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Trees of Yosemite (1932, 1948) by Mary Curry Tresidder


[Yew Family]

California Nutmeg

Torreya californica Torr.

California Nutmeg Drupes. About 2/3 Natural Size
California Nutmeg Drupes
About 2/3 Natural Size

The California Nutmeg takes its common name from its fruit, which resembles a large olive and contains a seed having the appearance of the nutmeg of commerce. The true nutmeg is not even related to this tree, however, as ours is one of the Taxaceae, or yew-like trees. The casual observer often mistakes it for a fir when the tree is not displaying its peculiar fruit.

The Nutmeg grows from twenty to seventy-five feet in height, its branches tending to make it cone-like in form, as it usually grows in fairly open places. The trunk, with its finely ridged grayish bark, with a weathered appearance on old trees, is from one to two feet in diameter. The dark green leaves are stiff, bristle-like, and pointed, growing along the branchlet in opposite rows.

Unlike the conifers, male and female flowers grow on different trees. The pollen is wind-blown. The fruit matures the first autumn.

These trees are found in scattered groups in the Coast Range and in a few places in the lower Sierra Nevada. In the Yosemite region they grow only near the junction of Cascade Creek and the Merced River and down the canyon as far as Arch Rock. Several clumps of them are scattered among the rocks between the highway and Cascade Falls, and a number of single specimens may be seen here and there along the Merced River and beside the old Coulterville Grade.

On account of the disagreeable odor which results from bruising the foliage and even the wood, the tree is sometimes known as “stinking yew” or “stinking cedar.” The Indians used this wood and that of the Incense Cedar for their bows.



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