Torreya taxifolia Cleveland, Ohio

Report by private landowner, Fred Bess (Parma, Ohio)

reports in reverse chronological order

This is the COLDEST-CLIMATE planting of T. taxifolia that has not only thrived but also PRODUCED SEEDS.

Fred Bess is professionally a landscaper, avocationally an admirer and grower of plants. Torreya taxifolia is just one interesting species in his collection.

   Fred Bess's commitment to Florida Torreya is not just to enjoy and assist this curious conifer. His attention to the details of monitoring and data collection provide a crucial experiment for learning just how far north Torreya can grow — and therefore where it might need help moving to if climate warming shifts Torreya's optimal range beyond the mountains of North Carolina.

Fred has also published on his methods for propagating orchids in his basement: "A Hobbyist's Guide to Growing Orchids from Seed, 2022, Orchid Digest.

LEFT: Fred shows his 15-year-old, cutting-grown Dawn Redwood (2018).



November 3:

"After the squirrels got a fair number from the two front females, the count is +/- 230 seeds."
Update November 6:
"As I was mowing the lawn I found an additional 15 seeds under the Torreyas that had apparently dropped off — mostly from the big female in the front yard."


FRED BESS REPORTS (Cleveland, OH): "My cutting-grown female has outdone herself! I have counted close to 100 seeds just on 3 branches (pics of two of them attached). I also find it humorous that the bulk of the seeds are on the side facing the male which, as you know, is a fair distance...."

   "... I'm not sure about elsewhere, but I have seen no issues whatsoever with squirrels beating me to the seeds. The squirrels and chipmunks leave the seeds on my trees completely alone. I allow the seeds to fully ripen and harvest without issue. In fact, I missed a half dozen or so Torreya seeds when I harvested last fall and found them under the female trees early this spring. I’ve stuck those into the ground of the front hill. Will keep you posted if they show up this or next spring! My Gala apple is not so lucky. As soon as the apples get half-dollar size, I have to deter the squirrels."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Fred Bess is not only one of our longest-term Florida Torreya planters. He is the record-setter for seed production in the northern states — and he regularly photo-documents his progress.

LEARNING: Because torreya seeds appear nearly full size (and round shape) in early July, even professionals may be fooled into harvesting the seeds too early, in their attempt to prevent squirrels from snatching any. Fred will be waiting another 3 to 4 months before these seeds are harvested. The casing of the seed shell is hidden — and it must fully harden before the seed is removed.


   It looks like it is going to be a banner year for seed production here.

See these photos (May 17) of two different branches of the cutting-grown female tree.

I never imagined there could be so many cones on any one branch! It looks like a juniper loaded with cones.

The other two female-cone-producing trees are also showing seed growth, but not nearly as heavily as this tree.

Note: I may have been premature in thinking that one of those trees is monoecious. I was looking at it with a botanist friend. Upon close inspection, all the female strobili are coming from one main trunk of the tree. I got the tree (as you know) from Woodlanders in SC years ago as a seedling. Jason and I now suspect that the seed had 2 embryos and has produced "conjoined" fraternal twins as it were: one trunk male, the other female. I suppose we will never know for sure. See Fred's cumulative Torreya report, Cleveland OHIO.



FRED wrote in an email of 31 October 2021:

I went out and collected the seeds from my 3 bearing trees. From the trees I got:
• Big female tree on front hill: 101 seeds

• Mixed-up monoecius tree on front hill: 30 seeds

• Cutting-grown shrubby tree in back: 37 seeds

So unless I missed some (and I probably did) 168 seeds total this year from my little grove! What a pain to collect, I feel like a pincushion ☹. Plus, every time I would go around the tree I would find more. They are quite well camouflaged. I also found it interesting that some of the arils peeled away from the seed, leaving the naked seed hanging on the branch. Not a very good way to get eaten by whatever used to eat them.

August 2021 / Connie Barlow / Fred Bess and his Cleveland Torreyas featured photo in new wikipedia page: Torreya Guardians


EDITOR'S NOTE: Begin by scrolling down to the OCTOBER 2018 entry to see a photo of what Fred's 3 seed-grown torreya trees looked like back then. It was a year of prolific seed production by the female tree, and also the shrubby (rooted branchlet) female planted 50 feet away. November 2020 Fred reported that the big female bore just 2 seeds. But in May 2021, Fred writes:

   FRED: It's going to be a banner seed production year here in Cleveland. Looks like my two female plants may have 40 or more seeds!

PHOTO LEFT: Seeds forming on the cutting-grown female tree.

PHOTO RIGHT: The big male (which is in the middle of the three) is doing great and sheds loads of pollen.



Now for the HUGE news:

The left-most tree of the trio of seed-grown torreyas is decidedly undecided! Recall that this was always the smallest of the trees because deer raked the tree with antlers early on. But now ...

PHOTO: You can clearly see both male and female strobili on adjacent branches.

This lends credence to the fact that T. tax can be either male, female or bisexual. This I find really exciting and had to share immediately!!!

Additionally the PHOTO BELOW shows the results of my attempt to root T. tax cuttings. I started this cutting project December 2019, when I collected 25+ cuttings from the Spring Grove Cemetery tree in Cincinnati.

I followed the guidelines on the Propagation page. Pictured here are the cuttings that worked.


"My big female has set only one seed from what I can find. It was a rough spring here in Cleveland."


SEEDS GERMINATING: Seeds from my own torreya trees from 2018 are germinating here, as are the seeds I sent to Sharon Mohney [retired forester of Fincastle Virginia]. Addendum by Sharon Mohney: "I'm pretty excited to finally see some green coming out of my pots. So far it's 3 out of the 8 seeds Fred sent me, and they're still just little spikes about a centimeter out of the soil, but it's a start!"

CUTTINGS ROOTING: Update on the Torreya cuttings taken in December. Of the six pots I took, these remain: 4 cuttings from the Cincinnati tree and 11 from my two female trees. None of the cuttings I took from the male trees here survived. Not sure what happened. I've yet to try to see if they are rooting (scared to disrupt things by looking). PHOTOS BELOW are of potted cuttings [in Fred's greenhouse]. Notice the fresh YELLOW BUDS prolific on one of the female cuttings.



"Torreyas here in Northeast Ohio are coming out of dormancy and looking fine. We had a reasonably mild winter, only a couple nights at -1F."

OCTOBER 2018 UPDATE:   Cleveland OHIO Torreyas produce 23 seeds

VIDEO: "Seeds of Florida Torreya Produced in Ohio".

A crucial threshold was reached in 2017 and 2018 when this set of 2 male and 2 female torreyas in Cleveland produced seeds. The tall female produced 5 seeds in 2017 and 18 or 19 in 2018. The shrubby female began producing seeds in 2018 — just 4 this first year.


Connie Barlow filmed this 2 October 2018 site visit. The VIDEO features important findings, including:

1. These trees have put forth leaves well acclimated to severe cold spells in Ohio. On the windward side of the tree, branch tips are occasionally killed, but a ring of new growth results and the tree becomes plusher and thus even more wind-proof.

2. Seeds are produced only on the branches that receive nearly full sun. (Connie notes from her 2005 site visit to wild California Torreya habitat that this seems to be a standard of the genus.)

ABOVE: The triplet of Torreya trees entail 2 males (left and center) and a female to their right. Connie Barlow and Fred Bess with the left-most male; notice the bag of deer deterrent.

ABOVE: Connie Barlow and Fred Bess search for seeds on October 2, 2018. All 19 are on the sunniest side of the tree (a row of tall Blue Spruce is visible behind). All seeds are hidden/protected from winter winds by growing on interior branchlets of the kind of dense, Christmas-tree form that Torreya saplings assume when afforded a lot of sun. Surroundings must be mowed to make this possible; otherwise, regrowth forest and shrubs shoot up much faster than torreya can grow. The seeds will become orange-purple when ripe in late October.

ABOVE: Fred shows the top of the female tree among the triplets. Row of Blue Spruce visible behind. Torreya Guardians happily count the 19 seeds.

ABOVE: A fourth reproductive "tree" came not from a seed but a branch-cutting, so it will likely remain shrubby all its life. It is female, having produced 4 fruits this year — for the first time. Notice the light green new growth reaching skyward. In favorable conditions, Torreyas may show a second flush of vegetative growth in late summer or very early fall.

MAY 2018 UPDATE: Set of 4 Torreyas sexed as 2 male and 2 female (with seeds underway)

BY FRED BESS: "Here are a couple of photos of the female strobili on the T. taxifolia. Almost looks as though there are strobili from two different years. Some are very small, while others are a good bit bigger. It turns out that I now know the sex of all 4 trees. Two males two females YAY!" (Final photo is male.)

Editor's note: A USDA webpage on California Torreya is the best place for reliable information on growing habits of Florida Torreya (the two are rather indistinguishable, but California's torreya is still in mountain habitats, so it can adapt to changing climate by slope and elevational shifts.)

... Male strobili begin growth the year prior to flowering, while female trees develop ovules in one growing season. Torreyas are wind pollinated. Male trees must normally be within 75 to 90 feet (23-27 m) of female trees in order to effect pollination. Seed production is erratic. Good seed crops may be followed by crop failure the following year. Seeds mature in 2 years....

NOVEMBER 2017 UPDATE (by Fred Bess): First Torreya seeds produced in Ohio!

Fred Bess announces the Torreya triumph in this November 17 email to Connie Barlow:

Remember the three Torreyas in the front yard? They are getting big (5-plus feet tall) and are now fruiting size. While fencing the trees this fall to prevent deer raking, I noticed that one is a confirmed female and produced 5 'fruits'.

Could this be the first T. tax to seed set in the state of Ohio in thousands of years?

The female is the plant on the right, male in the middle. The one on the left that was damaged by deer [autumn 2014; see photo far below] has yet to show me what sex it is.

I knew the sex of two of the four Torreya trees as male. [See the photo of July 2013 of a shrubby male Torreya, which will never become tree-like because it was propagated from a rooted branchlet, not from seed.] Both produced pollen cones in 2016. The possible female bud photo I shared in 2016 [see photo and caption below] turned out to be male cones. I have yet to see what an immature female cone looks like. The female cones (arils) on the confirmed female tree were tucked way down and deep within the tree, so they went unnoticed until they were fully mature. They could have perhaps been pollinated in 2016 and taken two seasons to mature, but I have no way of knowing. That said, I will have to be diligent and watch this tree to see what occurs and do close inspections on the tree at the time when the male tree is in shedding pollen. In doing so I should be able to confirm how long it takes for arils to mature.

Editor's note - Fred's photos and announcement is stupendous news for Torreya Guardians. He is very fortunate that the two same-age trees that were not set back by bucks thrashing their antlers on branches happened to be one female and one male. See the May 2016 entry below, where he documents that the male tree began producing pollen cones last year.

DECEMBER 2016 UPDATE (by Fred Bess): End of year PHOTOS of all 4 Torreya plants

ABOVE L to R: Tree #1 is the left-most of the near-street trio; this was the one that was terribly raked by buck deer several years ago, yet has recovered well. Tree #2 is the tallest of them all: this is the one that produced male cones (pollen) spring of 2016. Tree #3 is the bushiest of the trio by the road. Tree #4 is nearer the greenhouse; it is the only one grown from cuttings so has remained shrubby thus far (it will be important to watch those upward branches to see if a single or double main vertical stem ever emerges).

Note: The dangling white packets contain herbs for repelling deer.

   These are Torreya seedlings spending one final winter in Fred's greenhouse. They will be out-planted spring 2017.

Fred has discovered that seedlings outplanted their first year of germination are usually root-killed by rodents (as the large below-ground seed still contains plenty of nutrients).

But by their second year the seed is virtually empty, hence rodent predation is merely vegetative bud nipping (which damages but does not kill the plant).

OCTOBER 2016 UPDATE (by Fred Bess): 2016 excellent season for Cleveland Torreyas

My Torreya have done wonderfully this season, with the largest almost as tall as I am now. That's the one that set male cones this year. I have also been in contact with the arborist for the City of Strongsville. I think we can work out an arrangement whereby they plant some of the Torreya seedlings I have grown on in a couple of their parks. They would be protected and there is a large portion of metro-parks within the city that the squirrels etc. can begin to migrate seeds into when the plants get large enough to produce.

MAY 2016 UPDATE (by Fred Bess): One Torreya has its first male cones


Fred sent two photos: The LEFT photo shows male cones on one of his tall seed-grown trees (this is the first spring it has produced cones).

Photo RIGHT is of the cutting-grown specimen that, because it is a rooted branchlet, will always stay shrubby. Fred's hypothesis is that the little buds at the base of where new leaves are emerging might be female reproductive structures. (We know that a branchlet cut and rooted from a mature tree will produce reproductive structures at a "young" age, as the plant maintains the physiological memory of being a mature branch.)

Photo by Fred Bess, February 2016
(Torreya Guardian near Cleveland, OH)
   FEBRUARY 2016 UPDATE: "I have gotten almost 100% germination on 150 seeds from the 2014 crop. As of now there are only 13 seeds that have not sprouted. It would seem they germinate better after double stratification [2 winters].

"When they arrived I put them into a 1-gallon ziplock bag with about 4 cups of slightly damp peat/soil mixture and placed it under the bench in my greenhouse (temperature rarely dips below freezing there).

"I checked the bag beginning Spring 2015 weekly and removed any that germinated, then resealed the bag and placed it back under the bench.

I hadn't looked at the bag since about Thanksgiving 2015. To my surprise, today (February 6, 2016) I found that all but 13 of the rest of the seeds have germinated. Most are just showing the radicle; a few have sprouted significantly."

Additional notes from Fred: "The zip bag was not open but sealed at all times except when I was inspecting for germination. Since I opened the bag regularly to check germination, that would let plenty of fresh oxygen into the bag and I never tried to squeeze air out before resealing. Because the bag was sealed I never had to add moisture and the peat was only barely damp (to ensure the seeds would not rot). The seed bag was stored on a shelf under the benches of the greenhouse; in my opinion, they received as much light as they probably would if a squirrel had buried them or if they were covered with leaves. Being in the greenhouse they also experienced the heat of summer and the cold of winter; I heat the greenhouse only to about 40-45F. The greenhouse has dipped below freezing two or three times when the heating system failed. Without a greenhouse, I would store the seeds in the refrigerator for the winter and remove them for spring, summer, and fall so that they experience the seasons. This appears to be quite important since the great majority of the seeds germinated after the second stratification.
    The radicles are very strong and don't seem particularly brittle. However, once the top growth begins, the connection between the developing seedling and the seed itself does seem much more fragile. I always take care when inspecting seeds.

MARCH 2015 UPDATE (by Fred Bess): 2014 Florida Torreya survives historic cold winter in Cleveland

We had the coldest February on record: 10 days below zero (including days when the 'high' was zero). We also had a record-setting -17F. That's the second coldest ever recorded in Cleveland, coldest was -20F in 1994.

     The Torreya came through better than last year [see below] — but with one exception (thanks to the deer). Unlike last winter, I treated all of the trees with anti-desiccant to reduce windburn damage and it worked pretty well. Only the windward side of the trees had any damage, and it was far less than last year.

LEFT is the first of the three Torreyas on the front hill. At some point during the winter a buck ripped away the fencing and raked his antlers; this is the second year this tree has been damaged by bucks (I will be getting some better fencing to protect the trees). It looks the saddest of the bunch, but I am certain it will recover quickly.

RIGHT is the tree on the corner; it looks quite good, with only a little bit of damage from the winds.


LEFT is the last of the three trees on the front hill. It always looked funny because it failed to produce a good leader until this past year. So it looks a little plump at the bottom and skinny at the top. But again, it suffered little damage from the winter.

RIGHT is the cutting-grown plant back towards the greenhouse. It had virtually no damage at all this winter.

[Editor's note: Cutting-grown Torreya trees (from rooted branchlets) are notorious for never really figuring out they are a tree and that they need to grow vertically; instead, they keep thinking they are a branch and so they grow outward and brushy.]

   Great news: LEFT is the Rhapidophyllum hystrix, the Needle Palm. I decided this year to let it fend for itself. The only protection it got was some anti-desiccant and snow cover — and look how well it came through! I found a source for an especially hardy variety of Sabol minor, the saw palmetto, so I'm trying that one this season.

[Editor's note: Needle Palm grows in the same habitat as the remaining Torreya trees in their historically native range along the Apalachicola River in northern Florida.]

APRIL 2021 UPDATE from Fred: "Rapidophyllum hystrix, needle palm has produced seed!"

I can say that I didn't have as many other non-native plants killed outright this winter as last (at least that I know of so far). But the Cephalotaxus that came through okay last winter did not do as well this year; it has quite a lot of burn on the needles, even though I sprayed it with anti-desiccant.

I have a lot of Torreya, Persimmon, Ginkgo and KY Coffee tree seeds to spread around this spring! I'll document and keep tabs on where and when they are planted, so that I (or someone in the future) will be able to follow their progress.

OCTOBER 2014 UPDATE (by Connie Barlow): 2014 VIDEO report of Torreya project Cleveland, OHIO

    Although Torreya taxifolia seeds were planted in 2014 by Torreya Guardians in Michigan (Connie Barlow) and New Hampshire (Daein Ballard), the northernmost locale with above-ground seedlings/saplings is at the home of Fred Bess in Parma (OHIO) near Cleveland. In this 9-minute video, recorded by Connie Barlow during a site visit in September, you will see (a) how well Fred's 5 seedlings/saplings survived the -17F degree "polar vortex" of the previous winter, and (b) how vulnerable the young trees are to overpopulated buck deer looking for suitable size and texture plants to scrape the velvet off their antlers.

Importantly, Fred reports that sapling protection is needed only during the antler season, as even overpopulated deer accustomed to eating domestic plants that wild deer would shun perform no more than a nibble of a taste test on this unfamiliar species before determining it is not a food source.

JULY 2013 UPDATE (by Fred Bess):

   Fred Bess says: I sent 20 seeds from the 2011 Torreya Guardian seed harvest to Secrest Arboretum in Wooster Ohio (which is affiliated with Ohio State University). Of those 20, 13 have germinated (photo left).

Secrest has removed the other species of Torreya that they had in favor of the T. taxifolia seedlings [in order to ensure no hybridization will occur in this wind-pollinated genus]. The seeds were planted only barely below soil surface by one of the graduate students, Paul Snyder, who also works at the arboretum. He was able to carefully move soil from around the large seed with fine brushes and small trowels to see the root development.

As for the plants here at my home, 4 of the 5 are doing very well! The plant in the woodlot is struggling, and if I can find a better home for it I will relocate it. Like almost everything else I plant in the woodlot, it just is doing poorly.

Last time I wrote I mentioned that all 6 plants were doing well; sorry, guess I cannot count. I have only 5. The cutting-grown plant is really taking off, becoming a bush and I think may be male. The other 3 seed-grown plants that are out in the open are also doing well; one has put on 4 inches of new early spring growth and are starting to flush with more growth. I have attached photos of the plants (except the one in the woodlot). Those unnamed photos are the seed-grown plants from Woodlanders Nursery. One appears in the photo to be leaning; it is not — just a breezy day.

JULY 2013 PHOTOS BELOW (of the single plant rooted from cut branchlets; so it is brushier in form and will mature soon)

JULY 2013 PHOTOS BELOW (of the 4 plants from potted seedlings growing in full sun)

JANUARY 2013 UPDATE (by Fred Bess):

All 6 of the trees survived the winter of 2011-2012. During last summer (2012) the trees did very little, though I have come to expect that the first year trees are put into the ground and of course the drought we had did not help matters. I expect to see better growth this summer and I will be taking steps to protect the trees from deer browsing (they took the top leader out of two of the plants). We have also so far had an extremely mild winter, in fact last week we had almost 70F and today is 50.
     As for the seeds that were sent in the fall of 2011: Germination is finally starting to occur and apparently ALL of the seeds are showing signs of root development but are not all showing top growth yet. I think this is a great sign and hope they continue to progress.
... I often have 10-15 deer through the yard at peak periods. And have had a bachelor party of 8, 6+ point bucks all hanging together in my wooded area. I've never had them bother eating the Torreya, though they mow down most anything else that isn't caged and protected. A buck did go after the cutting-grown Torreya this past fall rubbing antlers but the three trees on the front hill are large and dense enough that they went after other things. Glad about that, as wrapping them is getting to be quite an issue.

NOVEMBER 2011 UPDATE: This site received 20 seeds from the Fall 2011 Torreya Guardian seed distribution.

ABOVE: Oct 2011 photo of cutting-grown plant purchased on E-Bay in 2006.

I became interested in the genus Torreya in 2005 while visiting a private arboretum in Stow, Ohio. I did a bit of reading and learned of the plight of Torreya taxifolia. The following year I happened on a plant (cutting grown) on Ebay and purchased it. It spent the first winter in my cold attic with most of my other plants that need cold treatment but no freezing temperatures. It did not fare too well but did survive. I planted it out spring of 2007.

While it does not look like a nice conical/typical conifer [in the 2011 photo above], I attribute this to it being cutting grown from a lateral branch. It has survived and grown nicely with absolutely no wind or freeze damage, and in the winter of 2008/2009 it survived -13F.

   PHOTO LEFT: A seed-grown plant purchased from Woodlanders Nursery, SC, and planted in a sunny spot near Cleveland, Ohio.

I found Woodlanders Nursery in Aiken SC offered for sale seed-grown plants of T. taxifolia, but only within the state of Georgia. I was visiting family in northwestern Alabama and decided to place an order for 3 T. tax. for pickup. Two of the trees I kept for myself; the other I shared with a retired botanist from the University of Akron, Ohio.

I overwintered the plants indoors the first winter. The third plant was overwintered in an alpine greenhouse but developed Phytophthora or a similar looking disease problem and died.

The following year (December 2010) I made the same trip south and again ordered and picked up an additional 2 plants of T. tax. The four seed-grown plants, as well as the cutting-grown plant, have established nicely. Three are located in a prepared bed in a relatively exposed location. One is planted in a woodland situation, and the cutting-grown plant is in an open but protected area not far from a T. yunnanensis, which will have to be removed depending on the health and vigor of the T. taxifolia. [Editor's note: T. yunnanensis is an Asian species of genus Torreya; if it turns out to be a male tree, removal will ensure no pollen contamination of the taxifolia females.]

As of this writing (October 2011) all 5 plants are doing quite well, though I have noted a bit of deer browsing on one (protection is already in place!). I will send more pictures of the plants after ALL have gone through an Ohio winter.



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