Rural Missouri - August 2017 - 20
IF A TREE FALLS...
by Zach Smith | email@example.com
hen Steve Bost set out to restore a
native species of the Ozarks, he didn't
know he was going on a ghost hunt.
The phantom Steve was after was
the Ozark chinquapin, a relative of the American
chestnut tree. At one time, it could be found from
southern New Hampshire all the way to east Texas
and made up 20 percent of temperate forests
west of the Mississippi River. That changed with
the introduction of chestnut blight from Asia in
the early 1900s. The fungal disease ravaged the
American chestnut and then the chinquapin once
it reached Missouri in the 1950s. So badly were
the trees decimated that they were thought to be
extinct and that an entire folk culture had vanished
"I was told by experts that the tree I was looking
for didn't exist," Steve says. "If I'd believed what
they said, it would have stopped
Thanks to close friend Harold
Adams, who remembered the
trees from his youth, Steve stayed
on the hunt. In 2007, he formed
the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation
to bring back the tree that was once
a central part of life for native people,
early settlers and their descendants.
The chinquapin, not to be confused
with the more common chinkapin
oak, is a proliﬁc annual producer - putting on
thousands of nuts. They were so abundant that
Ozarkers tell stories of shoveling them into wagons
for feeding their family and livestock. The naturally
rot-resistant wood of the tree traditionally was used
for making fence posts, furniture and dulcimers.
"It's interesting what you ﬁnd out from some of
these people who have ﬁrsthand knowledge," says
A.J. Hendershott, a regional supervisor for the
Missouri Department of Conservation and member
of the foundation's board of directors. "They'd stop
a school bus so the kids could all get off, ﬁll their
pockets full of nuts and that was their lunch."
The nut carries a host of health beneﬁts. Lab
studies revealed it is a rich source of protein,
carbohydrates and magnesium. Tea made from
the leaves is said to have been a home remedy for
whooping cough. So central was it to the diet of the
Cherokee Indians that one of their words for the
chinquapin translates to "bread tree."
To revive the tree, Steve ﬁrst had to ﬁnd them.
To date, the foundation has identiﬁed 40 trees
living in blighted conditions, meaning they have
some resistance to the blight. These survivors are
important, not only as evidence that the tree still
exists, but also to help pass on their traits.
Finding the chinquapins, rare as they are,
is actually the easy part. Once a viable tree is
found, the genetics must be crossed with another
resistant specimen to create even hardier seeds.
Steve and volunteers have traveled hundreds of
miles to climb 50-foot trees and pollinate them by
hand. The ﬁrst cross-pollination was completed
in 2010. With help from the LAD Foundation
and Pioneer Forest, the foundation has been
planting new trees in plots and studying them
for blight resistance as they grow.
The operation has had its trials: At the
height of the 2012 drought when his
thermometer topped out at 121 degrees,
Steve carried gallons of water across
hardscrabble hills to keep hundreds of
the seedlings from dying.
"We're losing species every year, but
this is something real that we're doing,"
the Ozark Border Electric Cooperative member
says. "This is one where they are making a
comeback. This is not a pipe dream."
As delicious as the chinquapin nut is to people
- Steve and A.J. compare the taste to a sweet
almond - wildlife from squirrels to black bears
love them. The seedlings are planted in 4-foot grow
tubes with rocks piled at the base in an attempt to
limit how many are eaten by deer and turkeys.
"When we talk to the public about planting
trees in general, we tell them plant about double
Steve Bost points out a young Ozark chinquapin. Overlooked
by local wildlife, this seedling grew from a nut that fell off of
the 7-year-old tree behind Steve - one of the ﬁrst he planted.
what you think you need because 50 percent will
die whether it's weather, wildlife or whatever," A.J.
says. "We're dealing with the same problem every
forester has, but the stock is limited and that
makes it a real challenge."
Not one to put all his chinquapins in one basket,
Steve has planted trees across more than a dozen
secluded nursery plots in Missouri and Arkansas.
As long as supplies hold up, foundation members
receive an allotment of seeds in the winter. Ten
years after creating the organization and more than
1,000 members later, the seeds have traveled to 34
states, Europe and Australia. Steve says these "tree
roots" efforts to preserve the past are the Ozark
chinquapin's best chance for the future.
"We've had places offer a lot of money to come
get the patent on this, but that's not what this is
about," Steve says. "This is so we can plant them,
give them to the people who want them and that's
the way it should be. We need to let what is best to
bring this tree back dictate what we do."
For more information on the Ozark Chinquapin
Foundation, visit www.ozarkchinquapin.com or
follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/
Below: The branches of a mature Ozark chinquapin can put on as many as 6,000 nuts. Below right: The spiky hulls that protect the nut begin to open around August.
photo courtesy A.J. Hendershott
RURAL MISSOURI | AUGUST 2017