Torreya taxifolia in Louisiana

Report by Connie Barlow, thanks to help from Garrie Landry, Herbarium Curator, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS SITE (Briarwood Preserve, Saline LA):

1. Confirmed example of a Torreya taxifolia that was male in its youth, but then also began to grow female cones that became viable seeds.

2. This is only our fourth example of a specimen "naturalizing" (establishing seedlings) into its surrounds outside of Florida. The previous examples are at Biltmore Gardens (Asheville, NC), Harbison House (Highlands, NC), and Kennedy House (Clinton, NC).

3. This tree is likely a distinct genotype, and thus important for us to duplicate by rooting its branchlets and (ideally) sending seeds of different genotypes to be planted nearby in order to improve genetic diversity within the developing "grove".

13 JUNE 2018, Garrie Landry wrote:

There is a very large old specimen of Torreya taxifolia growing at Briarwood Nature Preserve in north central Louisiana. I first saw the tree in the mid 1970s when I was an undergraduate student. At that time I learned it was a male tree. Several years ago I visited the preserve and spent a day with the caretakers who told me that in the last 10 to 15 years this tree began producing female cones as well and ultimately viable seeds. I was shown a number of well-established volunteer seedlings growing near the parent plant. Garrie Landry is Herbarium Curator, University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
10 JULY 2018, Rick Johnson wrote:
I would love to show you the two mature trees that we have here on the property. One is a seed bearing male which has four seeds on it this year. In addition, I would like to get your input on how to best encourage our seedlings to grow; most are about a foot tall and have been that way for years. Rick Johnson is Curator of the Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve.


I found online many photographs (and biographical information) of the famous naturalist who planted the Torreya, Caroline Dormon. Plus I found two photos of the tree itself:

ABOVE LEFT: Caroline Dormon planting a Florida Torreya on her property at Briarwood Preserve (photo)
ABOVE RIGHT: NPS photo of the Torreya ca 2000. (photo)

CAROLINE DORMAN (1888 - 1971) was a world-renowned naturalist, author, artist, and the first woman to be hired by the U.S. Forest Service. She wrote botanical books the titles of which, taken together, tell of her interests: Wild Flowers of Louisiana (1934); Forest Trees of Louisiana (1941); Flowers Native to the Deep South (1958); and Natives Preferred (1965). Her last work, Bird Talk, published in 1967 when she was 81, is an elegy to the diminishing number and species of birds in her pine forests, victims to pesticides, clear cutting, and the sterile pine plantation system. For more biographical information:

"Caroline Dormon and the Gardens of Louisiana"
"Where the Wild Things Are: Caroline Dormon and the Briarwood Nature Preserve"
University Archive of Caroline Dormon - Item 765 = "Growing Torreya taxifolia"

ABOVE: Old photos of the gate at Briarwood and Ms. Dormon with her favorite tree onsite: "Grandpappy" (a longleaf pine)

INFORMATION ON BRIARWOOD PRESERVE: The Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve is 120 acres, at the northern tip of Natchitoches Parish, between Reidheimer and Saline on hilly Highway 9 (20 miles north of U.S. 71 and 35 miles south of Interstate 20). Address: 216 Caroline Dormon Road, Saline, Bienville Parish, LA. (318) 576-3379 • • Three generations of Johnsons have been the stewards, beginning with Richard, Rick, David. Main webpage:

ABOVE: Ms. Dorman and an illustration she painted for one of her books.

ABOVE: Recent photos of Briarwood Preserve (left) and a trail named for her in the national forest that she was instrumental in getting established in Louisiana.


   August 6 email from Paul Camire:

I was able to get a copy of Caroline Dormon's paper on Torreya.

Labeled as 765 on the Northwestern State University archive site of her papers.

It doesn't give an exact year, but it occurred after 1938 and before this paper was sent in 1966.

The most exciting thing is that the largest tree/trees on the preserve are rooted cuttings!

The way she describes the roots as "brittle icicles" is golden!

She was a true conservationist and went to a local farmer to get cuttings from trees on his property.

The farmer's land was near Aspalaga. That is the town where Croom discovered Torreya, but the town died out. So the land became part of Torreya State Park. (I believe that is the town she is referring to when she says "Appalachicola".)

Symbolic Importance of Torreya in Louisiana

Tunica Hills (east of the Mississippi) was the westernmost of the 3 glacial refuges that sheltered temperate plants of the eastern USA. The Apalachicola River (famous for Torreya taxifolia) and the Altamaha River (famous for Franklinia alatamaha) are the other two. Even today, folks who are accustomed to the rich hardwood mesophytic forests of the southern Appalachians will see familiar trees and understory plants in all three reserves. Notably, all three peak-glacial refuges are centered on the wind-blown hills of glacial silt alongside rivers that would have easily swept floating seeds from the Appalachian Mountains to warmer climes. The silt erodes into steep ravines that enabled S. Appalachian plants to hunker down in the ravine bottoms as the Holocene climate warmed.


Click images below to access the full webpages of why it is exciting for those of us working with the Pleistocene relict species, Torreya taxifolia, to locate planted trees in Louisiana — only 170 miles northwest of the Tunica Hills of Louisiana.

Note: Hazel Delcourt's 1974 paper, "Primeval magnolia-holly-beech climax in Louisiana," is cited in the report imaged below left. Delcourt's 2002 book, Forests in Peril, is reviewed in the same issue of Wild Earth magazine that published Barlow and Martin's advocacy piece, "Bring Torreya taxifolia North — Now".



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