Herbs & Plants

Torreya californica

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Botanical Name : Torreya californica
Family: Cephalotaxaceae
Genus: Torreya
Species: T. californica
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales

Common Names:California Torreya or California Nutmeg

Habitat :South-western N. America – California. Rare and local along mountain streams, protected slopes, creek bottoms, and moist canyons of the Coastal Range and Sierra Nevada from sea level to 2000 metres.

Torreya californica is a dioecious evergreen tree, typically 16.5 to 90 feet tall and 8 to 20 inches in diameter.
The crown is conical in overall shape, with whorled branches. The leaves are needle-like, stiff, sharp pointed, 3–5 cm long and 3 mm broad; they are arranged spirally but twisted at the base to lie flat either side of the shoots.


The male (pollen) cones are 5–7 mm long, grouped in lines along the underside of a shoot. The female (seed) cones are single or grouped 2-5 together on a short stem; minute at first, they mature in about 18 months to a drupe-like structure with the single large nut-like seed 2.5–4 cm long surrounded by a fleshy covering, dark green to purple at full maturity in the fall.

Succeeds in ordinary garden soil, tolerating some lime. Undemanding as to the soil pH. Dislikes wind exposure[200]. Requires a sheltered position and either high humidity or a moist riverside soil. Tolerates woodland shade very well. One report says that trees are only hardy in the milder parts of Britain, whilst another says that trees are hardy in Britain at least as far north as Edinburgh. This species is the only member of the genus that is fully adapted to cool maritime sites. It can actually grow faster in such a position than it does in the wild. Trees in general grow better in the wetter western part of Britain. Usually slow growing, though trees occasionally increase by 60cm in a year. The bruised leaves release a powerful resinous smell. The fruits are also aromatic. The seed takes two summers to mature. Trees often crop well at Kew, but there were no seeds formed in 1994. A tree in fairly deep shade at Kew was carrying a good crop of seeds in the summer of 1996. Plants are usually dioecious, but isolated female plants have been known to bear fruit in the absence of a pollinating male. Plants are sometimes monoecious with dioecious branches. Male and female plants must usually be grown if seed is required.

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Some of the seed should germinate in the following spring though much of it might take another 12 months. Stored seed requires a period of cold stratification and can take 18 months or more to germinate. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as growth is observed and grow them on in light shade in the greenhouse for at least the next couple of winters, making sure to pot them on into larger pots as and when required. Plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer when the plants are at least 20cm tall. Cuttings of half-ripe shoots in late summer. Cuttings do not grow well. Layering.

Medeicinal Uses:
The nuts have been chewed as a treatment for indigestion. A decoction of the nuts has been used in the treatment of tuberculosis. The crushed seeds have been rubbed on the temples in the treatment of headaches. They have also been rubbed on the body to cause sweating in the treatment of chills and fevers.

Other Uses:
The roots have been used as splints in basketry. Wood – straight-grained, strong, light, soft, easily worked. Of no commercial value, though it is occasionally used for fence posts.

The tree is planted as a specimen ornamental tree in gardens; and in groves in larger native plant and traditional landscape projects.

The seeds were used by Native Americans in Northern California as food, and the wood for making bows.

The wood is sometimes used in making Go game boards, as a cheaper substitute for the prized Kaya (Torreya nucifera), of Japan and Southeast Asia.

The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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