Torreya taxifolia Southern New Hampshire

Report by private landowner, Daein Ballard

NOTE: This is the COLDEST-CLIMATE ongoing planting of T. taxifolia that Torreya Guardians is aware of.


PROPERTY DESCRIPTION: (2015 Daein Ballard writes:)

My property is about 11.5 acres, located in the town of Mason in south-central New Hampshire, a few miles north of the Massachusetts border. The growing zone is 5 or 6, depending on which map you use.
    The coldest temperature I've recorded here is -13F (winter 2014/15). February 2016 update: low temp of -14F, with windchill of -40F.
     Sections vary from full sun to full shade, and from well-drained to wet. The forest is a mix of hardwood and evergreens. The major hardwoods would be Oaks and Maples. The major evergreens are White Pine and Eastern Hemlock. Beech, Birches, Poplar, and Tupelo are also prevalent, along with some large Black Cherry. The understory is dominated by Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and Witch Hazel where well drained and Winterberry where wet. There is also a good showing of Blueberry, Sassafras, and even American Chestnut. All of my full-sun areas are well drained. The soil is generally acid in the places I've tested, with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.
    The area was once more populated than it is today and at one time was mostly farms. As the frontier expanded out west, the farmers moved to the easier farming lands of Midwest territories. The forests quickly returned to our area, taking over the abandoned farms. The stone walls built as property boundaries by the original settlers can still be seen throughout the forest today.
    Mason sits between the White Mountains and the coastal plain and consists mostly of foothills. Several watersheds meet in town, causing the majority of the slopes here to be gentle. Because of that, most of the streams are small and slow-flowing. Mason and the region in general is rural residential, consisting of mostly undeveloped forest.
    My parcel is what's known as a "bowling alley lot." As the name implies, the lot is long and narrow, meaning it transects a lot of different types of areas. With the exception of the yard, it's almost completely forested. The forest around it continues for around 200 acres uninterrupted, being surrounded by fairly rural roads on all four sides.
    The property has two seasonal streams — one is surrounded by wetland and the other is in a bit of a shallow ravine with more localized wetland around it. The front 1/3rd of the property was part of a farm until probably 50 or 60 years ago. The forest there consists mostly of shorter-lived tree types, with the mature longer-lived tree types clustered near old stone walls. The back 2/3rds have been forested for the last couple centuries. However, it appears there has been selective cutting done, targeting old growth and hardwood many times during that period. There is also evidence of a fire doing some damage, perhaps a century ago. These conditions have created a wide variety of areas in which to plant Torreya.
    The property is pretty flat, with most of the slopes tending to be south-facing.


A 2015 photo-essay tour of the habitats where seedlings were newly planted
(from seeds germinated by Ballard onsite in greenhouse conditions from 2013 seed stock)

   YELLOW ARROWS POINT TO TORREYA SEEDLINGS IN PROTECTED CYLINDERS.

This is the view southeast from Torreya Seedling #1 (in foreground), looking toward Seedling #3 (in the background near the White Pine trunk on the left). This area was cut a couple years ago when someone mistakenly started to log my property. Prior to that it was completely overgrown with Mountain Laurel (Kalmia Latifolia), shrubs of which you can see surrounding the open space.

The large stump in the right foreground was of a 100+ year-old White Pine. I also planted some Black Walnut and American Chestnut last year from seed I collected locally, which are within the protectors marked by white arrows.

   This image was taken near Seedling #6, while looking at Seedling #15 at the top of the hill. #6 is the only seedling planted next to a Yellow Birch (birch trunk in the foreground). Compared to all other birches in the area, Yellow Birch seems to be the most "water loving."

Seedling #6 sits near the bottom of a shallow ravine, while #15 is at the top of the low ridge between the ravine and the road. Seedling #6 is under full deciduous shade and wet soil, while #15 is under full evergreen shade and dry soil. Most of the tree stems on the hillside here are Red Maple. The trees at the top are mostly White Pine and juvenile White Ash.

   Seedling #8 (foreground) was planted in the oldest Red Maples on my property. The soil is wet here.

Near the Hemlock in the left of the picture is an area that seems to be where deer sleep.

   Seedling #10 is planted in an open area under the largest American Beech tree on my property. The seedling gets some sun from my neighbor's field, toward the right of the picture.

  

ABOVE LEFT: Looking from Seedling #17 in foreground to Seedling #12. Seedling #17 is planted on the edge of my yard in some lowbush blueberries. Seedling #12 was planted in a grove of American Chestnut stumps and saplings. Although there are Red Maple, White Pine, Sassafras, and Red Oak within a couple dozen feet of the spot, the intent was to plant Seedling #12 in the vicinity of a living American Chestnut root system.

ABOVE RIGHT: Foreground is Seedling #32, which is the only seedling planted in full sun. Seedling #31 is visible back in the forest (yellow arrow).

BELOW: A closer view of Seedling #31 on the left and #22 on the right. Notice that the area around Seedling #22 is Asian Bittersweet. It's being kept in check by deer browse. Seedling #31 is planted next to the largest Serviceberry tree on my property (and that I've ever seen).

   Seedling # 21 (yellow arrow) is planted in an opening where a large Hemlock died. The Hemlock is pretty decayed and can be seen on the ground behind the seedling.

The large stem in the foreground is a Red Maple.

Seedling #16 is obscured further back on the left side of the picture. Seedling #28 is also obscured, but is at the far right side of the picture.

   LEFT: Seedling #25 is the one I planted nearest to the road.

ABOVE: Seedling #28 is planted in the cleared path made by the logger who accidentally cut my trees. I planted it here because this is now a semi-opening created in what otherwise would be full evergreen shade in a stand of Hemlocks. The lighted area in the background behind Seedling #28 is a neighbor's property that was recently logged.

   Notice that the older needles on the branch are staggered and the newer needles are flat.

The older growth was from summer 2014 when I left the potted seedling outside in full sun. The new flat needles toward the tip grew this year (2015) while the plant was more shaded indoors.

CONCLUSION: Torreya can change its needle growth pattern and size to adapt to light conditions every time it elongates a new segment.


  • 2015 UPDATE: Ballard received another 40 seeds from the October 2015 Torreya harvest. Instead of germinating them indoors, he immediately "free-planted" them directly into his forest: "Most of the 40 seeds I planted in the vicinity of the previously planted seedlings. I didn't plant 4 of them because they would be in the pipeline-impacted area and I was waiting to see what Kinder Morgan was going to do. However with Kinder Morgan having filed, I will just plant those 4 seeds by themselves somewhere outside the impacted area. I also still have a few seeds from the 2013 batch that haven't germinated yet. I may go ahead and plant those as well."


    2016 UPDATES

  • February 2016 UPDATE: "Last weekend it got down to -14F, with a wind chill of -40F, which is a new low temp since I moved here. I've looked at all the Torreya and in spite of their young age they all pulled through completely unscathed. Since then it's gotten over 50F twice to give the seedlings a chance to show signs of damage if there was any. This is with all of the seedlings being at least partially exposed, since the snow was only a few inches deep. Even the most exposed seedlings in open areas show no ill effects."

  • April 2016 UPDATE: "I just wanted to let you know that Kinder Morgan suspended the Northeast Energy Direct project — which was the gas pipeline project that was supposed to affect my property. Doesn't mean it's dead for good, but it's very good news nonetheless. On a side note, it seems all of my Torreya have made it through winter alive.

          FAR LEFT: Deer tick offers scale for the size of Torreya leaves, which show off their dangerously sharp points (27 May 2016).

    LEFT: New-growth leaves are vulnerable until their tips harden. This specimen suffered total herbivory/dieback, but is putting forth a doublet growth from near its base (1 October 2016). The upper will swing into a vertical position, becoming the new main stem, and its twin will become the first lateral branch.

    Photos by Daein Ballard, New Hampshire

    May 27, 2016: Even though this was the warmest winter on record the warm-up stalled out and the trees leafed out two weeks behind schedule. The Torreya started to put out new growth at the beginning of May. One of the Torreyas died back (seedling #31 in your pictures), but not all the way. I'm hoping it puts up a new leader. It has a couple of promising green buds at the base of the main stem.
         The Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline is now offcially completely dead, not just suspended like I told you in the last email.So my property and the Torreya on it have been protected from the Pipeline. Thanks to the hard work of many people.

    July 22, 2016: FENDING OFF RODENTS (and other pests)

  • PROTECTING SEEDS FROM RODENTS: The most destructive animal around here to the seeds are Chipmunks. It seems once a Chipmunk has found one Torreya seed they search for them preferentially and eat them all — wherever they can find them.
         As for the seeds I've been sent, I've been using your small-stone method to protect them. I've lost almost all the 1st-year seeds I didn't protect this way to Squirrels, Chipmunks and Voles. None of the 2nd-year seeds I planted have been touched, though, even without protections. My hypothesis is that the 1st-year seeds are very fragrant and the 2nd-year seeds have almost no smell at all; so the animals can't use their noses to find them.

  • PROTECTING OUT-PLANTINGS OF POTTED SEEDLINGS FROM RODENTS: It seems like it's a good idea to sink any protective cages into the ground when planting a potted Torreya. My observation has been that rodents target trees planted from a pot because the surrounding soil is relatively loose and easy to dig in. To compensate for this I grew my seedlings in narrow, 1-foot-deep pots (made for trees with taproots). Then when I planted I used durable (but biodegradable) tree cages 3-foot high and sunk them 1-foot into the ground to protect the seedling's roots from rodents.
         I planted Jeff's Torreya and the rooted cuttings I got from Nearly Native directly into the ground without cages (due to the size of the pots) and have been fighting to keep chipmunk's burrows away from them ever since. I planted those trees in my yard, though, so it's easier to keep an eye on them and protect them.
         I have found numerous occasions where rodents attempted to dig the protected seedlings up but failed because the protective cages were sunk as deeply into the ground as the seedling's roots.
         I also found that it's a good idea to flank the seedling with two sticks/branches 4-feet long, stuck into the ground on either side. Otherwise, deer tend to stomp on the seedlings, because the 3-foot plant protectors are just below their vision.
         Using these methods I've only had one seedling die back thus far (of the 30 or so total Torreya I've out-planted), and that was due to my son stepping backwards onto it while he was helping me plant other things in the woods.

  • NO SERIOUS INSECT PESTS: I noticed it seems some pests do eat Torreya — though nothing yet seems to particularly like it. Some seedlings have needle damage obviously because of a grasshopper or caterpillar. Also I have personally seen (and took a picture of) a katydid taking a bite out of a Torreya needle — although it only took one bite and then left the plant alone. Houseflies seem to be attracted to Torreya too; I have no clue why. I also notices a couple Azalea Lacewing bugs on Jeff's Torreya, but my azaleas in the yard have been infested the last few years and they may have just been looking for shelter. I didn't notice any obvious Lacewing damage.

  • DEER ONLY NIBBLE; CHICKENS WILL RIP THEM APART: Deer nibble the ends of the branches off, but don't seem to like it. The most destructive animals to sprouted seedlings I've encountered so far are my chickens, which tear all the buds off trying to remove small bugs like ticks, spiders, and hoppers.

  • HELPFUL SYMBIOTIC FUNGI? Finally one thing I've noticed, but it could be coincidental, is that the Torreya I planted in full deciduous shade (in the wet area with the giant RED MAPLES) seems to be doing as well the Torreyas I planted in full sun. No way to know for sure, but I'm thinking it might be due to the symbiotic fungi with the red maples, feeding the Torreya. Also the Torreya I planted in the Hemlock grove seems to be doing extremely well &$151; even though it's under an evergreen canopy; there are large Black Tupelos (aka Black Gum) trees there.Editor's note: Black Gum, genus Nyssa, harbors the same group of symbionts as Torreya does; see the list of tree genera (in green) that may (via fungi) be able to pass sugars to shaded Torreyas.
  • July 23, 2016:
    I germinated the seeds in a strip of those large rectangular packing bubbles. I cut the ends off, filled each with the germination medium, and added one seed. Then I poked a lot of holes in the bottom and put them into trays. I did this so I could monitor their germination and early root development very closely. As each one germinated I transferred it into the 13"-deep, narrow tree pots (the depth of which would encourage taproot growth.

    I bought the tall, narrow pots from this website: http://www.stuewe.com/products/treepots.php

    I bought the biodegradable mesh tree protectors online from Gempler's.

    Even after being in those pots for 10 months, most of the seedling's roots hadn't reached the bottom yet. (Some of the larger seedlings did, though.)

    August 13, 2016:

    This summer has been the driest summer since I moved here. Although it has caused some yellowing on the more exposed seedling's needles, most seem to be doing fine. Other than when I first planted the seedlings, I haven't provided any supplemental water.
         As for the tree I got from Jeff and the two rooted-cuttings I got from Nearly Native Nursery, I've been watering them steadily because they were in fully exposed conditions. I also set up a chair to block the sun during the brightest part of the day on Jeff's tree, as it was getting needle burn. The female rooted-cutting has been doing extremely well and has grown some healthy branches (although some of the lower branches have been bitten off by a chipmunk).
         The male rooted-cutting has not been doing nearly as well, and I've been fighting to keep a chipmunk (probably the same one that nipped off the other cutting's lower branches) from making a burrow right next to it. Chipmunks tend to be like voles: They live in their burrow during the winter. They wake up every few days and eat some of the food they have in the burrow — nearby tree roots included!
         I've been working hard to get the chipmunk's burrow away from the Torreya before winter. I've dug its burrow up numerous times, and each time he redigs it right next to the tree. The other day I cut a hole in a tarp and laid it over the tree with it poking through the hole to make it impossible to dig his hole near the tree. Well, today I found the chipmunk dug a new hole near the tarp which quickly turned under the tarp after going down a few inches. I decided to dig up the tree so I could get under it and put in some protective mesh layers to keep the chipmunk out.
         Well! Upon digging up the tree I quickly discovered the chipmunk had already eaten the roots! No wonder the tree has looked so bad for the last month! Since the tree itself is still alive and it also still has a bit of a stump with a couple roots, I've put it in some damp perlite in the basement in an attempt to reroot it. Hopefully it makes it.
    September 21, 2016:
    Just to give you an update on how things are going with my Torreya. Most are doing well, however this area is experiencing an extreme drought like nothing I've seen around here in my lifetime. All but two of the Torreya have made it this far unscathed. Two of them have died back, but put up new basal shoots. We'll see how all the rest make it through next winter; it's been really stressful for most plants around here.

    September 26, 2016:

    My area is within the "Extreme Drought Zone." Many people in my town have had their wells dry up. The vast majority of the ferns in the woods have shriveled up and died. Most of the local ponds and streams have dried up completely. The remaining pools that still exist are choked with weeds, ducks, geese, frogs and smell horrible. The leaves on the local trees started to turn early August, even though it was abnormally hot, because they had no water.

    Since the pipeline debacle was over I decided to do some landscaping and now my yard is nothing but dust. The ground is nothing but dust as far as you can dig by hand. I only had to mow my lawn a few times this year, in the spring and at the end of summer. Even the grass has been struggling to survive and in most places it isn't. If I try to water the yard, the water beads up and rolls away like it's on wax paper and doesn't wet the dirt. This is easily the worst drought I've seen in my lifetime.

    In all of this I haven't been watering the Torreya, except the potted plants I got from Jeff and GA, which I suspected to be root-bound to begin with. All the trees I got as seed have not been watered beyond the initial planting. Considering the conditions they have performed very well. Although most native trees seem to be doing ok, they have been made more susceptible to disease. The Chestnuts (probably the most famous sprinter for the skies) that I've noted in the area are performing much worse than average. Several trees that seemed to be holding their own against the blight have suddenly succumbed.

    The best-performing Torreya so far have been the Torreya I planted in the clearcut area in the woods, so they get a lot of sun. However, there is a swampy area nearby, so their roots don't have to travel very deep for a good water supply. The area had been primarily white pine and mountain laurel. Also, the two totally shaded spots where Torreya are doing well is the wet area dominated by old red maples and another damp area dominated with hemlocks, mixed with black tupelos. The worst performer is in an elevated dry area dominated by white oaks (and fully shaded.) We'll see how they all perform in a New England winter after a summer of virtually no rain. I'll update you next week after I've examined the seedlings.

       October 3, 2016:

    PHOTO LEFT: is seedling 27. It's in a wet area so it didn't die back. However, it probably has had the hardest life: It has been trampled by deer so many times that I had to take the seed protector off because the deer kept flattening it.

    I've installed two tall vertical sticks to give it some protection, but it has been nibbled by the deer a few times since then. Anyway, what I found interesting is how all this damage has resulted in two tops forming out of the main leader bud.

       October 9, 2016:

    The last month or so we've been getting much needed rain every weekend like clockwork. This weekend I decided to go mushroom hunting. To my surprise I found mushrooms growing around the base of Torreya seedling #10 (the seedling planted under the Beech tree). They seem to be Boletus edulis (photo left). The fungus is an ectomycorrhizal symbiont — not a wood- or root-rotting fungus.

    I'm betting that the fungus is associated with the Beech tree. Clearly, it has colonized the dirt around the Torreya. There is no telling, however, if it has actually colonized the Torreya seedling without digging it up.

    Editor's note: Scientific reports indicate that Torreya is symbiotically (beneficially) associated with endo (not ecto) forms of root fungi.

    October 29. 2016:

    I did my monthly look at the Torreya today and for the most part they seem to be doing well. However seedling #22 (the one in the Asian bittersweet) is starting to get brown needles. It has no visible sign of damage, so I can only guess that the problem is something going on underground. That area of my land does have an awful lacking of trees — and does seem to be the top of a watershed. So maybe all the rain we've gotten the last month has caused root rot, since the water must be flowing underground there. I have a big old black cherry tree near there that was the only one to bear fruit this year (and a ton of it) — which is a sign that, despite the extreme drought, it had ample access to water. It is very near seedling #32, which died back all the way to the ground this past spring. So maybe the difficulties for both seedlings are connected.

    SPECULATIONS ON TORREYA'S PHYSIOLOGICAL LIMITS: To me it seems that temperature variation is not a big deal for Torreya, but moisture is. I have a feeling that pH is only important in situations where the temperature is high. Last year was a low-snow year, but one concern I have is how broad Torreya's needles are. Wide leaves and needles are detrimental to survival in areas that get lots of snow, like New England does. Snow weighs a lot and breaks branches; refer to the 2008 Northeastern ice storm entry on wikipedia. I've traveled a lot and I've noticed that trees in southern locations tend to have bigger leaves and longer needles. Evergreen plants that survive around here have adapted to narrow needles (Eastern Hemlocks) or can curl up their leaves (and point them down) to reduce their vertical surface area during the winter (like Rhododendron). So I'm curious to see what happens to the Torreya in a heavy snowfall year. There have been two years in the last ten years that gave us over 10 feet of snow for the season, so I'm sure the Torreya will get their test for that soon.


    April 12, 2017:

       It seems winter is finally over here, the last of the snow has almost completely melted. Many of the Torreya trees fared horribly this winter even though this winter was milder than the last one. This was no doubt due to the severe drought that lasted into the fall. The trees that fared the worst were the most sun-exposed trees last summer (even though during the winter they had much better snow cover on them than the other trees that fared better).

    So it makes me think they had difficulty handling the winter after such a severe drought. I won't know the full extent of the damage for a month or two.

    PHOTO LEFT: I've attached a pic of the desiccation on seedling #3. The pic was taken around the end of March.

    As Frank Callahan pointed out in his video, it seems . The female rooted cutting I got from GA (it seems like the male cutting is dead, darn Chipmunks) lost quite a few small branches due to the weight of the snow. The seedlings all fared pretty well in that regard. The rooted cutting does seem to be forming a promising leader which was unharmed.
         I think some of the points made in the video you took with Frank in Oregon may be special cases — for instance, the desiccation of needles on the sun-exposed Torreya. If you look at the climate of Medford Oregon it is hot and dry, receiving only around 18 inches of rain a year. Also, the summer months are the driest, with less than an inch of rain for July and August put together (source: wikipedia).
         So the issue his Torreya have may not be seen on the east coast, where they would get 3 to 5 times the rainfall more evenly distributed throughout the year.
         Also, I'm not so sure about the stratification. Because Frank sent me so many seeds, I decided to do an experiment with a dozen or so where I completely removed the shell from the seed before stratifying in the fridge. I examined those seeds a couple days ago and at least one of them is germinating already and it's only a few months old. Those seeds were never exposed to temperatures above 36F for more than a few minutes at a time since last December. It may be the exception though, and there may be more going on, since I completely removed the shell. I also planted some of the shell-less seeds outside, so we'll see if any of those unexpectedly pop up early.

       STOMATA EXPERIMENTS: I finally got around to imaging the stomata on Torreya needles (I cc'd you on the email I sent to Anita Koehn about it). Anita hasn't written back to me about it yet, but it does appear that there's a morphological difference between Torreya needles grown in the sun and Torreya needles grown in the shade.



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