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Conservation of
Torreya taxifolia

The Florida Stinking Cedar

 

Torreya is a primitive member of the Taxaceae, the yew family. Seven species are known worldwide: four in China, one in Japan and Korea, one in California, and one in Florida and Georgia. Torreya taxifolia, the stinking cedar, is a rare and endangered species known only in a restricted area of the Florida panhandle and adjacent Georgia.

The number of mature trees in cultivation outside of Florida may number less than two dozen. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were wild populations of Torreya taxifolia estimated at about 300,000 to 600,000. The estimated number of plants in the original habitat is about 500, which means that 99.3 to 99.6% of the population found at the beginning of the 1900s has died. Where 60 feet trees were formerly found, few individuals over 10 feet are now known. Although research into the cause of this decline is ongoing, in situ preservation appears problematic, and management efforts now include the propagation of rooted cuttings from documented wild stands to be grown on in ex situ populations.   Rooted Cuttings Torreya
      Torreya Rooted Cuttings

For this study, Smith College botanists collected 2622 cuttings from 166 trees at 14 individual sites from throughout the native range of the species in November 1989. The number of cuttings harvested varied with each tree, with the overall health of the specimen determining the maximum harvest of cuttings. Each collection from each genotype was given an accession number at the time of collection, and this number followed the plant through the propagation cycle.

Cuttings were rooted and the young plants potted and grown for two years before being shipped to botanical gardens and biological institutions worldwide for observation and research.

More than 4000 additional cuttings taken in 1997 from the original plant cuttings, representing 150 genotypes, were rooted at the Botanic Garden of Smith College and shipped in November 1998 to the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Given the scale and scope of this project, it seems impractical to assume that humanity is capable of repeating this process with every endangered species of plant. Ex situ conservation projects such as the work with Torreya may in fact become the best kind of advocacy for in situ conservation: the maintenance of where the wild things are.

Many Smith students were involved in propagating, potting on, and shipping Torreya taxifolia.

For further reading and experimental details, see Bibiana Garcia Bailo, Rob Nicholson, Ron Determann, and Stephen Sojkowski, "The ex situ conservation of stinking cedar," Public Garden, July 1998, pp. 9-11.

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Last updated on Monday, May 09, 2005.