Torreya taxifolia
Common Name: stinking cedar
Type: Needled evergreen
Family: Taxaceae
Native Range: Southeastern United States
Zone: 5 to 9
Height: 30.00 to 50.00 feet
Spread: 30.00 to 50.00 feet
Bloom Time: Non-flowering
Bloom Description: Non-flowering
Sun: Part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: High
Leaf: Evergreen
Other: Winter Interest

Culture

Best grown in moist, rich, well-drained soils in part shade. Tolerates full shade. Do not allow soils to dry out. Thrives in high humidity. Native to USDA Zone 8, but probably winter hardy to Zone 5.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Torreya taxifolia, commonly called Florida torreya, is a dioecious, small to medium sized, evergreen coniferous tree in the yew family that is currently found in the wild along bluffs, slopes and wooded ravines on the east side of the Apalachicola River in Liberty and Gadsden Counties in Florida plus in adjacent Decatur County in Georgia, with an additional small population on the west side of the river in Jackson County, Florida. Today, this tree is listed as a critically endangered species on the Federal Red List. Mature trees will rise over time to 40-50’ tall with spreading to slightly drooping branches and a loose pyramidal shape. Some mature trees which have been planted outside the native range of this tree have grown well. Trees within the native range are under attack from a fungal blight (perhaps a species of Fusarium) which threatens to drive this tree to extinction. Less than 1% of the historic population of this tree currently survives.

Florida torreya features stiff, glossy, sharp-tipped, linear, needle-like, bright green leaves (each to 1-1 ½” long and 1/8” wide) in 2-ranks, with each leaf having two blue-white stomatal bands beneath. Foliage and twigs emit a fetid odor when crushed, hence the sometimes used common name of stinking cedar. This tree is dioecious (male and female cones on separate trees). Male cones appear in the axils of the needles of the prior year. Female cones appear in the axils of the needles of the current year but do not ripen until the second year. Olive-like fruit (to 1 1/3” long) is a single seed covered by a fleshy aril. Fruits are striped with purple. Seed matures to reddish-brown. Shallowly furrowed bark peels off in thin shredding pieces.

The Apalachicola River runs from the confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers at the state line between Georgia and the Florida panhandle south for 112 miles, twisting its way through the panhandle to the Gulf of Mexico. Although this conifer was once common along the Apalachicola River, it went into severe decline in the 1950s when a fungal blight began to kill off large numbers of trees. It is estimated that there are less than 1000 trees remaining in the wild in this native habitat, almost all of them being young, non seed-bearing stump sprouts which typically grow to about 3-6’ tall before succumbing to the blight and dying back to the ground. Many of the remaining trees are located within Torreya State Park which was created in the 1930s in large part because that location at that time had the largest concentration of torreyas.

This tree was first discovered by Hardy Bryan Croom (1797-1837), amateur botanist, in 1833 near Aspalaga, Florida. Croom promptly sent samples to Dr. John Torrey (1796-1873) in New York to confirm this tree as a distinct species.

Genus name honors Dr. John Torrey (1796-1873), one of the giants of North American botany and co-author with Asa Gray of The Flora of North America.

Specific epithet comes from Taxus (the yew genus) and the Latin word folia meaning leaves in reference to the similarity between this tree and Florida yew (Taxus floridana). Florida torreya is distinguished from Florida yew (Taxus floridana) by the sharp tips on its needles, the unpleasant aroma of its crushed foliage and the olive-like shape of its fruits.

Problems

Fungal blight is driving this tree to extinction. Scale and mushroom root rot. Leaf spot, needle necrosis and stem lesions.

Garden Uses

Difficult to locate seeds of this endangered species in commerce.