Efforts to Save Torreya taxifolia

OVERVIEW OF THE TWO PROGRAMS: This website (Torreya Guardians) was initiated in 2005, 19 years after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had established a recovery plan for Florida Torreya, which had been designated "endangered" in the USA in 1984. The two programs have distinct advantages and constraints, summarized as follows:

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1. OFFICIAL PROGRAM: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The prime advantage of the official recovery program is that it is authorized to work directly with Torreya specimens growing naturally within the historically native range. Professional collaborations have been established with governmental institutions in Florida and Georgia, as well as with botanical gardens and universities in those and other states. The biggest constraint has been that the recovery plan (1986, updated in 2010) has not been written or interpreted in ways that include experimentation with "assisted migration" into natural forested habitats northward of the northernmost region of Georgia. While "assisted migration" has from the outset been a controversial topic among professional conservation biologists, a formidable obstacle for U.S. national (and likely state) governmental agencies is that mention of past and ongoing anthropogenic climate change as a reason for undertaking assisted migration propels management decisions into a highly contested political arena. Online resources:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Florida Torreya webpage and Record of Actions
Recovery Plan (2010, official)
Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG) participation (2017, Ecological Restoration Alliance website)
Update on the Recovery of T. taxifolia at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (2003)
Atlanta Botanical Garden looking to plant 1,600 endangered tree seedlings (2017)
1998 collaborative report: Smith Garden and Atlanta Botanical Garden
Photos: ABG onsite propagation (2007)
Record of Branchlet Rooting at Smith College (1993)
Torreya Symposium (March 2018)
IUCN Redlist Endangered Species

   VIDEO: Smithgall Woods Florida Torreya" (January 2018)

Carrie Radcliffe of the Atlanta Botanical Garden speaks of crucial seed production in this ex-situ "orchard" planting of wild-stock rooted branchlets in this 3-minute video.

More detail on the Smithgall Woods State Park Torreya Seed Orchard in northern Georgia can be found in the "Comments" column of this USF&WS matrix of recovery actions: Record of Actions.

See excerpts below:

Georgia: The ABG and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources outplanted 19 individuals of T. taxifolia at the Smithgall Woods in White County in north Georgia. The purpose of the Smithgall Woods collection and two additional off-site plantings (Blairesville, GA and Vogel State Park) were to establish safeguarding populations of Torreya to conserve material that had been propagated at the ABG in backup collections at more than one location. The material planted at Smithgall Woods was propagated from all Georgia source population material (Army Corps. Of Engineers, site at Woodruff Dam, Lake Seminole, in Georgia). The trees have grown quite large and are now reproductively mature producing male and female cones annually. Most of the plants were placed in full sun and they are quite healthy. The trees at Vogel State park are smaller than those at Smithgall Woods and have not yet reached reproductive maturity.

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This program was initiated by Connie Barlow and Paul S. Martin in 2004 after informal consultations confirmed that neither governmental staff nor various experts were willing to join them in publicly advocating for initiation of "assisted migration" experiments for Florida Torreya. Their advocacy was in the form of a co-authored proposal published in Wild Earth journal: "Bring Torreya taxifolia North — Now".

Action was initiated by Lee Barnes in legally acquiring seeds and then distributing those seeds to various botanical gardens and landowner volunteers. Biltmore Gardens (near Asheville, NC) became the first seed donor for assisted migration experiments. Its grove of Florida Torreya had been planted in 1939 and usually produced seeds every other year. Biltmore donations to Torreya Guardians began in 2005, with 110 seeds, followed by 200 in 2007 and 300 in 2009. (Details are available at History of Torreya Guardians).

Jack Johnston, beginning in 2007, contributed crucial skills in seed sourcing, propagation advice, and acquiring the potted seedlings deployed in the 2008 "rewilding" of Florida Torreya into wild, regrowth forest sites on private lands near Waynesville, NC.

ADVANTAGES: Because the Endangered Species Act expressly made an exception for seed and branchlet harvesting from endangered plants already established in botanical or landscape plantings prior to listing (and from any later generations of specimens outside of the native habitat locales), our citizen group of Torreya Guardians is not required to conform to actions approved in the official Recovery Plan. Overall, we have pretty much the same freedom and flexibility that nurseries and landscapers enjoy in their choices of what and where to plant. As well, those of us who are motivated to plant species for adaptation and anticipation of rapid anthropogenic climate change are not held back by political hesitancy toward accepting climate change as real. Crucially, too, because no research funds are invested in our plantings and we have no career push to publish quickly, we have the opportunity to risk "failure to thrive" — thus enabling us to test northward limits and a broad range of habitat types (in our quest to delineate the very best). As Connie Barlow mentions in a 2015 video report: "Researchers want to learn before they act, while activists want to act in order to learn."

CONSTRAINTS: We have no official recognition, are ineligible for research or management funding, and have limited or no access to the full genetic diversity of seeds and branch cuttings that the official program benefits from.


  • To help save Torreya taxifolia from extinction.

  • To test the efficacy of assisted migration for this and other threatened plants that were "left behind" in their peak-glacial refuge.

  • To serve as a model for the kinds of geographic interventions that will be necessary for plants in a warming world.

  • To nurture citizen-professional collaborations and a high degree of volunteerism in service of biodiversity.


  • What We Have Learned

  • Annotated list of VIDEO reports

  • Legality: why our efforts are legal

  • Project Reports (reverse chronological)

  • History of Torreya Guardians

  • Map of Torreya Guardian Project Sites

    In preparation for the March 2018 Torreya Symposium, sponsored by University of Florida and others, Connie Barlow produced a graphic to show the geographic extent of private landowners and botanical gardens that have received seeds donated by Torreya Guardians, as well as the map of sites where we have documented seed production.

    Access map caption, which includes a list of the major botanical gardens we collaborate with and a locales and descriptions of each of the documented sites of seed production.

    Access photo-rich webpages of our most successful plantings, state by state:

    North CarolinaTennesseeOhioGeorgiaFloridaMichiganNew Hampshire

    Volunteer Torreya Guardians

       CONNIE BARLOW: The final 10 minutes of an hour-long VIDEO REPORT in 2015 summarizes 4 primary types of EXPERIMENTS our group is undertaking: (1) planting and nurturing full-sun "orchards" aimed at maximizing early growth and seed production; (2) exploring for northern range limits where Torreya can survive and/or thrive in today's climate; (3) discerning habitat preferences at various latitudes; and (4) searching for sites and modes of planting that require the least amount of post-planting intervention for success.

    Torreya Guardian volunteers with experimental experience:

    • ORCHARD PLANTING (full sun) - Jack Johnston (GA), Russ Regnery (NC); Lamar Marshall (NC)

    • ROOTING BRANCHLETS - Clint Bancroft (TN); Jack Johnston (GA); Jeff Morris (NC)

    • RAPID SEED PRODUCTION: Jeff Morris (NC); Fred Bess (OH)

    • NORTHERN RANGE LIMITS - Fred Bess (OH); Bob Miller (OH); Dawes Arboretum (OH); Daein Ballard (NH)

    • HABITAT PREFERENCES - Connie Barlow (itinerant); Lee Barnes (NC)

    • FREE PLANTING (least intervention) - Nelson Stover (NC); Chris Anderson (TN); Chris Larson (FL); Connie Barlow


    Harbison House, Highlands NC - Jack Johnston, Clint Bancroft, Lee Barnes, and Connie Barlow

    Biltmore Gardens, Asheville NC - Lee Barnes and Connie Barlow

    Clinton, NC - Connie Barlow and Jeff Morris

    Columbus, GA - Clint Bancroft, Jack Johnston, Connie Barlow

    Madison, FL - Clint Bancroft


    Click above for three magazine articles written about Torreya Guardians "assisted migration" and "rewilding" actions.

    WWW www.TorreyaGuardians.org


    Annotated List of Papers/Reports Online re Assisted Migration

    Contact us