Torreya californica

California nutmeg


The Basics

Taxonomy: Kingdom - Plantae (plants). Subkingdom - Tracheobionta (vascular plants). Superdivision - Spermatophyta (seed plants). Division - Coniferophyta (conifers). Class - Pinopsida. Order - Taxales. Family - Taxaceae (yew family). Genus - Torreya Arn. (torreya). Species - Torreya californica Torr. (california nutmeg).

Ecology: California torreya is a dioecious native evergreen tree, typically from 5-30 m tall and 20-51 cm in diameter. A record tree growing near Fort Bragg measured 43 m in height and 4.5 m in d.b.h. until cut by timber thieves. The crown is pyramidal to irregular in shape. Needles persist for many years. The bark is thin, from 0.8-1.3 cm on mature trees. Roots are described as "deep" . The large, heavy seeds are from 1 to 2.5-3.0 cm long, enveloped by a drupelike aril.


A small, understory tree, 15-50 ft. tall, that looks like a miniature yew or glossy-leaved redwood. The branches are slender and spreading and the narrow leaves are stiff and dark green. The tree bears green, nutmeg-like fruits with purple markings. Strongly aromatic tree with conical or rounded crown and rows of slender, spreading branches.

The name California Nutmeg refers to the resemblance of the aromatic seeds, with a deeply folded seed coat, to those of the unrelated commercial spice, nutmeg. Stinking-cedar alludes to the disagreeable resinous odor of crushed foliage and other parts. Native Americans used to make bows from the strong wood.


Fire Ecology: Fire usually top-kills all size classes of this thin-barked species. A few large trees have survived fire but were badly scarred. California torreya sprouts from the roots, root crown, and bole following top-kill by fire.


Seed Production and Establishment - Male California torreya bear their microsporophylls within strobili. In contrast, the ovules of female trees are not contained within strobili but are solitary. Male strobili begin growth the year prior to flowering, while females trees develop ovules in one growing season. Torreyas are wind pollinated...Seed production is erratic. Good seed crops may be followed by crop failure the following year. Seeds mature in 2 years. Being heavy, seeds usually fall near the parent plant; wind dissemination is rare. Seed predation by Stellar's and scrub jay is high.

Vegetative Regeneration - California torreya sprouts from the roots, root crown, and bole following damage to aboveground portions of the tree. Some torreyas reproduce by layering, but the layering capacity of California torreya is unknown.

Species Distribution


USDA Plant Database
USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (, 4 February 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Flora of North America
Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds.  1993+.  Flora of North America North of Mexico.  19+ vols.  New York and Oxford.

Intermountain Herbarium
Consortium of Intermountain Herbaria. 2016. http// Accessed on February 04.

Burke Museum Plant Image Collection
The plant image collection at the Burke Museum, University of Washington.

Jepson Manual
The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California. B.G. Baldwin, D.H. Goldman, D.J. Keil, R. Patterson, T.J. Rosatti, and D.H. Wilken [editors]. 2012. 2nd edition, thoroughly revised and expanded. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. $131.95, hardcover; 1600 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0520253124.

USGS Plant Species Range Maps
Critchfield, W.B., and Little, E.L., Jr., 1966, Geographic distribution of the pines of the world: U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publication 991, p. 1-97.
Little, E.L., Jr., 1971-1978, Atlas of United States trees, volume 1,3,13,17, conifers and important hardwoods: U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publications.