status: Critically endangered, IUCN Endangered, ESA
range: USA (Florida and Georgia)
Description and biology
The Florida torreya (pronounced too-REE-a) is a relatively small evergreen tree that usually grows to a height of 30 feet (9 meters). However, some torreyas grow as high as 59 feet (18 meters). Stiff, sharp-pointed needles grow along opposite sides of the branches, making them appear flattened. When crushed, the needles give off a strong resinous odor. Because of this, the tree is sometimes called the "stinking cedar."
The torreya is dioecious (pronounced die-O-shus). This means that one torreya will have male cones while another will have female cones. Male cones give off pollen in March and April. Over the course of the summer, the pollinated female cones develop into dark green, oval-shaped seeds 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 3.8 centimeters) long. The seeds then drop off in the fall. The tree reaches maturity (and is thus able to give off pollen and seeds) after about 20 years.
Habitat and current distribution
Florida torreyas are found only in the Apalachicola River area in Gadsden, Liberty, and Jackson Counties in Florida and in a closely adjacent part of Decatur County, Georgia. The trees grow along the steep sides of ravines and on bluffs in the moist shade of pine and hardwood trees. The total number of these trees currently in existence is unknown.
History and conservation measures
The range of the Florida torreya has not changed over the years, but the number of trees within that range has dropped significantly. One reason for this drop was that many sections within the range were cleared to create residential areas. This is no longer a threat, as remaining habitat areas are not easily reached and are not suitable for housing.
The main threat currently facing the Florida torreya is disease. Beginning in the 1950s, a fungal disease attacked and killed most of the trees in the area. New trees resprouted from the old roots and stumps, but they also became infected and died long before reaching maturity.
Unless a solution can be found for the disease affecting the Florida torreya, it may soon become extinct in the wild.