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Three Endangered and Threatened Native Trees in the Lower 48

As the sun continues to invite us outdoors with the warming of the seasons, we may find ourselves in the presence of trees that need our help. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ECOS (Environmental Conservation Online System), there are three trees, all conifers, in the lower 48 states that are threatened or endangered. While there is potential for hope with each of these trees, there is still much to be done to protect necessary biodiversity for the strengthening of all beings local to these areas, including humans. Below is a brief list of what is threatening each tree, which in turn illuminates where we can step in and advocate for their protection.

Florida Torreya

“One of the World’s Rarest Trees” is located in the Florida panhandle near Appalachicola. There are approximately 200 of these trees left in the wild. Florida Torreya has an impressive resume as “stinking cedar” for its pungent smell, while also being one of the oldest trees on earth, and the wood sometimes credited with being what was used in building Noah’s Ark. Currently, the Florida Park Service and the Atlanta Botanical Garden are doing their best to regrow this species. To guard the future of the Florida Torreya we should continue to protect its habitat, continue to plant the cultivated Florida Torreya, and continue the use of human intervention to protect the last remaining trees from being damaged by deer or hurricanes. 

Santa Cruz Cypress

Reclassified by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 2016 from “endangered” to a more hopeful “threatened”, the Santa Cruz Cypress points the explorer in the direction of discovery by following its name like an “X” on a treasure map. Found along the scenic Highway 1 of California’s Bay Area, both in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties in five marked locations respectively, this relatively rare, scruffy tree was originally pushed to the brink of extinction mostly by land development for human use or agriculture.

Fortunately, several environmental protection groups within the state were able to purchase land, or were donated land, as part of a plan to protect the species from the ever-expanding tendrils of urban and suburban lifestyles.

The greatest current threats to the Santa Cruz Cypress are still human-related. The introduction of competitive nonnative species, “unauthorized recreational activities”, vandalism and residential or agricultural sprawl still need to be addressed. On a broader scale, and still human-related, climate change threatens to destroy a hospitable ecosystem both through the change in temperature and precipitation. Fire is necessary for seeds to open and establish themselves since this is a species dependent on natural fires to survive, which means fire suppression and the prevention of controlled burns have led to a downturn in population.

Gowen Cypress

Gowen Cypress, also known as the California Cypress, grows on the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey County California. Known as a rare tree, it is currently listed with U.S. Fish and Wildlife as “Threatened”. Like the Santa Cruz Cypress, the cones of the Gowen Cypress can remain closed for years, not allowing themselves to populate until after a wildfire clears the parent trees creating space for new growth.

Habitat destruction through local development along with fire suppression has led to a decrease in Gowen Cypress. However, human-produced wildfires (not to be confused with controlled burns) can also wipe out saplings before they are able to establish themselves for another generation.

There are currently 942 threatened or endangered plants listed on ECOS. There are also 714 endangered or threatened animals listed on ECOS as well. When we go out to explore this year, may we choose to learn about the endangered species that we could encounter and choose to do what we can to protect them. Remember! Whatever we bring into nature also to bring it back out. Let us leave no trace. 

Image Sources:
Florida Torreya

Santa Cruz Cypress

Gowen Cypress

Written Sources:
Cupressus goveniana var. Abramsiana. (n.d.). The Gymnosperm Database. Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1ixl0BPM9o6P7Lk0aCO88t7D5cNw

Gowen Cypress | Encyclopedia.com. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/science-magazines/gowen-cypress

Gowen Cypress, Hesperocyparis goveniana. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://calscape.org/loc-california/Hesperocyparis%20goveniana()

Plah Hset, N. (2003, December 16). Santa Cruz Cypress. http://online.sfsu.edu/bholzman/courses/Fall%2003%20project/SCC.htm

Species Profile for Florida torreya(Torreya taxifolia). (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp/species/5391

Species Profile for Gowen cypress(Cupressus goveniana ssp. Goveniana). (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp/species/8548

Species Profile for Santa Cruz cypress(Cupressus abramsiana). (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp/species/1678

The Florida Torreya—One of the World’s Rarest Trees. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/torreyatree.html

The Rare Florida Torreya Tree. (n.d.). Florida State Parks. Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://www.floridastateparks.org/learn/rare-florida-torreya-tree

UFEI – SelecTree: A Tree Selection Guide. (n.d.-a). Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://selectree.calpoly.edu/tree-detail/hesperocyparis-goveniana

UFEI – SelecTree: A Tree Selection Guide. (n.d.-b). Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://selectree.calpoly.edu/tree-detail/hesperocyparis-abramsiana

Heather Openshaw

Heather Openshaw is a Dual Degree MBA & MPA in Sustainable Solutions graduate student at Presidio Graduate School. Her main focus of study is information warfare's impact on society and sustainability initiatives. She loves writing, reading too many books at once and baby goats. She currently lives at the top of a mountain in a small town in West Virginia.

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