A Cost Benefit for Saving the Florida Torreya

The Florida Torreya, botanically known as Torreya Taxifolia, a member of the Yew family, is one of the rarest and unique trees in the world.  In the wild, it is found mainly in Florida’s Torreya State Park. Although, there are a several trees found west of the Appalachicola River in Jackson County Florida, and a few trees located in Decatur County Georgia. Simply put, the future of this true is in doubt because the tree is so rare and is found in such small numbers in the Northwest Florida wilderness that a small natural catastrophe could destroy the remaining trees very easily. It is safe to say that the Florida Torreya is probabaly the rarest conifer (cone bearing) tree in the world.  However, there is hope that this evergreen can actually rebound and perhaps thrive in another region more suitable for allowing it to grow, and one day even be used for commercial purposes.  For instance, the wood from the Florida Torreya is so rot resistant that fence posts made from the trees have been known to last for well over half a century.  This primitive member of the Yew family bears male and female flowers on separate plants. The reproductive structures appear in early spring, and the nutmeg-like “fruits” mature in fall of the following year. Other uses for this tree have been considered as well.  The Florida Torreya is related to the Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia) from which we get Taxol, a cancer fighting drug (UGA, 2011).  No doubt, this tree has the potential for a variety of commerical purposes and perhaps for saving human lives one day, in terms of medicinal applications. A simple Cost Benefit Analysis will show that undertaking a project composed of making a Florida Torreya Tree plantation in another geographic region of the country  suitable for the tree’s long-term wellbeing is actually worthwhile.

Florida Torreya History

Named after the American botanist Dr. John Torrey, the Florida Torreya is a very old tree species that many believe has existed in North America for the past 165 million years  (HMdb, 2009). The Florida Torreya is widely believed to have been located all over North America at one time, but now is found mainly in the Florida Steepheads, which are located in the Florida Panhandle along the banks of the Apalachicola River. These Steepheads are unique and are probably the biggest reason the tree has not gone extinct yet. “During the heat of the summer, Steepheads are much cooler than the surrounding uplands because of their deeper elevation and their heavily shaded over story of hardwoods.”(NWFLEC, 2011). Moreover, there are numerous other plants that can be found in these locations as well that only exist, coincidentally, in cooler mountainous areas 500 to 1000 miles north of Florida. This has caused much scientific speculation with many experts saying that perhaps the Florida Torreya is a rare survivor from the previous ice age that occurred around 10,000 years ago. Basically, while the climate warmed up, causing glaciers to recede northward, these trees simply died out, except in the Steephead areas, due to the temperature in the Steepheads being ideal for the tree’s survival.  Sadly, the few trees that remain in the Florida Steepheads have been ravished by a fungal blight and by overharvesting throwing even more doubt that these trees will ever recover in their current location (NWFLEC, 2011).

Characteristics of the Florida Torreya

               The Florida Torreya has some unique characteristics that make it unique from most other trees. In fact, locals living in this part of Florida back in the 1830’s called it Gopher Wood because it was lightweight, fine-grained, and strong for making posts and cabinets. In other words, this wood appears to be similar to the Gopher Wood that was used to construct the Ark, as told in the book of Genesis of the Bible (Cox, 2011).  “The fine-grained yellow wood is, however, highly attractive and of good quality.  It is lightweight, hard, strong, and highly durable.  The wood was historically used for making cabinets and fence posts.  Fences made of Florida Torreya 60 years ago are still sound.  Florida Torreya was also used for Christmas trees.” (USFS, 2011). These multiple use purposes alone make the tree valuable for commercial purposes, especially if it can thrive in remote mountainous locations that have large enough areas that can be set out with these trees. The tree can grow remarkably tall as well. Asa Gray, a Harvard botanist, visiting Northwest Florida in 1875 noticed that these trees grew to heights of at least 65 feet (Torreya Guardians, 2011). Obviously, remote mountainous land would seem to be a more cost effective location of growing these trees compared to the Florida Panhandle if the goal is to utilize the trees for commercial purposes.

Considerations for the Florida Torreya

Moving the Florida Torreya tree to the Appalachian mountain range appears to be a good idea or at least an idea that needs to be evaluated. I think the most important question that needs to be answered before these trees are placed in a willing and hospitable location is: Will the Florida Torreya become an invasive species once transplanted in the Appalachian Mountain Range? Obviously, plants like kudzu imported from Japan to the American Southeast to help control erosion or even the Tropical Soda Plant that is thriving here in Florida and is being blamed for displacing many of Florida’s native plant species are disasters created by good intentions that turned out to be bad ideas. Obviously, it would not be wise to try and locate the Florida Torreya is an area where it would either wipe out or hybridize with indigenous plant life. In the end, this would be counterproductive, because the goal should be to increase biodiversity not decrease it. Also, it would increase maintenance costs associated with keeping the tree from spreading out of control. In favor of the Florida Torreya, scientists do not foresee any issues with the Florida Torreya tree being an evasive species. “The likelihood of Torreya Taxifolia expanding out of control is low. Florida Torreya is a slow growing, shade tolerant tree that requires relatively large canopy gaps for successful recruitment. The species does not spread clonally and the relatively few seeds that trees produce are a favorite food of squirrels.” (Schwartz, 2005). The next obvious point is that before the Florida Torreya is introduced to another, more suitable region, steps should be exhausted to ensure its survival in Florida as well, and of course, amateur horticulturalist have been doing that for awhile. So, are there any issues with private nurseries in Florida growing and selling these trees to local Floridians? Under federal law, the FWS can control sales between states but not inside state borders. For instance, it is permissible to sell the endangered Florida Torreya (Torreya Taxifolia) within South Carolina even though the native range of the plant is in Florida and Georgia (Nature, 2011). Obviously, someone, illegally, at one time actually brought the Florida Torreya to South Carolina, and even though it was not legal, nothing can be done about this now, on the federal level.  Anyway, it is possible for the tree to be sold for landscaping purposes on the free market or to even be grown on private land. Moreover, since the Florida Torreya has not demonstrated any evidence of being an evasive species, why not grow these trees in areas where they can be put to good use for commercial purposes or utilized in landscaping activities on public parks to include local and even state owned facilities?

Hospitable Habitat for the Florida Torreya

In developing a “loose” Cost Benefit Analysis for moving the Florida Torreya, I am suggesting planting these trees in locations long term that are in the Appalachian Mountain Range from northern Georgia to locations in New England, particularly, in places where commercial timber activities are currently taking place. There are probably less than a 1,000 trees left in their native habitat (Schwartz, 2005).  Therefore, a single suitable location could substantially increase the population of the Florida Torreya.  In the short run, I suggest finding a suitable location that has been used for commercial purposes and that has the appropriate soil traits, temperature requirements, and plant these trees in that single location until more studies are performed revealing if these trees cause any long term ill effects to the local environment.  For instance, a location where an old logging company has just harvested and clear-cut most of the trees would be ideal. I suggest restocking this trial location with the Florida Torreya instead of the typical pine tree stock that is used as replacement timber. At the same time, I suggest State agencies like the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the Florida State Parks Service find ways of utilizing these trees for landscaping purposes. These trees are slow growing but that characteristic is not actually a bad thing. The trees could be used for landscaping alongside roadway clear zones or inside roadway medians. The FDOT actually has an existing policy of landscaping with indigenous plant life as much as possible so, somehow this tree needs to find its name on that list of indigenous trees to be utilized. There are hundreds of miles of grassed medians in Florida that could potentially harbor this species of tree. However, the main scope of this Cost Benefit Analysis is focused on setting these trees out in a single location in the Appalachian Mountain Range. Lastly, as stated above, various other locations could be found for these trees in the state run public parks that need trees for landscaping

Cost/ Benefit

The biggest factor in determining a Cost Benefit Analysis is determining a discount rate. Since I am suggesting placing the Florida Torreya in another state, I suggest a discount rate that reflects the cost to borrow money from the federal government. A discount rate from the federal government should be less than one used if this project were to be performed by the state of Florida.  The majority of discount rates utilized for Cost Benefit Analysis are grounded on U.S. Treasury borrowing rates since they are virtually default risk free. The 10 year U.S. Treasury note is considered a benchmark market interest rate by many financial situations  (Environmental Economics, 2005).  However, utilizing a 30 year U.S. Treasury note for the purpose of finding the discount rate seems appropriate for this analysis since a 30 year timeline would probably be a better indicator for performing this study. These trees are slow growing and 30 years seems more practical in terms of when the trees are first planted to when they can be harvested, if need be.  Knowing that, this week of November 15, 2011 has a 30 year U.S. treasure note of 3.10% (USDT, 2011). A hypothetical timeline could be used beginning on February 01, 2012 and ending on December 31, 2041 using this discount rate. It is important to have a near perfect timeline in order to perform this study as precisely as possible.


The costs and benefits for each year need to be shown and discounted at the 0.031 discount rate. The costs for this project would include the land, be it leased or purchased outright. In the case of this study, I have assumed purchasing the land outright. A small building to house supplies and office space will be needed as well. Other costs would include maintenance costs that would include keeping the tree location free from any harmful insects, fungi, and even other plant life as well as providing the appropriate water and nutrients to ensure the tree’s well being. Costs associated with research will need to be provided on an annual basis, plus, the costs of the trees to be set out from seedlings. A nursery in South Carolina could provide part or all of the needed seedlings, while private land owners could provide the remaining seedlings to be used for this project. The cost of the trees and land would be shown in the first year of the analysis. These costs are also referred to as initial costs.  I have estimated the cost for buying and setting out each seedling to be $8.00.


The benefits for this type of analysis are a little more difficult to provide due to a lack of historical prices to project future prices. However, there are some obvious benefits with performing this project. First of all, research generated from this project can be used for analyzing similar endeavors in the future. This research will show how well these trees grow in the proposed location, thus, a benchmark can be established by the logging industry or even researchers wishing to undertake this type of project again. The trees themselves are very rare, and by placing these trees in a single location, as stated above, could provide money in terms of recreational/hunters’ willingness to pay a visitation fee. The value of the trees and even the land at the end of the 30 year period should be considered a major benefit. For example,  the below spreadsheet illustrates a Cost/Benefit Analysis based from a 500 ace tract of land being purchased.   The trees could be thinned out over the 30 year period to one half of their initial total to ensure growth is not hindered by overcrowding. These thinned-out trees could be sold at the 15 year mark for an estimated $12 each for Christmas Trees or any other purpose, if a market exists. The tract of land itself should be utilized for hunting/recreational purposes with a small cost per visit, beginning on the tenth year.  Once all costs and benefits for the 30 years have been discounted, simply divide the benefits by the costs. For instance, the below spreadsheet shows that the total discounted benefits add up to $ 4,495,977.28 after the 30 year period and the total discounted costs add up to $3,605,807.42. The Cost Benefit Ratio for this project would simply be 1.25, which would prove that, financially speaking, this project is worth undertaking. The below spreadsheet shows a hypothetical Cost Benefit Analysis illustrating the potential costs and benefits for performing this project:

 Cost/Benefit Analysis Spreadsheet 

 As the spreadsheet illustrates, overall, there is a possible economic benefit for planting these trees, and the revenue received from the sale of these trees is accurate. Obviously, a Cost Benefit Analysis greater than one shows that benefits outweigh costs.  I did not take into account that the land itself could be sold once the project is complete at a fair market value, my reasoning was that the land could be utilized perpetually, or in a best case scenario, the trees themselves are not cut down for any type of commercial use. Otherwise, the cost benefit ratio would increase substantially if the land were to be liquidated as well at the end project date.


My whole belief about saving endangered plant life is simple, find a market for the endangered plant then allow consumers to create such a demand that it will be worthwhile to keep the species in the ecosystem. This does not always work because some plant organisms may not have a ‘known’ market value because people do not find any utility in the plant organism. However, the Florida Torreya does have a small demand as of now because the trees are sold at out of state nurseries for landscaping purposes, and the trees have been used historically for fence posts, shingles, cabinet making, and  Christmas Trees. Be that as it may, the first rule of Public Finance is that the people ( stakeholders)  utilizing a specific public good/service should be the ones that pay for it, as much as possible. Using this concept, I have tried to formulate a Cost Benefit Analysis that will show that people visiting this potential Florida Torreya tree plantation, in a location in the Appalachian Mountains, for recreational/hunting purposes, or  individuals that will purchase the young thinned out trees for Christmas Trees from this plantation, and finally, the logging industry that will purchase the trees for commercial purposes can actually offset costs to such a point to make this project profitable. Finally, I did not use any hypothetical benefits like using the tree for medicinal purposes because this potential use has not been proven yet. I conclude with this final statement: Every organism has a purpose on God’s earth. In the Florida Torreya tree’s favor, there appear to be many ways of utilizing this tree. Perhaps with better tree management techniques and possibly moving this tree to a better location, assurance will be given for the long term survival of the Florida Torreya for future generations.