transplants in pots which are flourishing (the largest is just starting its 3rd flush of growth)."
ABOVE RIGHT: In 2019, Torreya Guardians harvested apical growth of this basal stem (and others) in order to root it and thereby attain not only an exact genetic copy of the Clinton Tree, but also to ensure that the clone would be tree-form. (It is clear that cutting and rooting the tips of lateral branches will yield only shrub forms that will never themselves produce any basal stem sprouts.) One year later, this photo confirms that a snipped-off basal will replenish — not just one but multiple leader stems from beneath the wound — any of which could continue growing into a full tree form should the main stem suffer significant injury. Hence, harvesting apices of the basal stems does not harm a torreya's ability to maintain leader growth. Three additional apical basal cuttings were taken this year for rooting.

• Access the main webpage of CLINTON NC tree

Collecting 1,060 Seeds at Mount Olive, NC


    Site Visit and Report by JOE FACENDOLA



ABOVE LEFT: The year 2013 was the first time that Torreya Guardians collected seed at the home of A.J. Bullard. Here A.J. stands in front of the two trees he planted from seed that he and his cousin collected from the Clinton NC tree in the late 90s.

ABOVE RIGHT: By 2020 the pair of torreyas were encroaching on the driveway. A.J. had died in the spring, so Mrs. Bullard was in charge. Our collecting seeds here was conditioned on our also pruning back the branches encroaching on the driveway.


Both trees had grown considerably since the photos taken in 2013 by Connie Barlow and posted on the Torreya Guardians website. The tree on the left appeared to still have a dominant leader, while the tree on the right is assuming more of a large multi-stem shrub shape. No trimming or pruning had been done to date on either tree as far as Mrs. Bullard or her landscaper John (who was there) knew. Mrs. Bullard expressed her concern with the branches of the trees both encroaching her paved driveway as well as the trees themselves blocking her view of who may be approaching up the long gravel road to the house.
     Her goal was to have the trees trimmed back to the size they were in 2013, to facilitate mowing around the trees as well as "shape them up." Trimming the trees back to these dimensions would have resulted in many limbs needing to be removed, and leaving many bare stumps of branches. Mrs. Bullard agreed to just having the larger branches next to the driveway removed.
     The major trimming efforts were focused on the driveway side of the trees, where they are shaded by a large Darlington Oak. Both the loppers and saw that were used on the torreyas (which came from offsite) were sterilized using a blow torch and also sprayed in a bleach solution earlier that day, to avoid bringing in any possible outside disease. However, the same tools were used on both of the adjacent Mt. Olive trees without being cleaned between each tree. John also used a gas hedge trimmer which was already on the property to "give some shape" to both of the trees. Mrs. Bullard was pleased with the outcome and would like John to lightly shear the trees with the hedge trimmer after the flush of foliage in the spring, to keep the trees from growing back into the driveway. The alternative would be total removal. The photos below show the results.

ABOVE PHOTOS: Mrs. Bullard guided Joe in pruning the driveway side of both torreyas (LEFT). Mrs. Bullard also directed a "shape-up" with hedge trimmers of the sunnier side of the shorter, sprawling torreya.


Both trees were producing seed, however the smaller tree on the right produced much more seed than the one on the left (approximately 3:1). Seed was produced both on the shady (driveway) and exposed sides of both trees. Both trees still had female cones hanging on the branches, however the majority of the seed was already on the ground. The sarcotesta of the female cones collected from the Mt. Olive trees was in a similar state of dryness as those from the Clinton site. The Mt. Olive trees did have some green cones that were not fully mature, as well as dried out cones hanging in the branches. The female cones still hanging in the tree seemed to be mostly in the lower half and interior of each tree. Both trees displayed buds that will develop into both male and female reproductive structures the following year.

ABOVE LEFT: Seeds from a total of 3 torreya trees were collected in 2020. The most seeds came from the very large Clinton tree (top bucket). Next most abundant came from the shorter, sprawling torreya at Mt. Olive (middle bucket). The taller tree-form torreya at Mt. Olive had the fewest seeds (bottom bucket). The seedling on the left was dug up from near the single mature tree at the Clinton residence.

ABOVE RIGHT: Examples of some of the very dry seed on the ground at Mt. Olive. Seeds which audibly rattled were not collected.

   Three seedlings were found growing directly beneath the Mt. Olive trees, but they were not collected and are still onsite.

One seedling is in the lower left of the adjacent photo.

The seedling has darker and longer leaves whorling around a single vertical stem. This indicates the first above-ground growth flush, as a second growth flush would then produce from 1 to 4 lateral branchlets.

Given the mowed lawn and the paved driveway, there was no opportunity for any seed that might have been carried away and buried by a squirrel to produce a seedling that could continue to grow.


PHOTOS ABOVE: Left is a newly ripening female pair, with a cluster of young female buds visible along the top side of the embedded brown laurel oak leaf. To the right is the characteristic layout of male buds, which reside along a branchlet stem, rather than clustered near the tip. Torreya Guardians have witnessed both male and female branchlets on all 3 of the torreyas at Clinton and Mt. Olive sites. It was A.J. Bullard who first drew our attention to the species' ability to produce both sexes — contrary to what the literature said.

JOE reports:

   The tree on the right did have some areas of yellow needles, as well as areas where the needles were yellowed and fallen. This yellowing was primarily on the left side of the tree (on the sunnier exposed side facing the other torreya, and next to a smaller deciduous shrub). The landscaper John did mention that he had earlier in the summer heavily trimmed back the deciduous shrub between the two torreyas in order to ride a mower through. The removal of some of the deciduous shrub may have exposed this section of the torreya to stronger sun, or there is another cause for the yellowing and loss of needles in this section of tree.

Knowing how important it was to (a) keep the seeds moist and (b) rapidly get as many as possible directly into the ground in their final destinations, Joe Facendola and Connie Barlow shared the responsibility for mailing seeds to existing and new volunteer planters. During the first three weeks of November, all seeds were sent out in priority mail boxes.

    North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana, Virginia, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio.


PHOTOS ABOVE: Connie Barlow was in charge of mailing out 1,000 seeds (500 from each of the two sites). Samples of seeds cleaned of their sarcotesta are from Clinton on the left dish and Mt. Olive on the right. Two sets of 50 from each site were immediately tested by Connie in a jar of water. On average, only 1 seed per 50 floated. Recent flotation testing by Clint Bancroft indicates no significant germination differences between floaters and sinkers result. Even so, floaters may have an advantage in being able to disperse farther if they fall into a stream or are carried by flood waters.

• Access the main webpage of the MOUNT OLIVE NC torreyas