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.


November 2022/ Connie Barlow / 83 seeds from 2022 harvest planted in DEER-FREE forest slopes; ongoing experiments with 2021 harvested seeds

  

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).

PHOTO BELOW shows the remaining seeds from 2021 harvest being tested in a safe, outdoor container. 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.)


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)


Landscape Ecology for Planting Torreya
in Ypsilanti, Michigan

• CONNIE'S DEER-FREE URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD:

  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.)


• HIGHLANDS CEMETERY, Ypsilanti MI:

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.)


• DOWNTOWN HURON RIVER SLOPES: DEER-FREE!

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.)


• DEER-FREE HURON RIVER SLOPE - SITE 1:

  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.

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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.


• DEER-FREE HURON RIVER SLOPE - SITE 2:

  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.



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