Florida Torreya Helped by Youth in Florida
Shoal Sanctuary Nature Preserve 2015

Mossy Head, FL 32434



In 2001, Chris and Robert Larson planted 23 seedlings of Florida's endangered native conifer, Torreya taxifolia, at their nature sanctuary west of Tallahassee, in the panhandle of Florida.

As of 2015, 4 of those seedlings have survived and grown into healthy trees (automatically watered every week and occasionally "limed" if the evergreen leaves show signs of yellowing). Click for ongoing report.

PHOTO LEFT: Chris stands next to the "Burn" Tree in February 2015.



In March 2015 Chris organized groups of scout, church, and other youth to plant seeds of Torreya taxifolia that were donated for this purpose by Torreya Guardians.

March 2015 youth came from:

  • Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Emerald Coast (Valparaiso, FL)

  • Girl Scout troops 180, 679, and 419

  • Boy Scout troop 533

  • St. Mary's church

  • NOAH home schoolers

  • a family from the University of Florida Forestry Stewardship program

    Photo-Essay of SEED PLANTING by YOUTH
    March 2015

    Note: Photos below were contributed by participating groups. Not all groups are represented here, and only a sampling of the kids are seen in these photos. But you can see first names of all the children who planted seeds (and what they named their seeds) in the chart below.


       31a: Freeplanting Torreya Seeds - Shoal Sanctuary FL pt 1 of 2

    Site visit to Shoal Sanctuary, due west of Torreya's peak glacial refuge in northern Florida. Documentation of 9 seedlings thriving (and remarkably free of herbivory) four years after a total of 40 seeds were placed directly into the coolest, moistest habitats. Distinctions among the sites portend excellent learnings of site preferences in the years ahead. 24 minutes - filmed January 30, 2019

       31b: Freeplanting Torreya Seeds - Shoal Sanctuary FL pt 2 of 2

    This last half of the video set summarizes the documentation and offers topics for further study — notably, why herbivory was absent at all planting sites. Native Christmas Ferns are pointed out as ideal neighbors for (1) camouflage, (2) its "endo" mycorrhizal network, and (3) as an "indicator species" for identifying best microsites for Torreya. 31 minutes - filmed January 30, 2019

    SEED PLANTING BY YOUTH (2015 photo-essay)


    MARCH 8: First to arrive are children from Daisy Girl Scouts and the church that Chris and Robert Larson attend in Valparaiso: The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Emerald Coast.

    ABOVE LEFT: Children remove the Torreya seeds from cold storage in the fridge, where the seeds must be kept till ready to plant. Since it was already March, the kids called this system "faking winter."

    ABOVE RIGHT: Down in Grotto Ravine, Olivia, Sophia, and Kyle ford the creek to get to the seed-planting sites.



    LEFT: Olivia plants a seed she named "Fossil" on a steep slope.

    BELOW: Sophia named her seed "Una."


    THE INSTRUCTIONS: Choose a seed, dig a little hole, make a taproot hole with end of your pinwheel, plant your seed, add water, name your seed, and "plant" your pinwheel to mark the site.


    ABOVE: Kyle plants "Dino", Evan plants "Evan", and Ashlyn plants "Aisling" (Celtic for her name).

    MARCH 21

    Scouts of Pack 553

    The scouts plant 20 seeds of the Torreya tree in other ravines along Chrysemys Creek.

    As with the children who came earlier in March, the scouts retrieve the seeds from the refrigerator onsite and use colorful pinwheels to mark the locations where they plant Torreya seeds. (Connie Barlow had several weeks earlier marked likely spots with pink survey tape.)

    We added an extra step for the young planters, based on new research by scientists at the Smithsonian Institution: Add a spoonful of soil collected from beneath a sweet gum tree, Liquidambar styraciflua, as sweet gum is one of the native trees growing nearby that naturally forms beneficial associations with soil fungi that help the roots absorb nutrients.


    ABOVE (L to R): Ava plants "Life." Beau plants "Cefus." Stewart named his seed "Tree-Rex" — because he was impressed that these trees date back to the dinosaur era.

       LEFT: Corbin plants "MT."

    BELOW LEFT: After planting, the scouts gather at "Creation Totem" (silver sculpture) for photos and to discuss their experience.

    BELOW RIGHT: Several of the scouts were honored later for their tree-planting efforts: Kai received the Messenger of Peace Award; Nathan & Corbin received World Conservation Awards.


       LEFT: On March 23, University of Florida Forestry Stewardship Coordinator, Chris Demers, helps son David plant "Tarantula." Magnolia Demers (not pictured here) called her planted seed "Larry."

    RIGHT:15-year-old Shannon, a senior Girl Scout from St. Mary's school, named her seed "Genesis", since assisted migration offers the Florida Torreya a new beginning.


    Above: First Rune stone, "Torreya,"
    carved by Robert A. Larson

    by Robert A. Larson

    March 2015 (composed while the children planted their seeds)

    Arise, brave seed. Awaken from sleep.
    By others, saved, the soil to keep.

    Cub scouts advanced, crossed a branch, slid down a slope.
    Chortled one, "We're on a hike!" "This is a hiking trail," another spoke
    in subdued glee as he spied a spot his seed might grow.
    An older scout exclaimed, "I'm dirty, I'm beat, I'm soaked —
    it's the best day of my life," once she had gently poked
    her seed into the ground, and offered up a prayer of hope.

    Torreyas planted,
    faith for future growth be granted,
    extinction fears to be abandoned.

    Since vigilance is still demanded
    each rune-stone will be duly branded
    to mark the spots where seeds have landed.

    So scouts and others named their seeds.
    Names to be etched in runic decrees.
    Maps were made that we could read,
    find our way to rune stones,
    watch for sprouting trees,
    fruits of the scouts' good deeds.

    We hope the trees will not be stranded.
    Instead, we wish for them to spread, and
    expand their range throughout the land.
    Slight snail who found and probed one seed,
    try some restraint, oh please.
    Try, we say, to understand the seed.
    Try to undertake as ward its dream.
    Slide away your mouth that sucks to feed.
    Try to stave your hunger for this aspiring tree.

    Few remain, of distant, ancient ways.
    Let's make a promise that to our hearts these seeds we'll take.
    Take care. Seeds cannot run away.
    Wait is all that seeds can do.
    Lie still. Wait. Pray.

    May 2015 Addendum by Chris Larson: "Robert went to Elberton, GA, home of the Georgia Guidestones, and loaded his trailer with 40 granite markers. He plans to carve each planter's first name and the name they gave their seed onto the stones in the ancient Rune alphabet. (See the table below.) It is anticipated that the markers will last thousands of years. We hope that the Torreyas outlive their markers."

    (written by Chris Larson prior to the event)

    TORREYA PROJECT: Assisted Migration
    of Florida Torreya Yew (Torreya taxiflora) Trees

    the most endangered tree in the United States

    Torreya trees once grew in the FL panhandle.
    Torreya State Park, west of Tallahassee, protects a few remaining trees.
    Torreyas are now the most endangered tree in the U.S.
    And climate change is likely to wipe them out completely.
    To escape harmful climate effects birds, bugs, butterflies,
    and other animal life are on the move.
    Plants with spores or plumed seeds that ride the wind also migrate well.
    But trees are immobile, rooted in the ground where they live.
    Squirrels and jays store acorns and other tree nuts
    only a short distance from the parent tree.
    The ancient Torreyas, here since dinosaurs roamed the Earth,
    are on the brink of extinction.
    Humanity can help. We can save them through
    assisted migration and natural observation.
    We can plant Torreyas where they stand the best chance of survival.
    Rather than lab cultivation, precious remaining seeds
    are being planted, carefully observed,
    and their progress documented over time.
    The Grotto Ravine at Shoal Sanctuary Nature Preserve
    may offer the best chance for survival in Florida,
    according to leading Torreya expert, Connie Barlow.
    A biologist and paleo-ecologist, Ms. Barlow's search for ideal relocation sites
    brought her to Shoal Sanctuary.
    There she discovered the Grotto Ravine,
    listed on the National Geologic Registry since 1926
    for its fossilized mollusk banks.
    The cool, moist setting may prove to be the ideal home
    in Florida for Torreya trees.

    Children with respect for nature
    are invited to come help Torreyas into the future.
    Each child will plant one Torreya nut, named for their effort.
    Schedule with Larsons (850) 651-0392
    for your visit to Shoal Sanctuary
    this Sunday 3/8 at 1pm or Sunday 3/22 at 1pm

    Have a virtual visit to Shoal Sanctuary at www.ShoalSanctuary.com

    Visit http://www.torreyaguardians.org/video.html for more details on Torreyas.

    FOLLOW-UP REPORTS ON PROJECT(posted chronologically)

    APRIL 2016 (by Chris Larson): A band of boy scouts came to Shoal Sanctuary for Earth Day to install granite markers where seeds were planted last March. We were thrilled to discover sprouting torreyas. So far, we have found five. The biggest one was named Grow Tall by its planter, 9 year old Ian. We've go oodles of photos for you but too big to email. Here's a sample. The first (below left) is Grow Tall (IS 4) planted by Ian and the 2nd (below right) is a child pointing to Peace (CC 3) planted by 9-year-old Kai.

    MAY 2016 (by Chris Larson): We searched Grotto Ravine yesterday and are happy to report five more sprouts. The count is now 11 of the 40, alive and well. Most are in wetlands but one is ten feet above a creek, fairly dry. I'm documenting every observed detail.

    JUNE 2016 (by Chris Larson): We're a bit concerned. All 40 of the Shoal Sanctuary seeds were planted at only 1 inch deep. One was dug up within a month. This year we found 11 seedlings in May. Went back to check in June: 2 seedlings have vanished, but 2 others elsewhere have now sprouted. So we are still at 11 of 40 and counting.

    JANUARY 2017 (by Chris Larson): The Florida panhandle had a severe drought from October to December. After the good January rain, we did a survey of the plantings and found four seeds growing. We are still hopeful that the others are waiting for better conditions before they show signs of life. The sprouting seeds are:

    CC#3 Tarantula, planted by 3-year-old David in swampy soil 3 feet from creek; that sapling has new growth. CC#9 Trek, planted by Bowen in swampy soil 2 feet from creek (at confluence of By Gorge and Chrysemys Creek) is green and healthy. IS#3 Cefus, planted by Beau atop a hill 8 feet above Chrysemys Creek; its leaves died from the tips halfway up. The surrounding Bay Laurels also have dead leaves from the drought. But with the good rain we hope IS#3 Cefus will revive and send its roots deep down to the creek. IS#4 Grow Tall, planted by Ian 2 feet from creek (at the confluence of By Gorge and Glenn Glen Creek, at the beginning of Chrysemys Creek) is doing well with new growth. We had to straighten the granite marker, as it was loosened by the rain in the moist soil.

    JANUARY 2019 (by Connie Barlow). I video-documented the free-planting results January 2019, with Chris Larson is guide. Click to ACCESS THE 2-PART VIDEO SET.

    Two Background VIDEOS precede 2015 seed planting by youth

       VIDEO: Torreya Trees at Shoal Sanctuary FL: pt 01 Four Torreyas on Sandy Uplands

    Chris Larson of Shoal Sanctuary, Florida, shows the four Torreya trees thriving since their planting in 2001. Of note: (1) only one tree has grown reproductive structures (male); (2) one survived a severe burn amid the longleaf pines; (3) all are thriving in nearly full sunlight on sandy soils; (4) agricultural lime is applied only rarely (when the evergreen leaves show yellowing); and (5) all four specimens are watered twice weekly.

       VIDEO: Torreya Trees at Shoal Sanctuary FL: pt 02 Grotto Ravine (preparing to plant seeds)

    Connie Barlow (founder of Torreya Guardians) identifies sites for 20 seeds of Torreya taxifolia to be planted by youth the following month in the moist, cool habitat of Grotto Ravine, within Shoal Sanctuary, Florida. Connie walks with camera through the ravine, speaking about why this spring-fed sandstone ravine in the Florida panhandle might be the best place for Florida Torreya to make a last stand in its home state.

    WWW www.TorreyaGuardians.org

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