Mature Torreya of Madison, Florida

2019 Site Visit by Garrie Landry

   Garrie Landry is a botanist in Louisiana who connected Torreya Guardians in 2018 with the caretakers and managers of Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve, within whose forest were growing 3 mature Florida Torreyas. Connie Barlow and Clint Bancroft visited the preserve in November 2018 and documented the torreyas and their context.

Garrie was at that time Herbarium Curator at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He has since transferred to Avery Island Louisiana, where he is employed as a botanist. On 5 July 2018 he had written:

"I recently traveled to FL and picked up several very nice nursery grown Torreya plants, and brought them back to Louisiana. Currently I am working for the McIlhenny Company on Avery Island (home of Tabasco pepper sauce) as their first botanist, and I hope to establish a grove of Torreyas this fall in Jungle Gardens."
Following his 11 October 2019 visit to the Torreya tree in Madison FL he wrote,
"I went to visit the Torreya in Madison and had a grand time. Do you know how old it might be?" I bought more Torreyas to plant in the forest of Jungle Gardens on Avery Island. Those I planted a year ago are thriving and have grown nicely, so I purchased some very nice large ones at a local nursery in Tallahassee and plan to plant them shortly in the same area to create a grove.

More photos of Garrie's visit to the Madison tree below.

October 2019 note by Connie Barlow:

I googled Avery Island, home of 7 generations of the family-owned business of making Tabasco Sauce, as I was concerned about sea level rise there. In 2018 the Guardian provided this analysis:

"A geologic oddity, Avery Island rises to 163ft above sea level, making it a towering giant amid the supine flatness of Louisiana’s coast. The 2,200-acre island — more accurately a hill of buried salt surrounded by bayou and marsh a couple of miles inland from Vermilion Bay, an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico — has long provided a sturdy home to Tabasco but now faces the danger of being marooned."
Conclusion: So Avery Island will be safe from sea-level rise. What about climate change? All ex situ plantings are exceedingly valuable for studying growth habits (especially in forest contexts) of Florida Torreya. It will also be interesting to watch if Garrie's torreya plantings eventually succumb to the same disease(s) that have wiped out the reproductive capacity of this species in its native range in Florida. Meanwhile, why is the Madison Tree still so splendid? What can be learned by careful study of all such horticultural plantings?

Torreya Guardians attempt to assist in that effort by documenting HISTORIC GROVES OF TORREYA TAXIFOLIA, and in ways that others can view and interpret online. See our HISTORIC GROVES webpage.

2018 Site Visit by Torreya Guardian Paul Camire

DECEMBER 2018 - Paul Camire, Torreya Guardian planter in Michigan, reports: I visited the Madison, FL tree yesterday, December 7th, while driving back home from vacation. I knocked on the door, but it appeared vacant. I took several pictures (see below). I found several small seeds (about 1/3 normal size) and one full size seed that appeared old and possibly woody. It was late afternoon when I got there so the sun made picture-taking and seeing reproductive structures near impossible. After looking and zooming in on my pictures I see what appears to be one branch with male structures.
     I'm leaning toward the tree being female with a lack of pollination. Until we have documentation of fall seeds or spring pollen, it is a tough call. I looked all around the yard for seedlings, but was unable to find any. I figured the shrubs in the yard would offer some growing seedlings...guess I was wrong. There was lots of trash and an overturned bird bath in the shrubbery.
     This tree is much larger than I had imagined and seeing such a large trunk was incredible! I knew the measurements and Clint Bancroft had shared several photos with me from his visit to the tree. It still didn't prepare me for being there. What a great specimen! I could begin to see a primeval forest with several large Torreyas and ice age fauna meandering underneath. It was definitely an experience! It's amazing that this tree can not only survive here in Michigan, but grow right there, on a residential street in Florida, with palm trees growing in the neighboring yards! The sharpness of the needles, quickly draw blood, and must have been an adaptation to keep some herbivore from nibbling on the foliage. Are elephant trunks tough or tender? Just a thought.

   PHOTOS ABOVE: Paul Camire with the Florida Torreya.

PHOTO LEFT: View upward.

PHOTOS BELOW: Notice how the basal sprouts are illuminated by the later afternoon sun. (Basal sprouts are usually most evident on the sunny aspect of the trunk base.)

2017 Site Visit by Torreya Guardian Clint Bancroft
only one surviving Torreya taxifolia

OCTOBER 2017 - Clint Bancroft reports: I think we finally have the truth (or closer to it) about the "Madison, Florida Torreyas".  At one time there were reports of several growing in the local cemetery and several more around town in private lawns.  A total count of 15 was given by the lady [Dolly Ballard; see entry and youtube video at the bottom of this webpage] who "discovered" the local Torreyas. Unfortunately, she had misidentified those trees... There are about 15 trees in town that do look like Torreya  at a glance, but are not.  I admit getting excited, until I examined them closely. Needles were not sharp enough, the smell was not right when cut, and some even bore small cones.  They all appear to be about the same age (ancient) and were apparently the vogue thing to have in one's yard at a certain time.

However,  a local nurseryman, who is growing Torreyas (Superior Trees, Lee, Florida)  said there are 2 real Torreyas in town.  This was learned from the kind and detailed research the local Chamber of Commerce did for me [see correspondence below].  One tree is in a private yard [that of Mr. Brother] and the 2nd is supposed to be near the Post Office...

I emailed Superior Trees with a question about where the "Post Office Torreya" was located, since I could not find it last month when I went to Madison, FL.  Here is their sad answer, via Amy Webb:

"The Torreya trees at the post office [nearby on private land] were destroyed about 6 months ago. I am not sure what happened to them, but they had been cut off several times, and they may have eliminated them when they were working on the sidewalk." (email of Oct 13)

"The plant had been whacked on by the city and when they worked on the sidewalk it was in the way, so they got rid of it. We have good quantities at the nursery that we have grown from seed. We have a few plants that we have planted on our land, but only were able to harvest 5 seeds this year." (email of Nov 19)

SO, at last we are at the end  (I think) about the Madison Torreyas. There apparently is only the one single tree surviving in Madison.  It is in a private yard of Mr. Brother (see photos below).  The house appeared vacant when I was there.

The tree seems to be in glowing good health which makes you scratch your head over the effects of climate change since this site is only 2 hours east from the wild population and is essentially, if not exactly, at the same latitude. Both sites are just a few miles north (Madison) or south (Torreya State Park) of Interstate 10, which runs in essentially a straight line, east to west, across northern Florida. This Torreya must have been planted around the same time as the misidentified trees, since it is of the same size. It is almost definitely the Florida Champion Torreya, being approximately half the girth of the Columbus, Georgia tree.

Editor's note: Confirmation of this tree as Florida state champion is below.

Note: Clint reports that the final photograph (closeup of branchlet) shows that this torreya is female.

He took cuttings (in order to preserve the genotype via rooting) and measured the trunk: circumference at 4-feet above ground is 72.5 inches.

MARCH 2017 - Clint Bancroft reports: I have been working on locating and getting access to the Torreyas in Madison, Florida to obtain cuttings. I received this report from the Chamber of Commerce:

Upon receiving your letter about the Torreya taxifolia trees in Madison, Florida, I did some research on this tree to see what we could find on them. I came across a documentary video on YouTube that you may have also found, in which a Madison citizen by the name of Dolly Ballard was being interviewed for information on this tree. She named a number of places throughout one area of town (between Mr. Brother's yard and Oak Ridge Cemetery) in which she said she saw these trees.

Through research, I found the trees she was speaking of, which looked a lot like the Torreya taxifolia. I emailed Superior Trees in Lee, Florida (a community of Madison) because I heard that they were making an attempt to grow the Torreya taxifolia, and wanted to check their progress on this attempt. They replied with the following email:

"We have 1g, 3g, and a couple of 15g Torreya available. These are unsexed plants grown from seed. As for the trees documented in Madison, Florida, unfortunately, they were misidentified and are in fact Monkey Puzzle trees. We saw the article in the local paper, but didn't have the heart to tell the person who wrote the article about the error. I am not sure if this is where you got your information from or not, but that is the story on that. There is one old Torreya tree in Madison that really is a Torreya (near the post office in town)."
To which we replied: "Thank you for responding. We are gathering information for a potential visitor. So even the tree at Ladel Brother's former home isn't the Torreya?"

Then Superior Trees sent: "Yes, there is a Torreya in their yard that is 'legitimate'."

So, according to our research, there appears to be a total of two Torreya in Madison County, not counting the ones planted at Superior Trees in Lee. I hope this helps. The property locations are as follows:

1. The post office (tree is near this building, not on the property itself): 197 SW Pinckney St. Madison, FL 32340

2. The property Mr. Brothers used to live at: 204 N Washington Avenue Madison, FL 32340 (on the corner of Washington & Sumter St.)

Superior Trees has some Torreya for sale. Here is their information if you would like to get in touch with them. Email: • Phone: 850-971-5159 • Address: P.O. Drawer 9400, 12493 E. US Hwy 90, Lee, FL 32059

Thank you, and good luck on your findings!

From: Front Desk

MORE BACKGROUND INFORMATION: In 1995 a webpage called Gallery of Florida Wildflowers was established. Scrolling down about halfway on the long webpage one comes to a set of 3 photos of the tree on the property of S.L. Brothers, which is indeed listed as the Florida Champion. Measurements given are 47 feet high and a girth of 67 inches. Harvard's Arnold Arboretum lists a specimen taken from that tree this way:

1060-89-N S. L. Brothers Tree/204 N. Washington Street, Madison, FL 32340

• 2 November 2012 issue of the newspaper Around Madison County has a lengthy article in it about the old horticultural plantings of Florida Torreya in Madison County, Florida — which is beyond the species' native range. Access on page 8 of this link, "Madison Is Home to Endangered Tree Species".

• In 2012 Dolly Ballard, a long-time resident and garden club member of Madison Florida, began to inventory the half-dozen mature Torreya trees on private properties in Madison, Florida. Apparently, in August 2012 she discovered 2 female Torreyas covered with lots of ripening seeds in a cemetery in Madison. Her nephew, Ben Duval, posted on YouTube a video of Dolly talking about the trees, and then (at 11:05) interviewing Park Ranger Mark Ludlow, on location in Torreya State Park, about the plight of the trees, which is embedded below:

Click for youtube video (24 minutes)


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