Once abundant in the southeastern United States, gopherwood trees (Torreya taxifolia) are critically endangered within their native range because of a fungal disease. Their appearance and moderate care requirements make them desirable for ornamental landscaping, and sometimes they can be found at native plant nurseries. Gopherwood trees must never be collected from the wild or from public land due to their protected status.
Gopherwood trees reach a mature height and spread of 30 to 50 feet at rate of 12 to 24 inches per year. Most possess a pyramidal growth habit with a strong central trunk and erect limbs, which give the trees a vaselike shape. The limbs resist breakage despite their dense cover of leathery, needlelike foliage. Gopherwood trees also have the common name "stinking cedar" due to the resinous aroma of their foliage. The trees' flowers and cones are not showy, nor does their foliage change color in autumn The glossy, evergreen foliage, however, provides visual interest and structure to landscaping year-round.
With their slow growth rate and versatile shape, gopherwood trees can serve many roles in most landscaping schemes. Their broad, pyramidal growth habit makes them useful as specimen plantings while their thick foliage makes them suitable as hedging plants. Gopherwood trees also possess a limited root system, which makes them appropriate for use near homes and other structures. The only limiting factor to their usefulness is their need for very specific growing conditions, which must be thoroughly understood before attempting to grow them.
Gopherwood trees originated in the moist, wooded ravines of the Florida Panhandle, where they are endemic. They occur naturally in only U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 8b, but their cultivated range extends from USDA zone 5 through zone 8. They require moist and humid conditions with partial shade and fertile, fast-draining soil with a pH range of 4.5 to 7.8. Full-sun exposure and dry conditions both take a toll on gopherwood trees, as does strong wind. Plant multiple trees at least 12 to 15 feet apart, and keep their soil surface mulched to protect their sensitive roots, but don't allow the mulch to touch their trunks.
Soil moisture and humidity are the two main concerns when growing gopherwood trees. Regular watering is particularly important during the first two years after they are planted, when they establish their root systems. Ensure their soil receives 1 inch of water -- from rainfall and/or irrigation -- every four to 10 days, depending on the soil type. Let the top 2 inches of soil dry between waterings, and then wet the soil to a 12-inch depth. Mist the trees' foliage occasionally during hot, dry or windy weather. Gopherwood trees do not require heavy feeding or chemical fertilizers. Simply spread a 3- to 4-inch-thick layer of compost under the drip-line of each tree in winter to provide a subtle boost of nutrients while protecting the roots. The drip-line is the area beneath a tree's outermost branches.