Shoal Sanctuary (Florida Panhandle)
Nurturance of Torreya taxifolia

Shoal Sanctuary is located in northern Walton County Florida in the community of Mossy Head. It is approximately 5 miles from exit 70 on I-10. 1475 Crowder Chapel Road, Mossy Head, FL 32434. Call for reservations: (850) 651-0392. Local news report includes:

Recorded history of the land dates back to the 1830s. The property is believed to of been along the path of the "Trail Of Tears." After the U.S. government's "Indian Removal Act," Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, Timuquan, Muskhogean, and Apalachee were forced migrate west, and lore sites a leg of that journey along the old Indian footpath now called Crowder Chapel Road near the retreat. Local Native Americans have said that Shoal Sanctuary was once a ceremonial gathering place.
     In 2000, the Larsons acquired 35 acres of land adjacent to their existing 16-acre property, and began a reforestation project blazing trails and developed the retreat along their Shoal river property. Long-leaf pine, ash magnolia, Florida Torreya and other native trees have been planted to restore the land, as the Larsons participate in Florida's Forest Stewardship program
     In 2020, the nature preserve expanded from 50 to 115 acres of riverfront with pristine, old growth trees, white sandy beaches, steep majestic cliffs, and three additional freshwater ravines. [Freshwater ravines are ideal cool microsites for Torreya.]

   VIDEO 2019 - 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

   VIDEO 2015-A: Torreya Trees at Shoal Sanctuary FL: 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.

10 minutes - published February 17, 2015.

   VIDEO 2015-B: Torreya Trees at Shoal Sanctuary FL: Grotto Ravine (preparing to plant seeds)

Connie Barlow identifies sites for 18 seeds of Torreya taxifolia to be planted 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.

    28 minutes - published February 21, 2015.

April 2021 / Long-form essay places Florida Torreya in context of people, place, and history

   SHOAL SANCTUARY is one of the torreya sanctuaries featured in this literary essay:

"This Is Paradise", by writer Martha Park, was published in the April issue of The Bitter Southerner. It is beautifully written and has superb illustrations, including ...

PHOTO LEFT: "Chris Larson admires a Torreya tree at her property at Mossy Head."

The tagline summary of the essay:

"The rare Florida torreya tree grows only in the wild along a narrow stretch of the Apalachicola River. In the 1950s an eccentric lawyer named E.E. Callaway declared it was the gopher wood tree from which Noah's Ark was built. Today the Florida torreya is on the brink of extinction. Can the story of this tree and the people who love it help bridge the gap between science and faith?"

Children Plant Torreya Seeds into Ravine Forest (2015)

   PHOTO-ESSAY: Children Plant Seeds of Endangered Tree at Shoal Sanctuary

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

Click for Full-page photo-essay.

The photo essay includes ongoing updates on project success — notably, 2019 VIDEO DOCUMENTATION OF 25% SUCCESS RATE).

   Autumn 2016 a Florida Arborist posted a 10-minute VIDEO on youtube that is a quick tour of Shoal Sanctuary.

See one of the magnificent early Torreya plantings in the uplands area at timecode 01:38 and see one of the newly sprouted seeds directly planted into the cool, moist ground of the ravine at 07:08.

Shoal Sanctuary Reports
(organized by each of the 4 named trees)

2019 UPDATE: The video-documentation (above) in January 2019 of results of the seed-planting ravine effort four years earlier was the primary reason for a follow-up site visit to Shoal Sanctuary. It was also an opportunity to check up on the FOUR POTTED SEEDLINGS IN THE SHOAL UPLANDS. Three of the four are doing well (Burn Tree is especially a lot bigger). However, "Lost and Found Tree" died, possibly from rodent tunneling damage. For the most part, however, results show that periodic addition of agricultural lime (when yellowing of branchlets become obvious), coupled with an automated, fail-safe irrigation system seem to be capable of maintaining health of Florida Torreyas planted in full or nearly full sun conditions. As well, GAZEBO and TOTEM trees both have been producing pollen (no seeds evident yet).


In the multi-year photos that follows, CHRIS LARSON reports on the growth over the years of the 4 named trees that survived initial establishment and beyond. SHOAL SANCTUARY ( in the Florida Panhandle (Mossy Head FL) is privately owned by herself and her husband.

Crucial early on was the use of agricultural lime to cure the yellowing of the evergreen leaves. She reports that liming brought two of her Torreya taxifolia trees back to health (their leaves had begun to turn yellow) but were revitalized into green. She reports:

"In Summer 2001 we reintroduced 23 seedling Torreya Pines at Shoal Sanctuary in Mossy Head, FL. Over the past seven years all but eight have died off despite lavished attention. They turn yellow as a tell-tale sign of pending demise. Two of them located at Totem Circle and one at the Gazebo were yellowing when Connie Barlow of Torreya Guardians visited in November 2007. Thanks to her agricultural lime treatment [using agricultural lime purchased at a hardware/garden store locally], they are all thriving. Wish I had known the magic of lime sooner. We now keep it handy for the slightest sign of yellow." — Chris Larson,"

NOTE: Each of the surviving trees has been provisioned with its own irrigation head, so these trees are never subject to drought. As of 2014, four are still alive, and they are thriving. (See videos above)

"Totem Pole" Tree


ABOVE LEFT: November 2007 Connie Barlow and husband Michael Dowd admire one of the Shoal Sanctuary Torreya trees planted in 2001. Although this one appears lush, a few of the branches on the western side of the tree are yellowing. Owner Chris Larsen reports that 3 of the original 8 individuals planted in 2001 yellowed and died, so this one may be on its way out.

ABOVE CENTER: The same tree one month later, December 2007.

ABOVE RIGHT: The same tree in April 2008, with foliage fully recovered.


ABOVE LEFT COLUMN: MAY 2009 - Celebrating a lush and healthy "Totem Pole" Tree in a Florida rain.

ABOVE CENTER: SPRING 2013 - It's a boy! Totem Pole Tree produces male cones for wind dispersal of pollen. (Male cones are produced well interior of the branchlet tips; female cones are at the branchlet tips of female trees.)

ABOVE RIGHT: Chris Larson by Totem Pole Tree, autumn 2013.

"Burn" Tree       Report by Chris Larson at Shoal Sanctuary in the Florida Panhandle (Mossy Head FL):


ABOVE LEFT: Landowner Chris Larson stands by a Torreya taxifolia that she planted in 2001 from a potted seedling. Chris and her husband own the Shoal Sanctuary in the Florida Panhandle (west of the Apalachicola). Because they are managing the sanctuary for native diversity (including burning to encourage longleaf pine), this particular individual was completely denuded in a prairie fire in January 2007. She thought the leafless tree surely was dead, but just 10 months later, in November 2007 notice the rich growth! Chris is standing on the side of the tree that received the most intense flame, and thus the branch she holds in her right hand (and those immediately below it) are still denuded, and thus were killed.

ABOVE MIDDLE: 15 months post-burn, April 2008, the tree is lopsided but recovering well from the fire.

ABOVE RIGHT: 2013, Robert Allen Larson with Burn Tree.

March 2015 controlled burn
of Longleaf Pine forest
near Burn Tree




PHOTOS IMMEDIATELY ABOVE: At left, Chris Larson stands with fire crew as the successful burn smokes out. At right, notice the gray charred ground that was the firebreak protecting Burn Tree.

"Gazebo" Tree


ABOVE LEFT COLUMN: November 2007 - This individual is expressing a lot of yellowed leaves. So when Connie Barlow visited the site in November 2007, she sprinkled agricultural lime around the base of the tree. (For a photograph of lime sprinkled around Torreya trees at the Atlanta Botanical Garden propagation center, click and scroll down to Photo F. Click here to learn about how "sudden oak death" is being fought in California by the use of lime around sickened oak trees.

ABOVE RIGHT: 2013 - Liming seems to have made the difference. Gazebo Tree looks very healthy.

   "Lost & Found" Tree


Robert Allen Larson removes invasive plants from the area of the "Lost & Found" Torreya taxifolia tree.

Note: Chris Larson reports: "Lost and found tree was presumed dead, so it was forgotten. But then we rediscovered it!. We have begun clearing around it but need someone with a chain saw to reduce the taller overstory."

   "Lost & Found" Tree

March 2015

Although this densely vegetated area is not scheduled to be burned for longleaf pine management, a "caution" ribbon was draped over this Torreya in advance of the March 2015 controlled burn, which took place elsewhere on the property.


Return to HOME PAGE

Annotated List of Papers/Reports Online re Assisted Migration