Assisted Migration of Florida Torreya
to Ypsilanti, Michigan


Connie Barlow founded Torreya Guardians in 2005, while she and her husband (Michael Dowd) lived on the road. Consequently, she had no homesite in which to plant, tend, and monitor Torreyas.

   September 2020 Barlow and Dowd's itinerant lifestyle came to an end. They settled in Connie's home state, and rented an apartment two blocks from their new grand-daughter in Ypsilanti.

Renters have no property. Worse, overpopulated deer destroyed edible horticultural plantings in the area (indeed, almost everywhere in Michigan). The only deer-free zone was in the densely populated downtown area, where Connie lived. There she saw an unusual opportunity.

In 2021 and 2022 Connie began planting Torreya seeds into patches of deep soil on the steep forested slopes of the Huron River, where it passed through downtown. Strewn with old industrial debris and discarded chunks of concrete and asphalt, these slopes had nonetheless acquired some native deciduous trees, even while the subcanopy was missing — or dominated by the exotic invasive Amur Honeysuckle. Here was an opportunity for guerrilla rewilding: planting seeds into a forlorn public landscape.

Landscape Ecology for Planting Torreya
in Ypsilanti, Michigan


  The yew hedge in front of this historic old home, where Connie rents the ground-level apartment, bears witness to a deer-free ecology.

Here, Connie serves as a friendly "broswer" — clipping the height and edges of the happy old yew shrubs to human standards.

But wherever patches of forest enter the urban landscape, deer do find a way to eat virtually all edibles within reach. (See the next section.)


Although this cemetery is just a quarter-mile walk from Connie's home, three photos reveal the deer devastation on yews.

  ABOVE: Yews in this cemetery were planted before Connie was born. They managed to grow tall enough to survive the return of deer — where the urban setting precludes hunting as a control.

LEFT: Connie finally discovered a single yew seedling on the forested cemetery slope (visible beyond the gravestones of the photo above). But this seedling is doomed to small, multi-stem existence, owing to inescapable browsing when it overtops the log. (Notice the old browsed stem rising behind it.)

April 2022/ Sorted Seeds from November 2021 Torreya harvest of Clinton NC, after 1 winter stratification in Michigan.

PHOTO BELOW shows the remaining seeds from 2021 harvest to be tested in a safe, outdoor container for the summer and followed by a 2nd full winter stratifcation. Scrutiny of seed characteristics (especially "slit" v. "unslit" over the germination point after a second full summer) may help us predict which seeds require only one additional winter to sprout. (Visit the Torreya Guardians PROPAGATION page for many more learnings and recommendations.)


April 2023/ 30 GERMINATED SEEDS from 2021 Torreya harvest (after 2 winter stratifications) are sorted and were then planted in 3 Ypsilanti sites

While Connie had begun "guerrilla rewilding" on deer-free, city-center forest slopes of the Huron River in November 2021 (see the November 2022 entries below), she also winter stratified approx. 500 seeds from the 2021 harvested seeds in a hole dug into the forested slope along the Ypsilanti cemetery. She distributed to volunteers all but 78 of those seeds Spring 2022, then kept the remainder in a soil-filled cooler stratified outdoors for their second winter. She brought the cooler indoors during times of exceptionally freezing temperatures. (Torreya seeds almost never germinate after only 1 winter stratification.)

After 2 winter stratifications, she examined all 78 seeds in April 2023 and found that 39% had newly germinated:

ABOVE: After 2 winter stratifications, 39% of the seeds had germinated.

Thus far, results indicate that when seed conditions are inventoried prior to a second winter stratification:

• Seeds that evidence a thin slit on their germinating point are no more likely than unslit seeds to germinate after their 2nd winter. (Virtually no seeds germinate after only one winter.)

• Any seed with a trifold crack (wider than a linear slit) at the germinating point will indeed germinate after a second winter in that state.

• Any seed with punky (weak) regions on its seed coat are just as likely to germinate as seeds with perfect coats.

• None of the 9 seeds (slit or unslit) that evidenced a dark, circular depression at the opposite (round) end of the seed germinated after a second winter. A third winter stratification should reveal whether that characteristic signifies a dead seed.

UPDATE OCTOBER 1: The 48 ungerminated seeds were returned to the soil box and periodically examined for more germinations during the summer. RESULT: There were no germinations during the summer and through the end of September. So the seeds will all go through a third winter, and Connie will keep compiling the data.

CONCLUSION THUS FAR: Even though above-ground growth flushes tend to happen twice during the growing season, it appears that seed germination happens only in the spring and only after (at least) two winter stratifications. And after the spring germination, no sprout shows above ground until 2 to 3 months after germination. Prior to that time, the large seed is just investing in a root system.

November 2023/ EXPERIMENT LAUNCHED to test whether removal of the thin, clear cap on the germination tip will hasten germination

Fred Bess delivered to Connie 1,085 seeds from his October 2023 harvest in Cleveland Ohio.

  LEFT: Connie noticed a clear, thin "cap" on all intact seeds. She began an experiment:

For winter stratification outdoors, she put 400 seeds with the cap removed into one pit, and 400 with just the flesh removed into another pit.

HYPOTHESIS: Perhaps when this ancient genus was dispersed by large herbivorous reptiles who swallowed the seeds whole for the food value of just the fleshy aril. Passage through the system may have removed this clear, thin cap that covers just the pointy, germination tip of the seed. Is our own failure to remove this cap the reason why almost no seeds germinate after just one winter? (Most germinate after 2 winter stratifications.) Thus, will the 400 seeds with caps removed show more first-winter germinations than the 400 seeds with intact caps?


Planting Sites (April 2023)
for the 30 Germinated Seeds
of the 2021 Seed Harvest in Clinton NC

"Cemetery Forest" Site

• 10 SEEDS PLANTED APRIL 16, Connie planted 10 germinated seeds into three branch-dense treefalls in the forest by the cemetery in Ypsilanti that is OVERRUN WITH DEER. This is the first time she has experimented with planting seeds within natural deer exclosures: treefalls. Photos below.



ABOVE: Connie Barlow planting a total of 10 germinated seeds into 3 treefall zones in the forest between the cemetery and Huron River. Top row is SITE 1, where Connie is planting a seed near the early leafing and deer-proof Japanese barberry (camouflage for the Torreya). Bottom row is SITE 2 and SITE 3. These latter two sites were dominated by the bending subcanopy exotic invasive: Amur honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii.

DISCOVERY: It took 2.5 months for the first seedlings to appear above ground after 10 already germinated seeds had been planted into treefalls in mid April (as shown above).


ABOVE: Cemetery Forest Site 1 (upland). Close-up and location of the first seedling to appear, June 30.


ABOVE: Cemetery Forest Site 2 (bottomland). Close-up and location of a new seedling, July 5.


ABOVE & BELOW: Cemetery Forest Site 3 (bottomland). Close-up and location of the 2 new discoveries of July 9. These 2 seedlings are so tiny I almost missed them. The one below is only visible in the lower left corner of the close-up photo.


FIRST SUMMER REPORT: Of the 10 germinated seeds planted, 6 eventually presented as seedlings above ground. One was gnawed down nearly to the ground over the course of 3 days, and never resprouted (possibly its roots were injured too). Of the 5 remaining, 4 had their leafy tips gnawed or broken off by summer's end. Of those four, 3 had time to each produce a pair of new leaders from the stem scales and to flush the tips of those with leaves. The fourth was broken off (not eaten) in early November, so Connie expects a pair of leaders to grow the following spring.

Recovery of Cropped Seeds: Two Leaders Regenerate

    LEFT: Seed 1b Aug 26.            CENTER: Seed 1b Sept 13.                        RIGHT: Seed 2b Oct 8.

INITIAL LEARNINGS: While it is clear that these natural shelters precluded herbivory by deer, rodents tend to be more populous around tree falls, and thus by choosing sites to preclude deer, Connie ended up choosing sites that were likely more susceptible to damage by rodents. The good news is that early rodent damage elicits during the first summer 2 leaders to replace the initial singleton. Connie hopes that this will, in turn, make the regrowth torreyas more resistant to rodents for the second summer, as perhaps now only 1 of the pair of fresh leaders will ever be bitten or broken off.


"Huron River" Sites

• 9 SEEDS PLANTED APRIL 19, Connie planted 9 germinated seeds along the steep, forested slope of the downtown section of the Huron River — which is DEER-FREE.



ABOVE: Connie planted 9 germinated seeds April 19 on the steep, forested river slope. Long ago, concrete chunks and other materials were piled on this slope to secure against erosion the old buildings directly above this slope. The green leaves in the subcanopy are all the non-native Amur honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii, which serves in maintaining soil on this slope. Connie found rich, black soil in patches between concrete slabs and other industrial refuse. This honeysuckle depends on the same (arbuscular) form of mycorrhizal fungal symbionts as does Torreya.


• APRIL 26, 2023


Connie Barlow plants the remaining torreya seeds that had germinated after a second winter stratification.

This is a small forested deer-free zone along the Huron River.

The Huron River is visible back right.

NO SUCCESS: Connie checked the 4 sites again early November. The presence of loose soil and depressions at exactly each spot suggested that Connie had not planted the germinated seeds deep enough to escape the senses of rodents. LIVE AND LEARN!

Planting Sites (November 2022)
for 83 Ungerminated Seeds
of the 2022 Seed Harvest in Clinton NC

"Huron River" various deer-free sites


November 2021, Connie chanced upon a thrilling discovery. Although she judged the downtown, steep slopes of the Huron River to be deer-free, she had no proof. So it would still be risky to free-plant torreya seeds there. Surprisingly strong evidence appeared when she began to free-plant torreya seeds, 4 to 6 inches deep, on the high, steep slope across the river from the floodplain park. There it was: a single volunteer yew plant in perfect form, unbrowsed by deer.

  LEFT: Mid November, Connie crouches by the perfect little yew, while filming her "Helping Subcanopy Trees Migrate" video.

BELOW: Closeup of the yew, along with a March 2022 clear view of the yew. In November, the exotic Amur honeysuckle subcanopy shrubs still maintained their green leaves. But following winter, the only greenery left on the slope was the little yew. (Michael Dowd in the photo.)


My share (some 400 seeds) from this year's harvest of torreya seeds from one horticultural planting in Clinton, NC, is mostly being used at or near my home in Ypsilanti, Michigan, for experimental plantings — especially at exceedingly rare DEER-FREE SITES along our major river. (Deer herbivory has been so problematic for volunteer planters that losses have been great or investments in deer-proof cages have been necessary.)

Each DEER-FREE site is located on a downtown stretch of steeply sloping forested edges of the Huron River. These were reinforced long ago by solid concrete lower portions (red outline on map above) or a series of concrete and asphalt blocks onto which trees and woody plants (especially Amur Honeysuckle) have taken hold. Natural regeneration over many decades have produced patches of good soil into which I put seeds (usually 4 to 6 inches deep, to escape detection by rodents) of America's most endangered conifer tree.

PHOTO ABOVE shows the unusual cracked seedcoats of a small portion of the 2022 harvest, through which the vibrant red seed itself is seen — clearly, not yet rotting. So these I needed to put into final destinations immediately. As well, the cracked seed farthest right displays a dark indentation on its round, non-germinating end (germination happens at the pointy end). So some of these seeds I also planted this month (turquoise outline above).


  Seed-planting began in November 2021 on the steep slope of the river across from a large floodplain city park evident in the google map image at left.

The first planting site is marked by the yellow oval.

Exactly a year later, Connie planted seeds in the turquoise oval region, which was much more difficult, and for two reasons:

(1) The entire slope was very steep, and

(2) Large blocks of concrete for preventing erosion dominated the slope, so soil patches were harder to find.


BELOW: Summer and winter scenes of the steep, forested slope (viewed from the bridge). The RED STAR marks the spot where the perfect little yew abides. A huge, leaning walnut tree on the left of the star is visible in the winter photo.

BELOW: Viewed from the floodplain park, the big walnut tree is not the only marker for where to look for the perfect little yew. A white plastic pipe is directly below the yew, which resides about halfway up the slope.

ABOVE: Seeds were planted upstream (left) of the walnut in November 2021, and downstream of the white pipe in November 2022.

BELOW: November 2022, Michael Dowd stands at the edge of the paved parking lot of the old church: SITE 1 TURQUOISE PATCH (on the Site 1 map).

  Directly down from there is where Connie spent 90 minutes creeping and crawling along the steep slope, which was a patchwork of concrete blocks and soil patches.

There she planted 59 of the 2022 North Carolina (Clinton) seed harvest that looked perfect, except for circular, dark indentations on the round end (opposite of the pointy end) of the seeds.

This will be an experiment, in part, to discern whether such indentions impair ultimate germination or perhaps speed it up.

While planting, Connie was grateful for abundant Amur honeysuckle, which provided secure handholds on this dangerous slope.


  E. Michigan Ave. crosses the Huron River on this map for Site 2 as well as the map for Site 1.

The river flows from right to left on this map. The planting area for Site 2 is thus downstream of Site 1.

Here, the high bank of the river is on the opposite side.

Ypsilanti is a "rust-belt" city, and thus a large industrial area abandoned when the automobile and aircraft industry left town entails the bulk of the image. Fortunately, it is well into the process of spontaneous reforestation.

Even so, Connie engages in guerrilla rewilding only on the high slope. Here is where thick soils can be found. As well, a tall fence streetside precludes deer entry.

ABOVE: View of SITE 2 from the bike path on the opposite side of the Huron River and a look upstream from the site itself. The slope was too steep and too reinforced by old concrete for Connie to venture onto. But she was grateful (and surprised!) to find easy-planting acreage with good soil between the river slope and the barbed-wire fence along the street. (See below.)

ABOVE: A residential fence demarcates the end of planting possibilities. On this first planting venture, Connie did not plant farther in that direction than the fallen logs in the photo left. Lower down in the angular deer-free area was extremely good soil, populated by Amur honeysuckle beneath the deciduous canopy. Connie also planted in their midst.

November 2022 / New VIDEO summarizes history of TORREYA GUARDIANS

EPISODE 35: Torreya Guardians - Reflections by Connie Barlow


While cleaning and sorting torreya seeds freshly harvested from a private home in Clinton, NC, Connie extemporaneously delivers the history of significant beginnings, achievements, and frustrating institutional obstacles that she and other volunteers encountered during nearly two decades of action and advocacy in behalf of this endangered subcanopy tree.

In the final 5 minutes she explains the new government proposal to authorize "assisted migration" for climate-threatened species.

Length: 43 minutes, with timecoded table of topics in the youtube caption. Access the full list of TG videos.

• November 2021 / VIDEO: "Helping Subcanopy Trees Migrate" - 50 minutes

   "Helping Subcanopy Trees Migrate" is not part of the Torreya Guardians series, but it does include Florida Torreya as one of the two featured subcanopy species of the eastern USA. Pawpaw, Asimina triloba is the other native subcanopy tree featured.

The final 4 minutes show Connie at a new planting site for Torreya seeds in southern Michigan.

Indigenous values are advocated as well as the "natural history" style of observation and interpretation.

IN 2021 Connie Barlow cross-posted two videos from her broader series on ASSISTED MIGRATION as a climate adaptation tool. The series is titled "Helping Forests Walk". View the full captions of each to see the timecodes where TORREYA GUARDIANS actions appear in each.


• HELPING FORESTS WALK: Episode 1 (55 minutes)      • Episode 2 (1 hour)


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