The Florida Torreya tree (Torreya taxifolia) was once a common evergreen in Florida. Today, the Torreya tree is one of the world’s rarest tree species, found primarily in Torreya State park in Liberty County. The tree’s disappearance had been a mystery for 80 years until, in 2013, a research team from the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation solved the mystery. The team, including assistant professor Jason Smith, discovered the fungus, Fusarium Torreyae, which infects more than 90 percent of wild Florida Torreyas. The research team is working to analyze the fungus and investigate ways to manage it. A few of the wild specimens are disease-free, so they are working hard to determine whether those trees possess natural resistance to the fungus. They are also raising healthy Florida Torreyas from seed and are attempting to return them to the wild.
Jason Smith, an associate professor with UF/IFAS, poses with a wild Florida Torreya tree at Torreya State Park in Liberty County.