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.

With few exceptions, 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.)

Seed Traits, Viability, Years to Germinate

November 2021/ Connie was in charge of distributing a total of nearly 500 freshly gathered torreya seeds from private homes in Clinton and nearby Mt. Olive, North Carolina.

  Connie sent priority mail boxes of a total of 373 seeds to 9 individuals in these states: IN, NH, NC, VA, PA, IL, and DE.

She then planted 25 seeds in a deer-free zone near her home in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

The SEED GERMINATION EXPERIMENT began with the 88 remaining seeds. They were put into a soil-filled small cooler for winter stratification on her porch.



As expected, none of the 88 seeds had germinated after their first winter stratification. However, some interesting distinctions in shell traits had developed, so Connie sorted the seeds based on those traits.

ABOVE: Character traits after 88 seeds from 2021 harvest were OVERWINTERED.

BELOW: Photos show close-ups of 3 characteristics Connie discerned after winter stratifying some seeds from the prior, 2020, seed harvest.

(1) LEFT: Some develop a thin "slit" over the pointy tip side of the seed.

(2) MIDDLE: When a "trifold crack" develops, it is just a matter of time before germination begins — if the seed remains healthy. Notice the radicle emerging from a seed that is still healthy red on the inside.

(3) RIGHT: Seeds that turn gray during any stage of development are likely dead. However, for your own education, do dissect the tip before you discard them. The inner contents of a dead seed should have lost the red color, possibly entirely turning gray or even black inside.

Finally, in all 3 photos, notice the small black circular depression directly above where the thin slit develops. There is a second one exactly opposite on the bottom side, too. Is this where water can more easily be absorbed? In the one instance that Connie found an insect larvae (white, segmented, wormlike) emerging from a stratified seed, it was half-emerged from this depression.


PHOTO LEFT shows the vibrant red color of healthy seeds from the November 2022 batch of Clinton NC seed harvest. Home ownership had changed there and the new owner must have mowed the front lawn more closely, so some seeds got factured, as shown. I immediately planted them in a deer-free zone near my home in Michigan, so the first opportunity to see if any produced viable seedlings will be Summer 2024.

The character that I called "END HOLE" in the inventory photo above is actually a depression, not a hole. It can be seen in this photo only on the right-most seed, which has its germinating tip pointed downward. The "end hole" only appears on the rounded end. I found that quite a few of the seeds had this singular depression, always round and that size. I have never seen it in any torreya seed production site other than Clinton, NC.

As you will see in the March 2024 entry, the "end hole" character did not reduce seed viability.


November 2022/ 2021 seeds begin 2nd winter stratification, along with first winter for 2022 seed harvest

ABOVE: 88 seeds from 2021 harvest (red numbers) packed to begin SECOND WINTER STRATIFICATION. Alongside are a character-sorted sample of 49 seeds from 2022 harvest that will experience their first winter. Again, the small cooler of soil sits on the porch. It is temporarily brought into a cool entryway to the house only when temperatures head down into the low 20s or colder for more than one night.

NOTE: Careful examination of the 653 Clinton NC seeds that Connie received from the 2022 harvest revealed that some had already developed a pre-germination slit. Some also had the "end hole" character. Most seeds she winter-stratified together in a forest pit. For close observation of character-distinct germination results, she selected only 49 seeds to put into the cooler.


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, trash-laden, city-center forest slopes of the Huron River in November 2021 (see the November 2022 planting 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.

• Any seed with punky (weak) regions on its seed coat are just as likely to germinate as seeds with perfect coats. Thus DO NOT DISCARD SEEDS THAT HAVE PUNKY SECTIONS.

• 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. Unfortunately, Connie did not keep the 6 ungerminated "end hole" seeds separate from the other categories for the third winter stratification of the 2021 seeds. But she did for the 2022 harvested seeds (reported below).

UPDATE OCTOBER 1: The 46 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.

PATIENCE IS IMPORTANT: 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 — so long as the taproot is free to penetrate as deep as it wishes (not blocked by the bottom of a pot!). Prior to that time, the large seed is just investing in a root system.


March 2024/ tremendous germination of 2021 seeds after 3rd WINTER STRATIFICATION



2021 SEED EXPERIMENT: All the remaining 46 seeds were combined into a single RED LETTER (upper left) compartment for their THIRD WINTER STRATIFICATION.

2022 SEED EXPERIMENT: The 49 seeds, GREEN, were kept segmented by characteristics for entering their SECOND WINTER STRATIFICATION.

Early March 2024, Connie brought her cooler in from the porch to see whether any germination had begun. She started to excavate the RED 2021 seed section, following its third winter stratification. She was shocked and delighted that of the 45 seeds that had not germinated after their second winter stratification, 34 had already germinated by early March after their third winter!

ABOVE: All 34 of 45 seeds that germinated after their third winter are shown in this photo. Notice in lower right that, despite careful excavation, several seeds lost parts of their roots during the process. The seed inside the white bottlecap had not germinated. What looks like a new root starting is actually half the body of a larval stage of insect that is segmented and was still alive.

STATISTICS: 45 total seeds, of which 34 had germinated, 4 were dark gray (no longer healthy brown) and upon dissection were confirmed dead, 1 had a white wormy insect larva emerging from its round depression near the tip, 2 had the triple crack that precedes germination, and the remaining 4 had the customary thin slit at the tip that precedes the triple crack. The experiment continues with the remaining 6 healthy brown seeds.

CONCLUSION ON YEARS FOR SEED STRATIFICATION: Absolutely do not discard or ignore seeds that do not germinate (or show above ground) after only 2 winter stratifications. Indeed, far more than half of the still healthy (brown, not gray) seeds will sprout after a 3rd winter!


March 2024/ Endhole experiment with 2022 seeds finds no problem with the trait

ABOVE: All 2022 seeds carried through 2 winter stratifications that began with the "end hole" feature are shown in this photo. The top group entered 2nd winter stratification with slits. 12 of the slit seeds germinated; 5 did not. The bottom set entered the 2nd winter with no slit. 9 of the unslit seeds germinated; 12 did not.

ENDHOLE EXPERIMENT CONCLUSION: If one discovers a small depression at the round end of the seed (directly opposite of the germinating tip) there is no reason to doubt the viability of the seed.

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?

On the other hand, might evolution have selected for multiple-year germinations in torreya seed production because that way a one- or two-year exceptional drought will not kill all the tender seedlings that issue forth from any year's seed crop? And certainly, this slow pacing is crucial for a plant species with recalcitrant seeds to make it through an asteroid impact or "volcanic winter."

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.


Recovery of Cropped Seeds: Two Leaders Regenerate

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

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. (But one of those had its new leafy tip nipped off again mid-autumn.) The fourth was broken off (not eaten) in early November, so Connie expects a pair of leaders to grow the following spring. And the sole remaining (5th) seedling that had been untouched got completely stripped in late November. So the 2024 season begins with only 2 seedlings that have leaves (both have double leaders), and 3 that are nothing more than green stems of varying heights.

INITIAL LEARNINGS: While it is clear that all three natural shelters precluded herbivory by deer initially, one of the three was broken into during the mating season. Even so, 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 one of the pair of fresh leaders will ever be bitten or broken off. Visit a photo-rich section of post-herbivory torreya recovery to see how well this species recovers from persistent herbivory: Torreya Recovers from Above-Ground Herbivory.

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.

"Huron River" Sites: 2023 Plantings

  • APRIL 26, 2023

Connie Barlow plants the 4 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 seed sites again early November. (She had marked them by using some of the nearby litter, especially old glass bottles.) 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. Another explanation could be that one should never plant seeds within 100 feet of an active woodchuck hole (she saw the woodchuck scurry to the hole when planting). Indeed at another site, she had planted 3 germinated seeds about 20 feet from a woodchuck hole: of course no success there, too.

  • 9 SEEDS PLANTED APRIL 19, 2023.

The PINK RING is where Connie planted 9 germinated seeds along the steep, forested slope of the downtown section of the Huron River.

As will be stated below, this site is not only DEER-FREE but the rodents rarely bother any seedling.

BELOW: 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 (along with native box elder) 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.



UPDATE DECEMBER 2023: Of the 9 germinated seeds planted in April 2023, 7 were visible in December 2023. Remarkably, only 1 was stripped of its top whorl of leaves and all the leaves down its short stem. All the rest were perfect or nearly so.

UPDATE MARCH 2024: Because of the tremendous success at this site, Connie planted 17 more germinated seeds at this site (and extending a bit upstream). The seeds used were from the 2021 Clinton NC seed harvest, following 3 winters of stratification in Michigan.

CITY CENTER, TRASHED FOREST SLOPE IS BEST SITE: This very successful planting site has the most trash and the most surrounding pavement of any of the experimental planting sites I have used thus far. So long as good soil has developed between the blocks of discarded pavement and trash, this is my most valued planting site (as of 2024).

Recent Torreya Videos by Connie Barlow

November 2023/ Connie Barlow/ New VIDEO reviews history of search for Torreya's causes of endangerment — and implications of the new papers on PLANT and SEED MICROBIOMES

   This 70-minute VIDEO begins with a celebration of the 1,000+ seeds our grower in Ohio produced autumn 2023. The rest of the video is a presentation by the group's founder, Connie Barlow, of the long and shifting history of scientific speculation and (sometimes faulty) assumptions about the ultimate cause(s) of this ancient conifer's sudden demise in its tiny historical range in Florida.

A new webpage Connie created, "Published Documents on Endangerment Causes of Torreya taxifolia in Florida", is the basis for this educational video.

BACKGROUND: Motivated by the July 2023 adoption of a new regulation permitting the agency in charge of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to expand recovery efforts beyond the "historical range" — especially if climate change had already damaged prospects there — Connie began a scholarly search of new papers that might offer guidance for Florida Torreya. What she found was a "paradigm shift" (beginning around 2016) that offered new and compelling scientific reasons for the ESA implementers to follow the lead of this citizen group in "assisted migration" poleward as a way to help this tree regain its ability to fight native diseases. Central to this new understanding is the discovery that all plant tissues — including seeds — harbor beneficial fungal and bacterial partners: what is now called the PLANT MICROBIOME and the SEED MICROBIOME.

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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