The Florida Yew (Taxis Floridana) and the Florida Nutmeg (Torreya Taxifolia) are among the 79 most critically endangered trees in the United States.
After some fairly thorough internet research, I found a few promising leads on the whereabouts of these trees. One was the Garden of Eden trail managed by The Nature Conservancy. After sending a few emails with no reply, I tried a phone number, which was answered by an employee who was far from thrilled to be disturbed on vacation. Putting that one aside, I went back to the internet. While searching for the Torreya, I found Torreya State Park was listed as the prime location. They were much warmer in their responses to my questions, and let me know that the trails that normally would lead to the mature Torreya trees were blocked by damage from hurricane Michael. They said there were a few small trees on the lawn in front of the Gregory House.
A little more research led me to a mature tree in the town of Madison, which we decided to visit first. The location was easy to find, and the homeowner was quite gracious. It was a magnificent tree, tall and stately. I took a number of photos, hopped back in the car and headed for Torreya State Park, in the hopes that the small trees on the lawn would supplement the photos I had already taken. The trees were rather tiny in stature in comparison to the magnificent Madison Torreya. Hopefully they will continue to grow. Their decline has been primarily attributed to fungal disease.
With the afternoon waning we headed for the Garden of Eden trail, a 3.5 mile loop with a little side trail in the middle. The trail provided lots of interest in its varying elevation, which is so rare in Florida. It was a lovely hike up and down multiple hills. By the time we got to the turn back point we had not seen any examples of either the Torreya or the Yew, but we decided even though the light was getting fairly dim, that we would try the little extension to see if we could locate one of the trees. By the time we got to marker 19 we were worried that we might not make it back before dark. But, voila, there was a sign that indicated one of the rare yew trees was right off the trail! As the sun was setting, I caught one last ray illuminating a group of needles on the lone yew. As this was the only yew tree that I had ever seen, I was entirely unsure if this was a typical specimen. It was one trunk leaning in an arch to the ground, with small branches of needles draping to either side. After taking as many photographs as possible, we rounded the bend and spotted another even further back amongst the trees. I snapped a few photos but, lacking a zoom and not wanting to disturb its environment, the photos were unspectacular. Nevertheless, we happily headed back for the car, knowing that I at least captured an image or two. Besides its slow growth, many factors led to the yew’s endangered status. It is an important food source for many birds, beavers chew off the tops of young stems, and white tailed-deer likes to brush against the young trees. The Florida yew is also highly sensitive to fire and many of them are on private land and unprotected.
I am definitely planning to make a return trip to see if I can get better images of the yew and a panoramic image of the beautiful Torreya to capture its majesty fully.