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Torreya Genus

5 Species with 4 Trinomials

Torreya is a genus of conifers comprising six or seven species placed the family Taxaceae, though sometimes formerly placed in Cephalotaxaceae. The genus is named after the American botanist John Torrey. Four species are native to eastern Asia; the other two are native to North America. They are small to medium-sized evergreen trees reaching 15 to 65 feet (5 – 20 m) tall, rarely to 80 feet (25 m). Common names include Nutmeg-yew.

California Nutmeg, Torreya californica,  illustrated by V. Choc, published in 1969
California Nutmeg, Torreya californica, illustrated by V. Choc, published in 1969

The leaves are spirally arranged on the shoots, but twisted at the base to lie in two flat ranks; they are linear, 0.8 to 3.2 inches (2 – 8 cm) long and 0.12 to 0.16 inch (3 – 4 mm) broad, hard in texture, with a sharp spine tip.

Torreya can be either monoecious or dioecious; when monoecious, the male and female cones are often on different branches. The male (pollen) cones are 0.2 to 0.32 inch (5 – 8 mm) long, arranged in lines along the underside of a shoot. The female (seed) cones are single or grouped 2 to 8 together on a short stem. They are minute at first, maturing about 18 months after pollination to a drupe-like structure with a single, large, nut-like seed 0.8 to 1.6 inches (2 – 4 cm) long surrounded by a fleshy covering, green to purple at full maturity. In some species, notably the Japanese Torreya nucifera (‘kaya’), the seed is edible. Natural dispersal is thought to be aided by squirrels which bury the seeds for a winter food source; any seeds left uneaten are then able to germinate.

Torreya californica (California torreya) is endemic in California. It is the largest species, reaching 80 feet (25 m) tall. One extinct species, Torreya clarnensis, has been described from Middle Eocene fossils found in the Clarno Formation of Central Oregon.

Torreya taxifolia (Florida torreya or gopher wood) has a restricted habitat within Torreya State Park Florida, along the east bank of the Apalachicola River in the Florida Panhandle and immediately adjacent southernmost Georgia. Elvy E. Callaway, a lawyer who practiced in Bristol, Florida, during his lifetime claimed it was the “gopher wood” used to build Noah’s Ark. It is an endangered species, which has suffered a major decline in numbers due to fungal disease (possibly Phytophthora), and post-glacial global warming. However, cultivated specimens are growing very well and regenerating naturally in cooler climates of northern Georgia and western North Carolina. Called “assisted migration”, intentional movement of a plant outside of its historical range (though perhaps consistent with its deep-time range) became an important issue in the conservation community in 2007 and 2008, with T. taxifolia being the featured plant.

Attributed from: Wikipedia