The Florida Torreya grows among the bluffs and ravines of Gadsden and Liberty Counties, in Florida.
The Florida Torreya (Torreya taxifolia) was discovered here in around 1835 by Hardy Bryan Croom, an early botanist. He named it in honor of Dr. John Torrey, a well-known 19th century scientist.
Local settlers were already familiar with Croom's rare tree. They called it the "stinking cedar" because of the strong odor it gave when cut or bruised. Despite its smell, however, they used it for a wide variety of
purposes ranging from fence posts and shingles to Christmas trees and riverboat fuel.
The tree's popularity almost spelled its doom. It is estimated there were 600,000 Torreya trees living in the Apalachicola River Valley during the early 1800s. Only around 200 survive today.
Modern scientists report that the Torreya once lived across North America and is one of the oldest known tree species on earth. This is interesting in light of local legend that the Florida Torreya was the Biblical "gopher wood" from which Noah built the ark.
Because the Torreya is one of America's most endangered trees, a major effort is underway to save it. The Florida Park Service is working with the Atlanta Botanical Garden in a commendable effort to grow new Torreya trees. Using seed obtained from living trees, the agencies are growing seedlings that are being planted in the ravine habitat at Torreya State Park. Perhaps over time, the Torreya will once again thrive along the Apalachicola.
The trees are extremely rare today, but they are very easy to see. Two nice plantings can be found at Torreya State Park along the brick walkway leading to the historic Gregory House. Other live Torreya can also be seen along the nature trails in the park.