Male tree producing a few female cones (inset)
  
Torreya taxifolia
in Louisiana

Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve

first site visit by Torreya Guardians
November 2018


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 • briarwoodnp@gmail.com • Main webpage: http://www.briarwoodnp.org/

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".


Advance to these topical sections

Site Visit Photo-Essay (November 2018)

Background on Caroline Dormon and the preserve

Symbolic Importance of Torreya in Louisiana

Archive of Initial Communications


Site Visit Photo-Essay (by Connie Barlow)

   LEFT: Clint Bancroft, Rick Johnson, Connie Barlow, and David Johnson at Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve, 15 November 2018.

The two Torreya Guardians, Clint Bancroft and Connie Barlow (along with Connie's husband, Michael Dowd) were guided by the preserve stewards: Rick Johnson and his son David.

Both Johnsons grew up on their neighboring family property. Rick remembers childhood walks through the forest under the tutelage of Miss Caroline Dormon, whose botanical skills and advocacy for native plants and national forests are legendary in the area. (See background section below; Dormon died in 1971.)

Three generations of Johnsons have been the curators and stewards of the preserve, beginning with Rick's father, Richard.

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THE SITE VISIT: Our goal was to document and interpret 3 mature specimens of Florida Torreya growing in the wild forest of the preserve. Caroline Dorman had planted them sometime between 1939 and the mid 40s. Her archives at Northwestern State University contain a letter (included below) that mentions these trees as having derived from a collecting trip she made to Florida: "Today, years later, I have only three surviving."
    During our visit we witnessed that the smallest one (Tree #2) had died suddenly, following a recent severe drought. The other two torreyas looked lush and healthy.
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Torreya Tree 1

All 3 trees are standard tree form — a single trunk, rather than the multi-stem, shrubby form of a torreya when started from a rooted branchlet instead of a seed. Tree 1 had just 2 small basals. While some of the branches drooped near to the ground, no branches ran along the ground surface (in contrast to Tree 3)

Both pines and deciduous trees are nearby. Photo above right shows a recent treefall of a lightning-struck Red Oak in the background.

View upward; the telephoto examination of the top shows two apical leaders, both with healthy leaf structure. Pines overtower the treetop on both sides.
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Torreya Tree 2 (dead)

ABOVE: White arrow points to Tree 1 in the distance. The yellow circle on Torreya 2 highlights a section of trunk with the greatest density of sapsucker holes. Right is a close-up of that section, showing some fungal development within several holes. Tree 1 also had sapsucker holes, but not as dense, and the tree was still very healthy. Video footage taken during the visit includes discussion of what the cause of death might have been.
     All three Torreyas experienced the drought; Tree 1 and 2 were watered via a hose pumped from a pond. Key is that the trunk diameter of Tree 2 is much smaller than specimens 1 and 3 — indicative of a less favorable habitat. The obvious habitat difference is that Tree 2 is surrounded closely by pines, hence much shadier through the winter and possibly generating more acidic soils.

The yellow rectangle (above) marks an upward view of the main stem of the dead Torreya. Its smaller stature is easy to grasp with David Johnson standing nearby.
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Torreya Tree 3 (mostly male, but also producing a few seeds)

Michael Dowd with Tree 3, while Rick Johnson scans for more seeds (4 was the sum total he had spied during the summer). Right: The pole on this fruit-picking tool is just long enough to reach the highest seed.

David Johnson and Clint Bancroft examine two of the seeds. A total of 3 were collected this day. Clint was grateful to take the seeds home to expand the genetic diversity of his young torreya plantings in Tennessee. (Rick had harvested a low-hanging seed two weeks earlier and sent it to Torreya Guardian Jack Johnston.) The sarcotesta was easy to remove from this ripe seed.

Above left is a view of Tree 3 from near the Dormon cabin upslope. Above right is a mid-section view of Tree 3. Bigleaf Magnolia stems are in the foreground. Those stems have spawned a little grove of young magnolias where the photographer is standing. Because all dozen or so torreya seedlings discovered during the past 20 years have sprouted under the parent canopy, the Johnsons regularly dig up new seedlings and move them, usually to this magnolia grove. Favorable conditions include: magnolias are deciduous (so a great deal of winter sunlight) and they share the same class of mycorrhizal root symbionts as Torreya.

Flagged seedlings. The left-photo torreya has been relocated into the young Bigleaf Magnolia grove just 30 or 40 feet from the parent Tree 3. Right photo is of a 4 or 5 year-old seedling that has not yet been relocated away from the parent. Notice the light green color of its new growth, compared to the dark green big leaves of the parent's ground-lying branch. Photos below showcase this ground-lying adaptation.

Tree 3 is the only individual to display the same subcanopy adaption as documented in the mature groves at the Biltmore Gardens and Harbison House in North Carolina: a long ground-trending branch. The leafy branch in above left photo trends toward the sunlight created by the vehicle pathway. The branch is about 30 feet long. A similar-length ground-branch trends along the vehicle path toward the opposite side of the trunk. This branch is visible, extending toward photographer at the same initiation level (2-foot-height) as the fully extended branch shows.
     Photo above right shows the origin point of the long ground branch reaching toward the golf cart. Notice several basal stems, too; the tallest is 6 foot high.

Photos above and below show details of the ground-lying branch. Notice how it mingles well among the ferns. In rare spots along the branch's many divaricating subbranches, one can spot an exploratory vertical growth. Overall, it is remarkable how much of the ground is covered with leafy branches — all issuing from that one low branch from the Tree 3 trunk. It appears (though is not confirmed) that the ground-lying branch does not root where it subtends the soil layer.

Below: Several of the large-stem trees of different species: Left is American Osmanthus and Sweetbay. Right is an old White Oak.


Background on Caroline Dormon and the Preserve

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 LEFT: Caroline Dormon planting a Florida Torreya on her property at Briarwood Preserve (photo)

ABOVE RIGHT: NPS photo of the Torreya ca 2000. (photo).

ABOVE: Old photo of Briarwood Preserve (left) and recent photo of a trail named for Ms. Dormon in the national forest that she was instrumental in getting established in Louisiana.

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


TORREYA GUARDIAN PAUL CAMIRE DISCOVERS ONLINE MS. DORMAN'S NOTES ON TORREYA ACQUISITION AND PLANTING.

   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".)

BELOW: Caroline Dorman with her favorite tree: "Grandpappy" (Longleaf Pine), and Connie Barlow in same pose with same tree.


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".

 


Archive of Initial Communications

13 JUNE 2018, Garrie Landry wrote to Connie Barlow:

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 to Connie Barlow:
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.



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