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The trees are not very commercially valuable — they had been used more than 100 years ago to fire boilers of steamboats passing through the Apalachicola River or to make sturdy fence posts.
The Torreyas began to die off mysteriously in the early 1900s, when there were 375,000 in the area, and eventually, scientists attributed its decline to an invasive fungus from Asia.
The scientists are also collecting clippings of the trees to bring back to Atlanta to the Garden’s labs and greenhouses, where they can try to grow new Torreyas in greenhouses, which could be the only way to ensure their continued existence.
Why This Matters:The story of the Torreya is not uncommon — many tree species have already become extinct. As Earther concluded, “Forests everywhere have been hit hard by various combinations of diseases and pests as humans have ushered invaders around the world. Climate change has added further stress on ecosystems already being pushed to the brink.” Emily Coffey, vice president of conservation and research at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, told Earther what motivates her painstakingly hard work on the Torreya: “If we don’t do anything, the trees will go extinct.” Next year’s meeting of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity in China will focus on how to take efforts like this one to scale so that we can save as many endangered species as possible by 2030. Amen – saving the biblical gopher tree is definitely a higher purpose.
Emily Coffey of the Atlanta Botanical Garden in the uplands of North Florida Photo: Brian Kahn, Gizmodo Media
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