Torreya taxifolia Cleveland, Ohio

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

NOTE: This is the COLDEST-CLIMATE successful planting of T. taxifolia that Torreya Guardians is aware of.
          Ongoing reports in reverse chronological order.

   Fred Bess is professionally a landscaper, avocationally an admirer and grower of plants. Torreya taxifolia is just one interesting species in his collection. As you will see below, he does protect his little torreyas from antler-rubbing bucks, but they are exposed to the full force of sometimes brutally cold winter winds.

Fred'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.

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.]

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.

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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